In this feature, Dr Erin Eatough, Sr Insights Manager for BetterUp, discusses quiet quitting and the role employers play in creating an engaged workforce...
‘Quiet quitting’ became a real buzzword in the world of work last year, even being included in Collins Dictionary’s top 10 words of 2022. However, while quiet quitting as a talking point is relatively new, the concept is pre-existing.
Quiet quitting refers to when employees show up to work with the purpose of doing no more than what's required to stay employed. It is an issue which has been plaguing the workplace for years and is indicative of an ongoing problem regarding employee engagement and satisfaction.
Recent research by BetterUp found that one in three workers are currently quiet quitting, highlighting the ongoing prominence of the issue. Thus, with this new label, quiet quitting has been brought to the forefront of HR leaders' minds as an issue they must tackle – and for good reason.
Cause for concern
For workers, quiet quitting may seem like a form of self-preservation – a way of protecting their mental health and preventing burnout by prioritising their wellbeing over work. However, HR leaders should be hesitant to view it in this way and should instead question why their workers feel the need to make this trade-off.
Our research found that while quiet quitters are 26% better at stress management, and 24% less likely to suffer from burnout than workaholics – those who are extremely dedicated and engaged with their work – they lack the workplace engagement of employees who are more balanced. And the leading causes for this? Poor leadership and workplace culture.
Those who thrive both personally and professionally are more likely to come from a culture of psychological safety and feel a greater sense of belonging. A psychologically safe workplace is one where employees feel that they can share their ideas, ask for help and challenge the status quo in a risk-free environment. Therefore, developing a workplace which focuses on supporting employees and creating value in their work is a precursor to creating belonging amongst the team.
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On the other hand, workers who do not feel as if they can present themselves and their ideas authentically are less likely to experience belonging. This can negatively impact productivity, engagement and eventually, retention.
Indeed, BetterUp research found that UK employees with a lower sense of belonging had a 74% stronger intention to leave their roles. Thus begins the cycle of quiet quitting to another major workplace trend which emerged out of the pandemic: the Great Resignation.
Poor leadership and workplace culture can have adverse effects not only on employees, but also retention and economic output. As HR leaders look to prioritise employee experience and recruitment this year, it is essential that they find solutions which address the root causes of quiet quitting, in order to facilitate a more engaged and loyal workforce.
It's all about balance
Our research found that on the opposite end of the spectrum to quiet quitters are workaholics, who make up one in ten UK workers.
But be aware, businesses shouldn’t strive to have an office full of workaholics either. After time, this ‘hustle culture’ can lead to chronic stress, burnout and a wealth of subsequent health problems, such as heart disease, hypertension, anxiety and depression.
On the other hand, a leading factor differentiating the more balanced “thrivers” and quiet quitters is that thrivers are both more satisfied with their life (18%) and more satisfied with work (21%). Therefore, it is important that HR leaders take steps to remind their teams that finding that sweet spot between work and home is essential.
Frequently checking in with their teams, giving them a voice to express when they feel overwhelmed, and promoting a healthier hybrid working culture which clearly sets expectations for remote and in office work are great ways to encourage conversations around and take steps towards better work-life balance.
Invest in your people
If we are to turn the tide, HR leaders will play a crucial role. They are imperative in creating a sense of belonging and connection amongst their teams, while also creating opportunities for development and opportunities that truly engage their workers.
BetterUp found that quiet quitters not only feel less sense of purpose at work (16%), but are also less likely to have a growth mindset (13%) – that is, they see less value and potential in their ability to develop skills and intelligence at work.
This can be combated through a number of methods. There’s formal and informal recognition, which comes in the form of promotions, highlighting an employee of the month, or making an announcement of praise at a team meeting.
But there’s also more practical steps such as investing in learning and development, asking employees if there are certain skills they want to develop or jobs they’d want to get involved in and acting on those. Showing that the organisation is invested in their success is crucial in maintaining engagement.
And it's important that this is an ongoing thing. Quiet quitters do not just emerge out of thin air. They are born out of a lack of focus on wellbeing and purpose in the workplace, with our research showing that thrivers with lower purpose and meaning at work are twice as likely to turn into quiet quitters.
Finding the solution
As the conversation moves on from ‘quiet quitting’, it’s important to note that the issues behind it are ongoing and need to be addressed.
With engagement and retention at the forefront of the mind of HR leaders, it is essential that they take steps to mitigate quiet quitting. Give employees the opportunity to become re-engaged in their work, give them challenges that allow them to value what they do, but also shows that their employers value them, and remember to encourage balance.
In doing so, HRs remedy the plight of existing quiet quitters, but also prevent it from becoming a productivity crisis within their organisation.