Quiet quitting: How to tackle employee disengagement

Quiet quitting: How to tackle employee disengagement

By now, you’ve surely heard of “quiet quitting.” This trending term coined on TikTok has everybody talking. If you haven’t read or seen much on the topic, we’ve broken down what it is, what people are saying about it, and what employers and HR teams can learn from it.

What exactly is quiet quitting?

In the viral TikTok video by Zaid Khan, he defines quiet quitting as “not outright quitting your job, but quitting the idea of going above and beyond.”

Quiet quitting isn’t referring to actually resigning from your job, and it doesn’t mean that you should purposely perform your job poorly or in a lazy way. Quiet quitting is simply the thought that you fulfill your responsibilities at work based on your outlined accountabilities, during the specified hours, in exchange for the compensation that’s been agreed upon — no more and no less. It’s essentially the antithesis of “hustle culture,” the idea of prioritizing work over everything else and pouring all of your time, effort, and energy into achieving your career goals.

What people are saying

The idea behind quiet quitting started with young professionals. Millennials and Gen Zers are speaking up to advocate for better work-life balance, a focus on wellness, and investing more time and energy into a meaningful life outside of work.

Those who oppose the idea are characterizing “quiet quitting” as lazy or unprofessional for doing the bare minimum and not taking your job seriously. Others have expressed concern that quiet quitting encourages employees to disengage and mentally “check out” from work.

Some people are taking a lighter approach and using quiet quitting as fodder for memes and jokes popping up around social media. And at the other extreme of the discussion, there are employees complaining about “quiet firing,” or how managers use passive-aggressive tactics in the workplace to try to get an employee to resign.

Quiet quitting has sparked a lot of heated discussion, especially on platforms like LinkedIn, with people chiming in from all kinds of industries, age groups, and levels of workplace experience or seniority. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, this hot topic resonates with professionals because it invites us to reflect on how satisfied we are at work and how work affects our future plans and career goals.

Many people, especially HR practitioners, are also pointing out that this topic isn’t new. The phrase “quiet quitting” may be new, but the underlying challenges and negative impacts of overworking and the “hustle culture mentality” have been around for years.


Why managers and HR professionals should care

It’s important to remember that “quiet quitting” and employee disengagement are not necessarily synonymous. An employee is able to fully meet their job expectations without going above and beyond their job description while still being satisfied and engaged in their role. So trying to identify who is a “quiet quitter” at your organization is not the main takeaway here.

At the end of the day, what managers and HR teams should pay attention to (and measure) is employee engagement and experience. In today’s candidate-driven job market, employees are looking closely at what companies are offering, and it’s about much more than just compensation and benefits.

Many of today’s professionals are looking for jobs that offer flexibility in working hours or location, such as remote or hybrid options, in the midst of companies rolling out return-to-office plans. The Great Resignation is proof that people are ready to make career moves in search of working conditions and environments that best suit their needs. In order to retain and attract the best talent, employers have to keep the employee experience top of mind in order to stay competitive in a hot labour market.

Employee engagement is key

So, what exactly is employee engagement? Gallup defines employee engagement as “the involvement and enthusiasm of employees in their work and workplace.” There are numerous metrics and indicators that can be used to measure engagement at work, including recognition, alignment, happiness or satisfaction, relationship with peers or managers, etc. Employee engagement can be tricky to measure because it’s not a simple score on a scale from 0 to 10.

Learning what engagement means in your workplace and where your employees fall in that spectrum is what’s important — studies show that employee engagement impacts retention, productivity, quality, and even profitability.

Only 33% of people in the Canadian and U.S. workforce fall in the “engaged” category.
– Gallup’s “State of the Global Workforce 2022” Report

Data from recent reports indicate that employee engagement is declining. Gallup’s “State of the Global Workforce 2022” report found that in the U.S. and Canada, only 33% of people in the workforce fall in the “engaged” category. Demographically, Gen Z and younger millennials are often found with lower engagement and higher levels of job stress. Gallup’s report shows that 54% of those born after 1989 fall into the “not engaged” category — those who will show up to work and do the minimum required but not much else.

What are some factors that cause employees to fall from engaged to not engaged and even to actively disengaged? Employees have needs and expectations beyond getting a mere paycheque — for example, career development, ongoing feedback and coaching, relationships with managers and mentors, and a sense of purpose and meaning from their work. When these needs are not being met, employees will be less motivated to put in their energy, passion, and eventually their time, into their work.

Employee burnout illustration

How to tackle employee disengagement and burnout

With all of these learnings and research, it’s important for managers and HR teams to objectively evaluate their employee experience and make an action plan for how to continuously improve it. Here are a few takeaways that you can implement in your workplace to get the conversations started:

Use annual surveys and pulse surveys to get long-term and short-term engagement data

You should conduct a longer, more thorough employee engagement survey at least once a year. This will help provide the data for a big-picture view of your organization to use as benchmarks and to guide valid and actionable survey results. It’s important to use these results to track important trends year by year.

In addition to annual surveys, you can use shorter, more frequent pulse surveys to dive deeper into specific results or for quick feedback on timely topics. Pulse surveys are helpful for getting a real-time view of your employee experience and for gathering insights for responding and adapting quickly. Both annual surveys and pulse surveys are needed for a full picture of how your employees are engaging over time.

Regularly discuss your employees' roles and accountabilities

The whole idea of quiet quitting is that employees want to stick to their written job description, but the responsibilities of a job can progressively change, so it’s a good idea to regularly review what that includes. We recommend having a regular cadence of reviewing each employee’s role and accountabilities, at least once or twice a year. Check whether there are metrics or measures for success clearly laid out so that when it comes time for performance reviews there are no unexpected surprises.

Integrate a career development plan discussion into performance reviews

There is no one-size-fits-all career trajectory or path. Every employee has different needs and goals. By ensuring a career development plan and discussion are part of your annual or semi-annual performance reviews, you can learn what are the particular drivers and direction for each employee. Are they happy in their current role or are they looking to expand? If they’re happy in their role, what do they like best about it? Are there any skills or areas of expertise they’d like to develop? Do they aspire to be in a people leader or manager role or do they prefer excelling as an individual contributor? These are all great questions for employees to consider and reflect on before discussing their career development plans with their manager.

Coach your team about remote work and setting boundaries

Just because most of us have been working from home for the past 2+ years due to a global pandemic doesn’t mean that all of us have mastered it. The more blurred the lines become between home and work, the more challenging employees find it to disconnect from work. Managers and people leaders should be equipped to help coach and guide their teams in setting boundaries while working from home and taking time off. Managers also need to lead by example in this matter, such as taking PTO and setting expectations that employees should be unreachable during off hours and vacations.

Discuss mental health and burnout and provide resources

Managers and HR teams should provide a safe space for employees to talk about mental health and burnout. It’s important to check in with employees to see how they’re handling new projects, transitions, or work-life balance. Ask if they need any support or additional resources. You can also share our blog post on how to talk to your boss about mental health if an employee needs tips on how to initiate these conversations.

There’s no quick fix for improving employee engagement. It’s on employers to continuously gather feedback and implement the right programs. By keeping a pulse on the employee experience, gauging employee engagement, and working towards a healthy work culture — you can create a workplace where your people thrive.

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