Four Ways to Approach the Quiet Quitting Phenomenon
“Quiet quitting” may seem like a new trend, but Aon experts believe it’s been a few years in the making. Here are four lessons companies can learn from this commonly misinterpreted term.
The term “quiet quitting,” popularized on social media in 2022, can be misleading.
The majority of employees in this category are quietly dialing back the amount of time and energy they put into their work.
It’s on companies to establish and support a strong performance management program and better work-life equilibrium to improve employee engagement.
By now everyone in the workforce has likely heard the term “quiet quitting,” which became popularized on social media in 2022. While initially this sounds like an HR leader’s or manager’s worst nightmare, it can be misleading. The majority of employees in this category are not, in fact, quitting. Nor are they “slacking off.” Instead, experts say the term reflects employees that are quietly dialing back the amount of time and energy they put into their work.
“Post pandemic, employees have reviewed their priorities, with many giving greater focus to their personal wellbeing and work-life balance,” says Helen Payne, strategic consultant, Health Solutions, Aon.
This is not to say that every “quiet quitting” employee is right — or wrong. Much of this behavior and angst are symptoms of the enormous changes and evolution occurring in the workplace. Employees have continually been asked to do more with less. This, combined with today’s uncertainty, has resulted in many people scrambling to find clarity and direction, which can be a frustrating process.
But as usual, the power to create workforce solutions sits far more with the employer and the policies that are established than individual employees or even their managers. If one thing guarantees companies will let down their people, it’s silence. It’s time to say the “quiet” part out loud and acknowledge in the discussion that it’s on companies to establish and support a strong performance management program and better work-life equilibrium.
Here are four ways that organizations and their HR teams can proactively respond to the quiet quitting discussion by improving their talent engagement, and ultimately, building workforce resilience.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic and switch to remote work, a bridge between personal and professional life was crossed. The workday became a part of the home both physically and mentally, with video meetings, longer hours and a lack of boundaries for many. As a result, we are seeing rising employee burnout levels. “When we were in the office, we'd need to budget time for people to go from one floor to another, or one meeting room to another,” comments Neil Shastri, associate partner, Human Capital Solutions, Aon. “Now it's not at all uncommon to have five to six meetings back-to-back, transported by the simple click of a button.”
What you can do: Employers should focus on changing their attitudes and expectations around meetings. As an organization, consider adopting a specific meeting policy and then clearly communicating it to your people. This could include having designated video-free meeting days or days with no meetings at all. When working with colleagues across multiple regions, consider holding two similar calls to accommodate time zones. Suggest ending meetings with time for colleagues to take short breaks between calls. In response to these added boundaries, employees should always ensure they are making the most of the scheduled time they have by articulating a clear agenda with next steps and meaningful takeaways.
2. Understand that people's priorities have changed
The pandemic gave people a glimpse into their colleagues’ personal lives and what they are balancing and value outside of their work. In fact, it was this social ecosystem that served as many people’s only escape and sense of solace during the pandemic. They are not going to prioritize yet another meaningless meeting over kissing their child goodnight or a catching up with an old friend.
What you can do: Aon’s Rising Resilient Report found that 55 percent of employees do not feel able to reach their full potential and 42 percent do not feel secure at work. Help change this by conducting regular check-ins with your employees. Ask them what they need to be successful, motivated and engaged. How can the company help them achieve their professional as well as personal goals? When employees are deemed to be “quietly quitting,” perhaps they are taking a step back to reflect on certain pressures outside of work or their next career move. Employers should acknowledge this possibility and use it as a chance to check in with employees on a personal level or discuss career goals and development plans. Doing so will help maintain a more engaged and resilient workforce for the future.
3. Improve your performance management process
Establishing and thoroughly supporting a strong performance management process is at the heart of the quiet quitting discussion. There should be alignment between both management and the employee on what the role requires, what defines success and failure, and what is a reasonable workload.
What you can do: Even as some companies have de-emphasized or eliminated performance ratings, a strong performance management system is important. Ratings or no ratings, consider the following elements:
Include checkpoints for managers and employees alike to regularly and safely talk through any aspect of the role and performance to keep things on track
Ensure that employees aren’t at risk of burnout from internal or external pressures, as well as real or perceived expectations
Encourage and support managers in accurately gauging employee sentiment
Identify subpar job performance before quiet quitting sets in (managers should then work with employees without delay to improve performance, potentially adjust the role or part ways)
Recognize unreasonable performance conditions or expectations before there are any quiet quitting warning signs
It's human nature to avoid conflict and confrontation, so there must be processes around your human capital management. It's not easy and it takes time, intention, training and commitment. It doesn't always come naturally and, if anything, the process has gotten more complex in an increasingly two-dimensional workplace.”
associate partner, Human Capital Solutions, Aon
4. Acknowledge overwork and the need for flexibility
Companies need to embrace flexible working conditions, address the culture of overwork and recognize generational differences in the workplace. This should be reflected in customizing certain rewards and benefits programs, as well as two-way communications between the employer and employee on expectations of how and when work gets done.
What you can do: If your company is experiencing increased turnover, don’t just throw money at the problem. Higher pay is not always the driving force behind employee departures — and even if employees leave for more money, they may be more motivated to stay for other reasons. To put this into perspective, last year Aon conducted employee listening for a large professional service firm in the UK. Based on consistent results from their annual employee engagement surveys, the company was convinced that their biggest workforce issue was pay and bonus. However, Aon’s Reflection Survey, which removes conscious bias using implicit reaction time (a neuroscience technique), discovered that the real reason employees were unhappy was due to unrealistic time demands and the impact this had on their work-life balance. Like many organizations, our client needed to acknowledge the common issue of overwork and add flexibility, headcount or budget for contractor help to address shifting workforce needs.
The top three wellbeing issues in LATAM are work-life balance, mental health and the virtual work environment
Source: Aon’s Global Wellbeing Survey
In APAC, companies are also focused on physical health and burnout
Source: Aon’s Global Wellbeing Survey
Don’t delay. Be proactive and dig below the surface, even if everything seems “fine” — perhaps especially if everything seems fine, as there’s so much more to quiet quitting than meets the eye. It’s about a languishing workforce that is burnt out and adapting to a constantly evolving workplace. It’s about employees recalibrating their purpose and choosing to not always go that extra mile. It’s about companies lacking an engagement model that motivates people to strive for more.
According to survey data from Gallup, U.S. employee engagement continues to fall, with Gen Z and younger millennials reporting the lowest engagement during the first quarter at 31 percent.1 Since “quiet quitting” aligns with those who are not engaged, organizations should acknowledge that this trend is here to stay and use it as an opportunity to revisit their employee experience, starting with understanding how their people truly feel.
“Having a ‘whole’ perspective on performance offers both a richer colleague and client experience and ensures that companies can bounce back and innovate over time,” comments Rachel Fellowes, chief wellbeing officer, Aon. “In practice, this means committing to new ways of measuring wellbeing and educating and empowering people to make meaningful changes for themselves, their teams and ultimately their organizations.”
For additional support on this topic and other human capital-related issues, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 State of the Global Workplace 2022 Report, Gallup
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