What to do if you think your employees are 'quiet quitting'

Whether you call it "quiet quitting," retired in role, work apathy or low engagement - the concept of disconnected workers refusing to go above and beyond at work is a real one.

A recent Gallup poll estimates the number of "quiet quitters" at 50% of the U.S. workforce.

This isn't all that surprising: Coming out of two-plus years of the pandemic has added new challenges that only increase the phenomenon of quiet quitting. People managers have a steep learning curve regarding how to effectively manage, develop and connect to their teams in the remote work era.

Employees are also missing out on socialization with colleagues, a factor that typically fosters engagement and commitment to work.

That isn't to say remote work is to blame, but there's a lag in managers' skills at re-creating these important elements, allowing disconnection to flourish.

Ladle on top of this the high levels of mental and emotional fatigue caused by the pandemic and its overwhelming social changes and we have a recipe for quiet quitting.

But while employee disengagement is particularly acute right now, it's also not new. The percent of engaged employees has hovered around just 30% in the two decades Gallup has tracked engagement.

Over that time, we've seen employee disengagement has a direct link to the relationship a person has with their manager. Research demonstrates that an unhealthy working relationship between a manager and direct report has the largest impact on an employee's engagement and desire to stay within the organization. In fact, managers account for as much as 70% of variance in employee engagement, according to Gallup, and 82% of employees told GoodHire they would consider quitting over a bad manager.

This is why it's pertinent to help our people managers recognize the signs of quiet quitting, so they can take action to engage these individuals. These are the common signs to look for:

• Withdrawing from team activities.

• Being overly quiet in meetings.

• Slow or no responses or follow through on requests.

• Disengagement on a routine basis.

• Isolation from colleagues and teammates.

• Colleagues complaining about the work ethic of the individual.

Managers who see these signs need to take prompt action to better understand how the employee is feeling. Unfortunately, we often see managers retreat from an employee who is quiet quitting because they want to avoid the challenging discussions. We need to equip our managers with the skills to have these delicate conversations and to convey active listening and empathy.

Beyond that first conversation with a disengaged employee, here are five practical actions a manager can take to improve employee engagement:

1.) Create psychologically safe environments in which employees can express themselves and share frustrations and still feel supported.

2.) Focus employee one-on-ones on the employee, their engagement, development and aspirations at least once a month. Resist the urge to turn all one-on-ones into a conversation about work emergencies and progress on task completion.

3.) Encourage team members to take breaks during the day and to use vacation time to unplug.

4.) Send work correspondence during work hours and avoid flooding team member inboxes after hours or on weekends.

5.) Reinforce with each team member monthly how his or her contributions tie to the purpose of the organization. Find at least one accomplishment from each person to recognize.

Most importantly, don't ignore the symptoms. Engaged employees perform better, experience less burnout and stay in organizations longer, according to research culled by the Harvard Business Review. Make employee engagement a goal managers actively work toward achieving - and you'll reap the benefits.

• Paul Eccher is president and CEO of The Vaya Group in Warrenville.

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