Quiet quitting is a new phrase flooding social media. Why is it trending and what does it really mean for employees and leaders in the workplace?
By Dr. Samantha MadhosinghOctober 20, 2022
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Quiet quitting seems like odd terminology since it has nothing to do with actually ditching your job for greener pastures. Many argue that there's no such thing as quiet quitting because it simply refers to workers doing their assigned job during their typical workday. What they're not doing is taking on any extra duties, or participating in extracurriculars at work. It's about rejecting the idea that work has to take over your life.
And, while the buzzy phrase has been seemingly replaced by fast quitting (for now), what we must not ignore is the real reason why these terms were coined in the first place.
As a leadership consultant and executive coach, I've had many clients struggling with how to establish boundaries between work and home before feeling like it's all too much. They're not sure when or how to say "no" to phone calls, emails and messages after they are officially off the clock. They are overworked, overwhelmed, stressed out, burnt out and fed up with the work-to-exhaustion-to-survive culture. While many of them may appear to be moving towards the quiet quitting trend, what they are really doing is saying no to burnout. As their consultant and coach, I completely get behind their decisions to do exactly that.
Addressing the root cause of so-called "quiet quitting"
Rather than trying to keep up to speed with the latest workplace trends sweeping across social media, perhaps leaders should stop to ask why these trends began in the first place. Why is it considered unacceptable for employees to reject extra, often undesirable tasks outside of their job description? Have we placed too high a value on employees working long, high-stress days with little time off or time with family, only stopping when they are burnt out?
Or are we ignoring a growing pool of people becoming increasingly disengaged at work and getting little joy out of it because they are burnt out? According to Gallup, the number of engaged employees dropped from 36% in 2020 to 32% by early 2022.
Why are workers done with working themselves to exhaustion?
The research is clear: Burnout and stress levels have increased significantly since the Covid-19 pandemic began. In fact, by January 2022, the American Psychological Association (APA) said "Burnout and stress are at an all-time high across professions."
"From longer work hours to increased demands at home, the Covid-19 pandemic introduced new stressors to nearly every domain of life," the APA said. "As the world heads into the 3rd year of the pandemic, these stressors have become persistent and indefinite, heightening everyone's risk of burnout."
If the pandemic has pushed many workers into a state of burnout, it makes sense that they are trying to resist the daily grind by doing only what they're required to do. They no longer see their workplace as a place to thrive and instead feel unmotivated and disengaged.
This may partly be linked to the switch to a work-from-home culture, which has contributed to many employees working significantly longer hours, having difficulty switching off and experiencing a lack of boundaries between work and home life. So many employees sit in front of their computers for more than 8 hours daily with little more than a 15-minute break to make lunch (then eat in front of the computer), if they even take lunch at all. They are exhausted.
Interestingly, this increase in burnout is noticeably higher among the younger generations. Indeed's research into burnout in 2021 found that while 53% of millennials already felt burnt out pre-pandemic, it jumped to 59% in 2021. Gen Z had a similar increase.
Together, these generations consistently like to throw out the old rulebook of how things were done in the past in favor of building a better future. They've been campaigning to protect our environment, improve equality and justice and better living and work conditions. They generally don't agree that all work and no play is a recipe for a life of thriving. This generation wants to do meaningful work, but enjoying life outside work is also essential to them.
The World Health Organization states burnout is a syndrome resulting from workplace stress that has "not been successfully managed." Three factors define it, they say: feelings of depleted energy, increased mental distance from a job and reduced professional efficacy.
Those in leadership positions must transform work culture so their employees feel engaged, included and connected to their work. Having disengaged or burnt-out employees on your team will disrupt team cohesion and negatively impact everyone. When someone is barely working, and others are working flat out, it quickly becomes apparent and affects the team's dynamics. That's why investing in improving the culture for everyone is so important.
How to begin
There are three main components that you can work on to improve that will ultimately benefit your company and team: value, wellbeing and communication.
1. Ensure your staff feels valued
Ensure your employees know their presence, skills and work are needed and valued. Recognizing them goes a long way to achieving this. Companies that make employee recognition a priority have workers who are 56% less likely to look for a new job, a recent Gallup-Workhuman survey found. It could be as simple as acknowledging milestones in their lives, such as work anniversaries and birthdays, and celebrating achieved goals or completed projects.
Perhaps it's looking at progression and promotion opportunities for team members or doing an end-of-week round-up recognizing the achievements of the week and the team members who made it happen.
Or, if budget allows, perhaps an organized event: A monthly staff get-together where everyone finishes work a few hours early and have a late lunch or dinner together.
2. Invest in the wellbeing of your employees
It's no secret that employee wellbeing and engagement work well together. Gallup found engagement and wellbeing are reciprocal, "where each influences the future state of the other."
What can you do to show that the company is prioritizing its employees' wellbeing and is committed to improving it?
There are practical things you can do. Your company may offer an employee assistance program that members can refer to if they require support or are struggling. You could also include wellbeing benefits:
A weekly massage.
A meditation class in the office on a lunch break.
The option to work flexible hours
On a more long-term note, having designated wellbeing leaders is an excellent way to keep track of what's being done in the office to improve people's mental health — they could even send a monthly update on the changes. Very simply, encourage workers to leave on time and take regular breaks.
3. Focus on connecting people to their work
Recognizing and valuing your employees' input is an important and powerful way to increase their ownership of their work. Create an open forum where staff can share ideas about the status of their work and projects, discuss innovative ideas that would excite them going forward or perhaps even creatively find solutions for processes that aren't working.
Hear what your employees are saying and listen to their ideas. Not only will it make them feel valued, but it'll make them feel more connected to their work. Encourage involvement and participation as much as possible.
Engaged employees and healthy workplaces are a by-product of exceptional leaders who create an environment for growth without the expectation that their team will work to exhaustion.
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