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Prevent Quiet Quitting: Use Work Culture To Deliver More Value To Employees

By now, most business leaders have heard of and grappled with The Great Resignation. And the employee exodus that hurtled through the work world for most of the pandemic is still in play, even though job numbers are currently on the incline.

But as turnover continues, a less obvious threat is taking hold in the workplace. Many employees are changing their approach to work even if they decide to stay in their current jobs. They’ve opted to perform well enough to earn their paycheck but make no effort to contribute more. The new catchphrase capsulizing this trend is “quiet quitting.”

Today’s CEOs face a greater challenge than trying to keep people on board. It’s finding a way to deliver enough value to employees to keep them engaged and motivated to do their best. Leaders can work toward this goal by strengthening and leveraging their company’s work culture.

culture operating system

What’s Quiet Quitting?

Ask different people to define “quiet quitting,” and you will likely get various answers.

For example, some employees take offense at the term because they believe it casts a negative connotation on people simply implementing work-life balance. They maintain that keeping a healthy perspective about doing what they’re paid to do isn’t equivalent to slacking off.

But there’s a difference between leaning into an organization’s work-life balance policy and simply dialing back on work without a mutual understanding between employer and employee. The latter indicates a disconnect that will inevitably lead to strained relationships.

Other employees are backing off the accelerator at their job because they’re unhappy at work. And some employers view quiet quitting as a passive-aggressive way for disgruntled workers to get back at them. But as author and career coach Matt Spielman noted in The New York Times, this kind of square-off is pointless:

“If someone is burnt out, there should be a candid conversation about that, and it should be both ways. Just saying, ‘I am going to do the absolute minimum because I am entitled to it, or I have issues’ doesn’t really help anybody.”

Regardless of how it’s perceived, quiet quitting indicates workers’ diminishing commitment to their employers. The trend is reflected in Gallup’s 2022 State of the Global Workplace report, which found that 60 percent of employees are emotionally detached from work—an all-time high.

Quiet Quitting And Employee Engagement

In May 2020, Gallup reported that 49 percent of employees strongly believed their boss cared about their wellbeing. This historically high number was primarily due to employers doing their best to hold their teams together during the pandemic. But Gallup’s most recent research shows that by mid-2022, that number has dropped to the lowest in nearly a decade—24 percent.

According to a recent Forbes article, three factors spurred the decline:

  • When the health crisis began to abate, employers’ empathy receded to pre-pandemic levels.
  • The pandemic lasted longer and took a greater toll than anyone anticipated.
  • Workers’ expectations have permanently shifted in the past few years, and employers aren’t keeping pace.

If people don’t feel like their employer genuinely cares about them, it’s easy to connect the dots to Gallup’s 2022 low employee engagement figure. And taking the paradigm further, it’s understandable why workers aren’t inclined to go above and beyond in their jobs.

Many quiet quitters are tending to their wellbeing, but in the process, they miss out on what could be one of the most fulfilling aspects of their lives. And employers who don’t acknowledge their shortcomings in giving employees what they need to thrive will lose ground. In fact, TIME reports that disengaged workers cost the global economy about $7.8 trillion in lost productivity.

5 Ways To Add Value To The Employee Experience

Engaged workers enjoy their jobs and naturally apply more enthusiasm and passion to their professional responsibilities. So employers who cultivate a work culture that elevates the employee experience will build a vested, loyal team. And adding value for employees doesn’t detract from employers’ profit; it increases the organization’s potential for success.

There are five key ways companies can use their work culture to support and inspire their workforce in the post-pandemic world. Each of them demonstrates an organization’s meaningful commitment to employee wellbeing.

  1. Establishing a work-life balance policy
  2. Fostering open communication
  3. Cultivating respect
  4. Aligning managers
  5. Providing training and mentoring, and constructive feedback, check-ins.

Establishing Work-Life Balance

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Companies that enact policies regarding work-life balance give employees and managers the tools to manage boundaries. Such policies provide guidelines about what a healthy balance is and codify its importance for the organization and its staff. As a result, employees don’t feel like they’re risking approval or opportunities when they follow company-condoned practices.

A significant way that organizations can assist staff with work-life balance is by offering flexible work options. For example, allowing employees to opt for remote or hybrid jobs helps them better navigate professional and personal responsibilities. But companies need to ground their culture in a mutually agreed-upon system of accountability to make such work models effective for everyone.  

