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We’ve been hearing a lot lately about “quiet quitting” as another symptom (along with the Great Resignation) of the changes sweeping the workplace since the pandemic.
Whether you call it “not being engaged,” “doing the bare minimum” or “doing your job,” a new Gallup survey estimates half or more of the U.S. workforce is doing it. And despite the hype surrounding the new term, the majority of employees have not been engaged since Gallup started tracking in 2000.
We can quibble over the differences between being “not engaged” (coasting) and actively disengaged (quiet quitting) — but what do these trends mean in human and business terms?
Quiet quitting is a sign of employee burnout and exhaustion that stems from the way organizations have long treated their workers. Companies have run people the way you run tires on a car — until they’re bald and you change them out! Or until they burn out, the equivalent of a blowout.
The pandemic fueled and exposed trends like the Great Resignation and quiet quitting because workers had time to consider what they really wanted and what was best for them. Some of it is generational, with millennials and Gen Zs thinking differently about their lives and what they want out of life. Then think about the people on the front lines — doctors, nurses and others who didn’t even have the opportunity to go home and quietly think about what they wanted out of their careers and personal lives. They were just working, working, working, to the point of sheer burnout.
Now some organizations are demanding workers come back to the office, full- or part-time. Some folks won’t quit because they can’t afford to take the financial hit. So, they just do the minimum to get by. You know how your phone prompts you to set it to low power mode when the battery is drained? That’s what quiet quitting employees are doing.
What we are seeing is self-preservation. Employees are putting themselves on low power mode to conserve energy and slowing down on their bald tires so they don’t crash or end up in the ditch.
There are things leaders and organizations can do to help their employees work at a higher level and still have time for themselves, so at the end of the day they don’t feel like they are beaten down.
So, how can we help ensure that those who work for us are in a fully energized, ready state, rather than a depleted state?
1. Build a resilient mindset in the organization
This means promoting self-disruption and a culture that rewards learning from failure. It means leaders engaging in strategic foresight — inviting constant exploration of multiple possible futures. Most of all, it means operationalizing resilience. Throughout the organization, everyone must understand that strong recovery, not endurance, is the true sign of resilience. People not only have permission to restore themselves and regenerate their energy, but it’s what’s expected and rewarded.
2. Develop resilience rituals and practices
SOPs (standard operating practices) confirm that developing resilience rituals and practices are valuable to the organization. So, for example, you might have meeting etiquette rules that prevent things like back-to-back meetings without breaks. Meetings scheduled for an hour have to end after 50 minutes, so people have 10 minutes to take care of themselves before another meeting. Or you might have meeting-free Fridays.
3. M&P (Modeling and Permission)
When a leader is not taking breaks themselves, being the first one in the morning and the last to leave at night, they are modeling that rest, restoration and resilience are not important even if company materials say it is. The other aspect is permission. When you don’t see your boss taking breaks, you don’t think you have permission to do that, even if the company rules say you should. When you as a leader don’t take care of yourself, you’re effectively taking away permission from others to do the same.
4. GYB (Got Your Back) partners
Got Your Back means that you don’t try to do this stuff alone. We recommend organizations partner people up, like a buddy system. Maybe you remember this from swimming lessons or summer camp at the lake. When you have a buddy, someone is looking out for you, and you are looking out for them. It’s someone who checks in with you to ask how you are doing and remind you to take breaks. Are you creating a menu for yourself of rituals to toggle back and forth between focused effort (E-Zone rituals) and focused recovery (R-Zone rituals)? Or are you just doing it the way you’ve always done it: go, go, go until you run out of gas? Having GYB partners can help people avoid depletion, exhaustion and burnout by establishing and maintaining a toggle menu of healthy habits.
5. Ask these questions
Finally, here are questions that you as a leader should ask to help build supportive and energizing teams:
What factors exist in the current environment that may erode resilience?
What actions can we take as leaders to ensure we have resilient teams?
What can I personally commit to do to increase my and my team’s resilience?
A lot of the anxiety people are experiencing right now is related to the almost unlimited uncertainty they are coping with. To prepare for any eventuality, the only thing we can really be certain of is our own level of resilience.
Building resilience is not about bouncing back. It’s about doing what we need to do to restore ourselves so we are prepared to face any challenge at our best. Stress doesn’t kill us; it’s our lack of recovery from stress that causes us harm. But if we have constant recovery built into ourselves and our business practices, stress won’t take us out.