What to do when employees show up to work but don't engage
Around the world, only 15% of workers are actively engaged at work.
This means up to 85% could be jumping on the ‘quiet quitting’ band wagon. There’s less buy-in for the ‘work hard, play hard’ culture and there’s more focus on one’s own wellbeing. It’s the ultimate payback to a toxic workplace - workers show up, complete their tasks, go home.
Some say it’s the minimum required, others say they’re merely doing the job they’re paid to do. Either way, it’s is happening.
But why? What can be done? Let’s dive in.
What Do We Mean By ‘Quiet Quitting’?
It’s not quitting. But it’s not not quitting either.
Employees are showing up to work, fulfilling their primary responsibilities and going home. No stepping up. No raising their hand. No going above and beyond.
They are resigning from the idea of going the extra mile if it means it will offset their balance and their well-being. That is, the stress, the burnout, the late nights - the emotional and psychological over expenditure of work.
Basically, if ‘above and beyond’ means constant overtime and building anxiety then forget about it.
It makes sense right? The employee-leadership relationship is a two-way street. It just so happens, the new workforce generation is asking for workplaces to step up their game in terms of workplace culture.
But it's a dangerous play – and one that's costing businesses significantly. One study in particular focussed on workplace engagement and found that quiet quitting is costing US businesses up to $500 billion annually. The study also disclosed that this could equal up to $1.5 trillion globally.
Why is Quiet Quitting Happening?
What we know is, there is a reason why employees have opted in to ‘quiet quitting’. It all comes down to psychological safety, well-being and making sure human needs are being understood, being met.
So when it comes down to it, there are three crucial areas that, if unstable, will form the foundational cracks in an employee’s mindset.
Lack Of Support
In her book Dare to Lead, Dr. Brene Brown talks about this a lot. She says psychological safety in the workplace is about creating an environment that makes employees feel safe, heard and comfortable to have difficult conversations.
To be vulnerable without fear of shame or repercussions.
If employees don’t feel the support, if they feel like they don't have a team, a boss or a manager backing them 100%, they won't want to push themselves.
Why? Because support ensures motivation.
If there’s no advocacy, or zero feeling of consideration from leadership, employees tend to put up their own boundaries.
We all get busy from time to time. Managers may be overwhelmed and overworked themselves, or are unresponsive to employees' concerns. But if the support isn’t there - no empathy, no solutions - then it’s easy for employees to pull back from their efforts.
There's No Trust
Poor communication results in a breakdown of trust. Whether employees feel uncomfortable voicing what they think, or management lacks the skills to communicate effectively.
Employees may feel uncomfortable voicing their concerns or opinions. On the other hand, managers may not know how to effectively express their issues. In any case, if there's a lack of communication, trust declines and there's no longer a safe space for employees to speak up.
As a result, employees will unsubscribe from the expectation of keeping managers in the loop, and won't speak up when it's needed, based on a “what's the point?” attitude.
In fact, when Brene Brown conducted her own research, she found that the root of established trust in a workplace is feeling comfortable asking for help.
If there's trust, stable unambiguous communication will follow. Learn more about how to effectively build trust in your teams here.
Liz Wiseman's work on multiplier and diminisher traits informs us that stress-inducing behaviours from leadership is a one-way ticket to unproductive, unhappy employees.
According to Asana's 2022 report, seven out 10 employees have experienced burnout in the past year. Employees are also more likely to feel less engaged and are more vulnerable to making mistakes.
Meanwhile, a 2021 survey found that only 36% of employees are actively engaged at work. Giving way for overworked, overwhelmed, exhausted and overburdened employees to want to take a step back and re-evaluate their work-life balance.
The never-ending stress often results in one thing: a tired, resentful employee who is giving themselves back some control.
What are the Signs of Quiet Quitting?
When enough is enough, employees will start to scale back their efforts and stick to the bare minimum. Here are a few red flags to look out for:
Less Motivation and Initiative
Noticing a drop in initiative and motivation is a sign of distancing oneself from the role.
Employees will follow instructions, but that's it. Nothing more. There’s no more initiative or interest in extra projects. They no longer approach management, it's always the other way around.
If you begin to notice this, it could be a sign of a decrease in overall attitude and job satisfaction.
When the motivation dips, productivity follows suit.
Deliverable output decreases, there’s less vocal input in meetings, no urgency - whatever it is, it could indicate a larger issue. This is not to say that employees aren’t completely disengaged (we all need a small break every now and again), but it’s something to look out for.
Distancing From The Team
Part of quiet quitting is setting hard boundaries between you and the work, which may also include the rest of the team.
It might show through not going out of their way from helping another team member, taking more time off work or becoming socially distant. As a result, the team as a whole can suffer.
How To Prevent Quiet Quitting?
An adaptive leadership is crucial to succeed within a dynamic workplace. Leaders need to also step up, respond to change where it’s needed. This means re-visiting areas that are now reflecting what a toxic workplace looks like, revamping traditional models and changing it up.
Quick tip: Prepare for change with our expert virtual masterclass with Future Fit author Andrea Clarke providing you with everything you need to know about how to effectively adapt and respond to change.
Compensate, Recognise and Show Gratitude
Never underestimate the value of a gold star, a pat on the back or a ‘well done’. In fact, 79% of employees say if they would stop 'quiet quitting' if they were given more recognition.
Zero recognition or radio silence from a manager often instills worry, a drop of perceived quality and results in a decrease of employee engagement. If employees don't feel valued, they more likely to check out.
Recognising value, saying thank you and voicing appreciation is the best thing you can do to make sure you’re meeting one of the most impactful human needs - feeling worthy.
Team lunches, getaways or even small bonuses are other ways to tangibly show one’s appreciation.
Be Transparent About Career Growth
No one likes feeling stuck in their job with nowhere to go.
Taking part in discussing career development gives employees a chance to envision how they can scale up the ladder from day they start. Discuss what areas interest your employees, give them guidance to take on projects and come up with strategies to get there.
If you want your employees to thrive, give them the opportunity to look forward - they’ll feel engaged and motivated to get there.
Listen to Your Teams
Whether it’s a promoting a hybrid working model or simply being understood, whatever it is - listen to your teams.
Disconnect happens when employees feel they aren’t being heard or valued, and even more so if there’s a clear lack of support from their managers. When this happens, employee won’t always leave, they’ll simply do what they need to. But that’s it.
It’s all about nurturing those relationships. It’ll make the world of difference.
Connect With Your Teams
People don’t quit the company, they quit what happens inside the company.
Absent managers and a lack of professional and personal check ins are crucial. Especially now that more workplaces are switching to hybrid and remote working models. It’s getting easier for team members to feel isolated, so it’s important to bridge the gap of disconnect.
The best way to combat the desire to mentally check out is to have a productive and meaningful discussion to keep engagement levels from dipping out.
Quick tip: want to leave a positive legacy with your teams? Our Growth Faculty pass gives you exclusive access to award-winning leadership expert, business leader and author of Head & Heart, Kristin Ferguson. Learn how to make a positive impact on your teams of all sizes from Kristin's 30 years of experience.
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