Employers Should Fear The Truth Behind Quiet Quitting. Here’s Why.

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Quietly giving up seems like odd terminology, as it has nothing to do with quitting your job for greener pastures. Many argue that there is no such thing as quiet giving up because it simply refers to workers completing their assigned work during their typical workday. What they don’t do is take on any extra responsibilities or participate in extracurricular activities at work. It’s about rejecting the idea that work has to take over your life.

And while the garrulous phrase has seemingly been replaced (for now) with quick quitting, we can’t ignore the real reason these terms were coined in the first place.

As a leadership consultant and executive coach, I’ve had many clients who struggled with how to draw boundaries between work and home before they felt it was all too much. They’re not sure when or how to say “no” to phone calls, emails, and texts after they’ve officially finished work. They’re overworked, overwhelmed, stressed out, burned out, and fed up with the work-to-exhaust-to-survive culture. While many of them seem to be moving towards the quiet quitting trend they are Yes, really doing means saying no to burnout. As her advisor and coach, I fully support her decisions to do just that.

Related: Silent cessation splits the workforce. Here’s how to bring everyone back together.

Tackling the root cause of so-called “silent smoking”

Rather than trying to keep up with the latest workplace trends circulating on social media, perhaps executives should pause and ask why these trends emerged in the first place. Why is it considered unacceptable for employees to turn down additional, often undesirable, responsibilities outside of their job description? Have we placed too much emphasis on employees spending long, stressful days with little free time or family time and only stopping when they’re burned out?

Or are we ignoring a growing number of people who are increasingly disengaged from work and find little pleasure in it because they are burned out? According to Gallup, the number of engaged employees has fallen from 36% in 2020 to 32% by early 2022.

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Related: 5 Burnout Warning Signs (And How To Respond To Them)

Why are workers done working themselves to the point of exhaustion?

The research is clear: burnout and stress levels have increased significantly since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, the American Psychological Association (APA) said in January 2022, “Burnout and stress are at all-time highs in all occupations.”

“From longer working hours to increased demands at home, the Covid 19 pandemic has introduced new stressors into almost all areas of life,” said the APA. “As the world heads into year three of the pandemic, these stressors have become persistent and indeterminate, increasing everyone’s risk of burnout.”

If the pandemic has pushed many workers into a state of burnout, it makes sense that they’d try to resist the rut by just doing what they do necessary make. They no longer see their workplace as a place for growth and instead feel unmotivated and drained.

This may in part be related to the shift to a work-from-home culture, which has contributed to many workers working significantly longer hours, struggling to switch off and blurring work-life boundaries. So many employees sit in front of their computers for more than 8 hours a day with little more than 15 minutes break to prepare lunch (and then eat in front of the computer), if they eat lunch at all. You are exhausted.

Interestingly, this increase in burnout is significantly higher among the younger generations. Indeed’s 2021 burnout research found that 53% of millennials were already feeling burned out before the pandemic, but that number rose to 59% in 2021. Gen Z saw a similar increase.

Together, these generations are happy to throw out the old rules of the past to build a better future. They are committed to protecting our environment, improving equality and justice, and improving living and working conditions. They generally disagree that work, not play, is a recipe for success in life. This generation wants to work meaningfully, but enjoying life outside of work is also essential for them.

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The World Health Organization states that 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 detachment from work, and decreased job performance.

Related: 8 fireproof tips to avoid burnout in the company

Those in leadership positions need to transform work culture to make their employees feel engaged, included, and connected to their work. Demotivated or burnt-out employees in your team disrupt team cohesion and have a negative impact on everyone. When one person barely works and the other works at full speed, it quickly becomes noticeable and affects the dynamics of the team. That’s why it’s so important to invest in improving the culture for everyone.

how to start

There are three main components you can work on to improve that will ultimately benefit your organization and your team: Value, Wellbeing, and Communication.

1. Make sure your employees feel valued

Make sure your employees know their presence, skills and work are needed and valued. Recognizing them goes a long way towards achieving this. Companies that make employee recognition a priority have employees who are 56% less likely to look for a new job, according to a recent Gallup-Workhuman survey. It could be as simple as acknowledging milestones in their lives, like work anniversaries and birthdays, and celebrating goals achieved or projects completed.

Perhaps reviewing opportunities for advancement and promotion for team members, or creating a week-end summary recognizing the week’s accomplishments and the team members who made it possible.

Or, if budget allows, maybe an organized event: a monthly get-together of employees, where everyone finishes work a few hours early and has a late lunch or dinner together.

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Related: The simple trick this CEO uses to prevent burnout

2. Invest in the well-being of your employees

It’s no secret that employee well-being and engagement go well together. Gallup noted that engagement and wellbeing are reciprocal, “with each influencing the future state of the other.”

What can you do to show that the company prioritizes the well-being of its employees and is committed to improving it?

There are practical things you can do. Your company may offer an employee support program that members can refer to when they need assistance or are having problems. You could also include wellness benefits:

  • A weekly massage.
  • A meditation class in the office during the lunch break.
  • The possibility of flexible working hours

In the longer term, appointing wellbeing leaders is a great way to keep track of what’s being done in the office to improve people’s mental health — they might even send out a monthly update on the changes. Easily encourage workers to leave on time and take regular breaks.

3. Focus on connecting people to their work

Recognizing and valuing the contribution of your employees is an important and powerful way to increase their ownership of their work. Create an open forum where employees can exchange ideas about the status of their work and projects, discuss innovative ideas that would excite them about the future, or maybe even find creative solutions to processes that aren’t working.

Hear what your employees are saying and listen to their ideas. This not only makes them feel valued, but also makes them feel more connected to their work. Encourage engagement 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 expecting their team to work to the point of exhaustion.

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