Thought Leaders on Quiet Quitting

Quiet Quitting is not a new term when referring to employees who are not outright quitting their jobs but abandoning the idea of going above and beyond. But these days, many more organizations are experiencing seeing their employees performing the bare minimum of their assigned duties and no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be their whole life. Many employees want more meaningful work that leads to significant impact; some have reprioritized what is important to them, especially since the pandemic. They want to spend more time with their families, do more of the things they really enjoy, or even starting side projects or businesses.

Employers are concerned as the data on employee engagement is trending less favorable than ever as a consequence. According to Gallup, U.S. employee engagement took a step backward during the second quarter of 2022, with the proportion of engaged workers remaining at 32% but the proportion of actively disengaged increasing to 18%. The ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is now 1.8 to 1, the lowest in almost a decade. From this data, it is clear that there is tension between employers' understanding of employees' needs and employees' expectations of their organizations.

OurOffice hosted a recent Future of Work Roundtable with HR and DEI senior leaders across the country to understand how they see "Quiet Quitting" in their organizations and what they are doing to combat employee disengagement. Kelly Siobhan Laffey, Partner at law firm Stubbs Alderton & Markiles, sees Quiet Quitting as "the other side of the coin from the great resignation. Those who may not have had the option to resign are sitting back and asking themselves, what is the incentive for putting in the extra work and effort?” The group agreed that a new paradigm is emerging for the workplace, driven by the accelerated shift in people's expectations of their employers. Diane Turek Pire, senior HR leader and partner, at the Boyden Executive Search firm, shared, "Some say it's just disengagement, but what's different is that it seems like a permanent shift in employees' expectations".

Generational Differences

By 2025, Gen Z and Millennials will be 75% of the US labor force. Research on Quiet Quitting shows that the Gen Z and Millennial generations have some of the lowest employee engagement rates, which is especially alarming as these generations constitute the majority of the emerging workforce leaders. The percentage of engaged employees under 35 dropped by six points from 2019 to 2022.

During the Future of Work Roundtable discussion, leaders agreed that the younger generation's perspective on work dramatically influences how the workplace is evolving.

Millennials and Gen Z are willing to talk about more things that were typically taboo in the workplace, like pay, mental health, and expressing issues about burnout.

Camille Bryant, Chief Diversity Officer at WM Energy, shared that every generation impacts the world of work. "With the differences in the Gen Z and Millennial generations perspective on their work, plus the pandemic, there are several things that may impact why people are quietly quitting, including mental health issues, the leadership at companies, the structure of work and work/life balance which is very important," she said. "If there is too much work or an inequitable workload, the younger employees are demanding to be paid fairly, and they are asking for more work flexibility to work remotely.”Joe Bosch, senior HR executive and retired CHRO at companies like DirecTV, Centex and Tenet Healthcare agreed, "there is definitely a generational issue in terms of expectations of what employers should do for them" with employees now willing to admit they are not satisfied.

Some senior leaders in their 50s and 60s don't believe in quiet quitting or the new shift happening in the workplace. They think that "this is not a long-term trend, and are in denial, with only the smart ones knowing that it is a fundamental shift," Joe added. Regina, Chief Talent and Culture officer at Food for the Hungry agrees, "There has been a fundamental shift. The new generation wants to know more and demands answers to hard questions."

Remote Work and Managers

The leaders in the Future of Work Roundtable highlighted one key factor that impacts quiet quitting; the employees' work location matters. Quiet Quitting is seen more with employees in white-collar roles who have the opportunity to work in remote or hybrid settings. Joe shared, "In environments where people have to be in person, I don't hear this because the work can be more directly observed and measured.

Quiet quitting is not an option.” The latest poll results from Gallup confirm that remote workers, especially the younger generation, are more likely to be disengaged at work. The decline in engagement and employer satisfaction among remote Gen Z and younger millennials below age 35 is increasing at an alarming rate.

Engagement ratings of the fully remote and hybrid young workers surveyed by Gallup dropped by 12 points. A key reason is that they lack someone who encourages their development at work. Don Polite, C-suite executive at Skygen, agreed that managers need support and training to manage their virtual teams. "At my organization, we put a lot into training managers for remote work and tools; effective zoom meetings, frequency, cadence, etc. We stress the importance of our managers checking in on folks because it's so easy to get disconnected from each other, especially during those early times of COVID, when people were so isolated".

HR and DEI thought leaders in the OurOffice Roundtable discussion agreed that how managers interact with their employees matters and can significantly impact employee engagement.
Camile Bryant, Chief Diversity Officer at Walker-Miller Energy Services, shared, "Before the pandemic, the future of work was about the evolution of technology. But now, it's beyond that. Now it's about, 'How can we effectively LEAD people in a remote work environment and with empathy?' We can't think of it the way we used to think about engagement.” Rob Reed, Executive at Databricks shared his thoughts on the connection between quiet quitting and managers. "Quiet quitting is due to the rise of employee dissatisfaction and the natural evolution of work. Managers are concerned about quitting because they are insecure about the work environment."

The current data on remote employee engagement shows the disconnect between managers and employees. Gallup data shows that since the pandemic, younger workers’ feeling that they are cared about and have opportunities to develop have declined significantly -- primarily due to their managers. Younger workers are less likely to feel like they have someone who cares about them at work, encourages their development, and are in a workplace that provides opportunities for them to learn and grow.
Solutions for Employers Since we know remote and hybrid work are here to stay, organizations must work hard to engage employees in efforts to slow quiet quitting. Organizations must support their managers, and in turn, managers and team leaders must have check-ins and coaching conversations with their employees. It is almost impossible to engage your employees if managers are burned out and not engaged themselves. All employees want to work in a psychologically safe environment where they feel like others care about them and appreciate their work.

It’s also important for employers to come to terms with the shift in employee expectations, the inevitable generational differences, and the impact of uncertainties and concurrent challenges on their employees. A fundamental way to address quiet quitting is to develop better leaders who listen, check on people, and recognize the paradigm shift in the workplace.

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