In 2021, ‘The Great Resignation’ dominated HR news feeds, highlighting the growing rate of employee turnover across North America. The Great Resignation can still be felt, with many organizations in all industries struggling to recruit and retain good talent. But, in 2022, a new buzzword is getting the spotlight: ‘Quiet Quitting.’ But what is it, why does it matter, and what can HR and leaders do to prevent their top talent from disengaging?
What is Quiet Quitting?
Despite what the term implies, ‘quiet quitting’ doesn’t involve employees handing in their resignation letters. Instead, this term refers to workers who are no longer willing to go above and beyond in their roles and will only put forward the work and hours for which they are paid.
It comes down to employees not wanting to continually put more energy into their work without apparent personal gain.
Should Companies Care about Quiet Quitting?
Yes! Organizations are successful because of people. But not just regular people – having high-performing and engaged talent at every level within the organization is a priority in all sectors. A McKinsey study estimates that high performers are 400% more productive than average ones. Organizations don’t want these people to back off. They rely on their top talent to be motivated and spread passion throughout their teams. Organizations and HR leaders should be very invested in identifying, retaining & engaging their top talent as they carry the teams during peaks and valleys.
Peeling the Onion – Work & Rewards
Two main elements of quiet quitting are what’s deemed ‘extra’ work and what’s valued as a ‘reward.’
What is Extra Work?
Companies and HR have always tried hard to invest in properly defining job descriptions, setting KPIs, and measuring ‘work.’ However, despite this, SMART goals are still either not defined or poorly defined for many employees. ‘What does my day look like?’ is a common question asked in the recruiting process. Employees want to know what they should be doing and what success looks like. Similarly, employees want to know that what they are asked to do is reasonable and can be accomplished within the time set out and with the available resources.
At the same time, studies show that high-performing employees might not actually work ‘extra time’ but instead have great habits that make them highly productive and can squeeze more out of every hour. According to Forbes, high-performing people take breaks and seek clarity before working, all habits that lead to balance and working efficiently. But still, even high-performing employees are quietly quitting, and these are the people that companies must keep an eye on.
Many factors are causing even high-performing employees to be and feel ‘overworked’:
- Working from home due to COVID has blurred the lines between work and personal time, making it harder to feel ‘disconnected’ from a job
- Many teams and industries are stretched due to various factors, leading to more work being put on existing team members
- Bad leadership creates blind spots in actual work and responsibilities being handed down to teams
- Poorly defined job goals make interpreting expectations subjective and makes it difficult for employees to get support when their days are overrun
- Any change in company structure can lead to extra work being put on key team members during the transition
- People are tired – the last few years have been stressful for everyone, and people are feeling the effects
- Unbalanced workloads among co-workers without rewards discourages staff from continually stepping up when needed
It is up to leaders and HR to ensure that employees understand their jobs and what is/is not expected in terms of extra work or time. It is also critical that all companies set boundaries and standards for time off, balance, and well-being and ensure these are enforced from the top. This all sounds great, but on the heels of the ‘great resignation’, many teams are stretched and find themselves working more hours to make up the gaps. If direct managers and HR do not have a handle on the work being put on staff, or if managers are struggling to get work done within a reasonable time frame, the ‘hustle’ trickles down and leaves staff feeling overworked with no end in sight.
Working ‘Extra’ vs. Being ‘Engaged’
We can’t talk about working ‘extra’ without talking about employee engagement.
Employee engagement has always been a hot topic in HR. How do companies make and keep employees excited about their role and company success so they can give it their all every day for the cause or step in when needed to fill the gaps? Gallup research poll indicates that only 34% of US employees are fully engaged in their roles. This number is small, and although it would be impossible for any company to aim for a 100% engagement rate, HR should strive to create a culture of maximum engagement. Engaged staff are the ones who step in to get things done, don’t turn down projects or assignments, and are relied on to move the company forward. But just because employees are engaged, it doesn’t mean they will stay that way. If too much work is placed on a team member without support or benefits, even the most engaged staff will choose their time and self-value over any company.
Quitting quietly doesn’t mean an employee was never engaged in their job – but it does mean that now, they are not.
What is a ‘Reward’
The second part of quiet quitting is the lack of perceived benefit or reward for continually putting forward extra work. What constitutes a benefit or reward is different for every person.
Some examples of rewards include any or a combination of:
- Financial incentives
- Formal and informal recognition
- Time off and flexibility in schedules
- Autonomy and involvement in decision-making
- Development opportunities & mentoring
- Subscriptions, gifts, and swag
- A simple ‘thank you’
If employees are always putting in extra effort and time, at some point, they will look to see what they are getting out of it. Companies and HR have to work with employees and managers to identify what motivates and drives individuals and either deliver these benefits when earned or ensure a consistent and fair rewards policy is in place and used to adequately compensate the high performers who give more to the company.
Is Quiet Quitting New?
The rejection of the ‘hustle culture’ and wanting fair work-life balance isn’t new. Employees have been demanding proper work-life balance and fair compensation for many years. Quiet quitting is a resurgence of this cry, felt by many staff members who want to do their best but are tired of always giving more to companies or leaders who don’t give back. Quiet quitting isn’t a trend for a new generation who only want to give the bare minimum in their roles. This trend highlights an entire workforce who wants a fair work/life balance, a feeling of achievement, and a sense that what they do matters, and are demanding to be rewarded fairly for their contributions. Employees who set too many boundaries will continue to limit their opportunities within any firm or organization. This trend shines a light on employees who want to dive into their roles and be successful together but don’t want to be taken advantage of or overlooked.
What Can Companies and HR Do?
The good news is that companies and HR are hopefully already tackling the fundamentals that are leading to staff quietly quitting:
- Ensure jobs are clearly defined with realistic goals, and measurable KPI’s – and employees are held accountable for results and rewarded for extra work
- Review compensation and benefits packages to ensure staff members feel fairly rewarded for contributions and rewards are aligned with performance
- Make sure managers have the training and skills to delegate and monitor the workloads of their teams and the support and resources to deliver on team expectations
- Develop effective engagement strategies and tactics that will give employees a voice in shaping culture and providing feedback
- Review talent acquisition and hiring policies to ensure culture and work expectations are aligned at the gate
- Ensure your talent and performance programs allow for the accurate and timely review of performance and output (so top-performing and engaged staff are easily identified and actively retained and under-performing team members are managed before they affect engagement)
Overall, quiet quitting is not new, but it is making headlines and causing your high-performing staff to question if they too feel they are being properly rewarded for extra work. Now is the time for companies to focus on their valuable team members and make the changes needed to avoid any employee staying quiet about something as important as disengaging.
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