Even before it became a buzzword, quiet quitting seeped into workplaces that didn’t care to consider how important employee engagement really is.
The act of quiet quitting, when an employee feels disconnected from the workplace and quits the idea of going above and beyond, gained steam over the past year. And as a trend, it’s very much alive and well. A Gallup study found that at least half of the U.S. workforce is quiet quitting. The report found that the ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is 1.8 to 1, the lowest in almost a decade. That decline in engagement is especially high among Gen Z and younger millennials. But these are the same folks who are also the future of the workforce. So what can be done to help revive that interest in the workplace and boost engagement?
After speaking to numerous workplace experts and leaders, we curated a list of the top five antidotes that they say could be the answer to re-engaging employees.
1. Provide learning and development opportunities
This is a global problem. In the U.K., 86% of 2,000 workers said that they would work for their employer for longer if they were given more L&D opportunities, and 94% felt that training would benefit them and the company at large, per a report from e-learning solutions platform imc.
Jeff Dewing, founder & CEO of Cloudfm, a facilities management and consultancy services company, argues that it’s the employer’s responsibility to combat quiet quitting and that L&D can be a significant piece of the puzzle.
“Business leaders must create space for their employees to explore the areas they are interested in,” said Dewing. “Refusing to do so will land your team on the road to apathy and quiet quitting.”
Take Google’s famous 20% rule for example. It suggests that at least 20% of workers’ time should be on a passion project of their own choosing. It’s led to the creation of products like Gmail, AdSense and Google News.
Esther Cohen, director of marketing at Workamajig, recommends that employees ask about career development opportunities directly and to have an understanding of the company’s policies for promotions.
“Work directly with your manager to reach your next desired role, defining clear action steps within an achievable timeframe,” said Cohen.
2. Offer good benefits, fair salary and flexible working
It’s no secret that a fair pair goes a long way. Alongside quiet quitting is the trend of “acting your wage,” where workers only do as much as they feel is appropriate to what they are being paid. With a fair salary, and a full benefits package, it makes a difference in how engaged that worker might be. When a company puts their money where their mouth is, it helps to show just how much they actually do value their employees.
“Keeping employees motivated, productive, and engaged at work requires a combination of factors,” said Danielle Hipwell, director of people experience at automated messaging platform Customer.io. “Comprehensive benefits such as PTO, health benefits, and competitive pay are one piece of the puzzle.”
On top of this, though, is flexibility in work schedules and places. If a company is forcing an employee to return to the office, it might leave them with feelings of resentment and doing less in exchange for removing the benefit of working from home.
“I refuse to force employees back into the office,” said Dewing. “The future of work is about collaboration, not coercion.”
3. Conduct stay interviews and train bosses
Having an annual performance review no longer cuts it. Checking in with employees frequently is extremely important to prevent quiet quitting and to gauge how an employee is feeling. It’s a heavy lift for managers, who might be fighting feelings of quiet quitting themselves, but an important one.
Gallup’s research finds the best requirement and habit to develop for successful managers is having one meaningful conversation per week with each team member that lasts 15 to 30 minutes. At the end of the day, managers are in a position to know employees as individuals, including their life experiences, strengths and goals.
“Use regular one-to-one’s to check that your workers are engaged with their position and together agree on goals that stretch their abilities together,” said Jill Cotton, a career trends expert at classifieds site Gumtree.
Recent research from U.S. software firm UKG found that people managers have more impact on employee mental health than even our doctors and therapists do, and the same impact as our spouses and partners.
“We have to lean in with our managers, helping them with their responsibility to create engaging work cultures and help people find purpose at work,” said Pat Wadors, UKG’s chief people officer. “Investing in your people managers to provide the training and resources they need to be strong, agile leaders is how to ensure employees find their purpose – and deliver results – is key to preventing quiet quitting.”
She suggests that it’s time for managers to throw out the script and to just be human and act with authenticity.
4. Build a culture of psychological safety to build strong teams
Those one-to-one conversations require a lot of trust between the manager and the employee so that it goes past just the surface level.
“Quiet quitting can be resolved by creating an environment underpinned by psychological safety, where encouraging employees to speak up and giving them the reassurance that they will be listened to restores engagement and motivation,” said Dr Alexandra Dobra-Kiel, innovation and strategy director at Behave Consultancy. “It’s not about always being comfortable, but about fostering the ability to face difficulty head on.”
Creating that environment means having established formal and informal feedback channels to share ideas, lending ears, and having mechanisms to show that the suggestions are then implemented. That aspect of listening might seem like common sense, but it isn’t always.
“It’s time for leaders to start listening, and managers and business owners should show their employees that they are valued members of a team by expressing appreciation, listening to their needs and addressing their concerns directly when they can,” said Nick Shah, CEO and Founder of Peterson Technology Partners, an IT recruiting and consulting firm based in Chicago. “Today’s workers value empathy, and a leader who can share their emotions with their team is more likely to create a responsive, emotionally clued-in and productive workplace.”
Barnaby Lashbrooke, founder and director of virtual assistant company Time Etc, believes that if someone has clearly checked out and enthusiasm levels have dropped below their baseline, there is likely a good reason.
“It might be something going on at home that’s stolen their focus, in which case, you’ll need to offer space and emotional support,” said Lashbrooke. “Or the problem could be internal. Perhaps that person is feeling underwhelmed by the response to their previous efforts of going above and beyond. In which case you, as an employer, need to get better at recognition and reward.”
At Time Etc, they start every day with a short huddle where people in the team are invited to thank others for help and support they’ve given, or for exceeding expectations on a task or project.
5. Come together for company offsites or retreats
Whether you’re working remotely or in the office, an offsite can serve as the perfect opportunity for teams to reconnect in a new way that’s different from their usual space. It helps create a change from the daily routine and offers a space for workers to come together, which can boost engagement in both the short and long term.
“It doesn’t depend on virtual or not,” said Marco Zappacosta, CEO at home management platform Thumbtack. “It’s management effectiveness, organizational effectiveness and how impactful your cultural norms are like getting together in person and having events to bring about the environment you want. That’s why we’re seeing the lowest attrition rate this half in years. That’s no accident.”
Thumbtack’s new employee sentiment data found that more than 91% of team members who attended global offsites in the first half of 2023 reported leaving with deeper relationships and found it to be a valuable use of their time.
“It’s necessary to invest in curated, thoughtful, purposeful events to bring people together, which don’t take that many calendar days but have a huge impact on engagement, excitement and connection,” said Zappacosta.
Alysia Young, head senior director of employee experience at Thumbtack, doubles down on the importance of connection. “It all boils down to connection, and humans need and want to connect with each other. There’s only so much we can do on Zoom.”
“Being intentional about this time that we bring people together has allowed us to achieve such great results in a short amount of time,” said Young.