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ATD Blog

Addressing Quiet Quitting Head-On

Thursday, November 3, 2022
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Quiet quitting is the workplace topic of the moment. Definitions vary, but the core concept is doing the bare minimum and mentally distancing oneself from work. Five minutes on Twitter will send you down a rabbit hole of polarized opinions on quiet quitting. And depending on which side you choose, it’s tempting to label employers as uncaring or employees as checked out.

But this issue is more layered than these perceptions, and the way to navigate this pivotal moment is to authentically acknowledge the root causes of quiet quitting at both the employer and employee level. An employment relationship is exactly that: a relationship. And as with any relationship, it must have effective communication, reciprocity, vulnerability, and safety to be successful. That’s why the quiet-quitting trend is more than a moment—it has the potential to become a movement.

For Managers, It’s About Prevention First

Research suggests that the root cause of quiet quitting is that employees perceive their employment relationship as unbalanced. They feel they are being asked to do too much without reciprocal investment in their careers. This could be due to unfair compensation, inadequate time off, lack of autonomy, lack of development opportunities, not feeling a connection to the organization’s purpose, or a lack of workplace flexibility.

A leader’s job is to uncover these concerns, ideally before employees become disengaged. Paradoxically, the fact that quiet quitting is trending gives managers an ice breaker for these conversations. The talk could start like this: “I’ve been reading a lot about quiet quitting lately, and I want to check in to make sure that I truly understand your needs and concerns so that you feel supported and empowered in your work.”

The simple act of bringing this topic forward builds trust and psychological safety; it opens a dialogue that invites candid feedback while exhibiting awareness, empathy, and care on the part of the manager. Will every employee feel comfortable sharing concerns or worries? No. But it is a manager’s job to ask questions and listen, reaffirming their interest in the employee’s well-being and engagement.

The findings from these conversations may be surprising, and the solutions may be surprisingly simple. Often, it is a single tipping point that nudges employees into a quiet-quitting mindset. Perhaps there is confusion about the company’s promotion policies or an employee doesn’t feel empowered to work from home when a child is sick. But it’s impossible to identify that tipping point if you don’t ask.

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Once the causes of disengagement are uncovered, advocate for appropriate solutions. The organization may need to shift certain policies or boundaries around work and how it’s done. It may also require more clarity and consistency in its communications. In these moments, remember what you are managing to: performance and outcomes.

While managers should always focus on preventing disengagement, these conversations can also bring existing quiet quitters back from the brink. According to a recent ResumeBuilder.com survey, nine out of 10 quiet quitters can shift back to effective and empowered work habits with the right support.

For Employees, It’s About Communication

A healthy relationship of any kind requires communication; telepathy doesn’t exist. It can be tempting to put the onus solely on employers to anticipate and respond to employee needs and desires, but if employees want to participate in moving workplace culture forward, it’s imperative for them to communicate what’s working—and what’s not.

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People don’t want to quietly quit. It only happens when employees perceive inequity or unfairness or feel undervalued. Quiet quitting creates a negative situation for the organization, but it also impacts the self-worth of an employee. When an employee quietly quits, they must live with the cognitive dissonance that comes from downplaying their talents and abilities. Living within this lack of alignment or greater purpose can have negative impacts on mental and emotional health.

It’s critical for employees to have tools and resources to share concerns before reaching a breaking point. A conversation about disengagement can be intimidating; outlining the approach in advance will help. Keep the job and the organization’s bottom line at the core of the conversation. Here’s what that could sound like: “I want to be the best employee possible, and I need X to do that.”

When asking for something specific—remote work, for example—back up the request with data. Analyze productivity at home versus the office, and share those findings. With advanced planning and research, employees can not only communicate their needs, but demonstrate their commitment to the organization through their initiative.

When employers and employees meet in these efforts with vulnerability and transparency, the workplace becomes more authentic and inclusive. This makes quiet quitting a critical juncture in our relationship to work. Right now, leaders, managers, and employees have a crucial opportunity to dig into this challenge and engage with a movement toward empowerment and commitment—creating a future where quiet quitting becomes a long-forgotten hashtag.

About the Author

Sharon Steiner Hart is an executive coach with Talking Talent, a global coaching firm inspiring inclusive cultures that allow people and organizations to thrive. Sharon is passionate about helping future-focused leaders identify their short- and long-term goals and aligning their goals with actions. As a coach, she catalyzes growth from the inside out, utilizing an intuitive, authentic coaching style and proven techniques. The best part about being a coach for Sharon is being able to walk alongside her clients as they discover new possibilities and get inspired.

Sharon has over 20 years of experience in business development, entrepreneurship, and education and has been a Certified Professional Coach since 2009. Sharon holds two Emotional Intelligence Certifications, Global Leadership Wellbeing Survey Certification. Using this wide lens, she helps individuals and organizations grow their bottom line. With Sharon’s help, teams increase productivity and revenue while also improving culture and individual empowerment.