One of the pandemic’s most eye-opening revelations was the degree to which many workers suffer from stress and other work-related mental health issues. Many companies responded by ratcheting up benefits during the crisis. But for long-term value, employers should continue providing support systems in this critical area, encourage their people to use them, and prioritize destigmatizing mental health in the workplace.

Encouraging Open Discussion

Often workers dial back effort because they don’t feel heard. If people don’t consider their workplace a safe environment to raise issues, ask questions, or make suggestions, they’re less likely to put their heart into their work. To prevent this kind of restrictive atmosphere, leaders must make healthy communication a foundation of their company’s culture.

To achieve this goal, leaders must consistently model and coach behaviors that promote positive communication. And they should establish an environment where their staff can follow suit without fear of retribution. Among the essential behaviors in this area are generous listening, speaking up to move things forward, and sharing information.  

Employees are much more interested in contributing effort and ideas when they believe their boss welcomes their input. And they also respond positively to leaders who don’t hide information and are transparent about what is happening in the company.

Cultivating Respect

Employees attach more value to their jobs when they feel valued as individuals. Leaders can show their regard for everyone on their team in two crucial ways.

First, it’s vital for CEOs to make respect a non-negotiable part of their company’s culture. Establishing specific diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies is a starting point. But they must also ensure that their managers and other staff understand their role in bringing these policies to life. Their goal should be to make every employee feel like they’re welcome and belong on the team.

Leaders can also respect their employees by showing them how their contributions help achieve company goals. Employees gain some satisfaction in performing their jobs well, but they yearn to feel like they play a part in the organization’s success. As Beryl Companies founder and CEO Paul Spiegelman noted in Inc.: “If you want employees to take a vested interest in the bigger picture, treat them like stakeholders.”

Aligning Management

Most CEOs are familiar with the saying, “People don’t quit organizations, they quit bad managers.” But if leaders don’t have an attrition problem, they may not realize that their employees are quietly quitting ineffective supervisors. According to Harvard Business Review, poor managers have three to four times as many quiet quitters as their more skilled colleagues.

The most obvious management problem is retaining supervisors who don’t align with company values or culture. These toxic bosses often secure their place in the company hierarchy via their seniority, skill-set, or institutional knowledge. If leaders want to bring out the best in their team members, they must establish a zero-tolerance policy for managers who choose to play by their own rules.

Well-meaning managers can be ineffective in a less obvious way. Too often, supervisors don’t motivate their people because they fail to establish authentic connections with them. Lack of training is often at the heart of this problem. The Center for Creative Leadership reports that almost 60 percent of managers said they never received any training when they transitioned into their first leadership role.

Since managers are on the front line with employees, it pays off for leaders to help them to master leadership and relationship-building skills to keep their teams motivated. For example, HBR research indicates that “managers who rated the highest at balancing results with relationships saw 62 percent of their direct reports willing to give extra effort, while only 3 percent were quietly quitting.”

Providing Training & Guidance

People often devolve into a quiet quitting mode because they feel like they’re in a rut. They find their work life stagnant and boring and respond accordingly. Employers can help revive their enthusiasm by providing learning opportunities so staff members can increase their skills and grow in their jobs. But in an increasingly challenging economy, many leaders hold back on allocating funds for training programs.

According to experts, this stance is a mistake. For example, McKinsey Health Institute reports:

“Evidence suggests that individual growth, learning, and development programs are effective ways to combat burnout and engage employees. Employers who double-down on talent redeployment, mobility, reskilling, and upskilling tend to see improvement across a range of financial, organizational, and employee experience metrics.”

McKinsey also states that employers who invest in their people’s capabilities signal that they’re valued and have an important role in the organization.

A Commitment To Employee Wellbeing

When people regard their jobs as nothing more than a paycheck, it’s because they’re not deriving a sense of fulfillment from their work. They can develop this mindset if their work isn’t stimulating, or they feel unappreciated and not seen as human beings. Leaders seeking to diminish the quiet quitting trend must address the holistic needs of their staff and create win-win solutions for all parties.

As an executive wellness coach and consultant Naz Beheshti observes in Forbes:

“You will not maintain support for your employees unless a commitment to well-being becomes embedded in the culture and is seen as an everyday strategic imperative. Employees notice when that concern is genuine and consistent. And they reward organizations that deliver on this promise with engagement, loyalty, and productivity.”

CultureWise assists business leaders in every business sector build supportive, high-performing work cultures. Schedule a call with a CultureWise specialist to learn more about building organizational culture that helps employees show up with passion, productivity, and focus. And sign up for a free subscription to Culture Matters for insightful articles, compelling videos and podcasts, and informative webinar opportunities.

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