26 September 2023

Leaders can stop quiet quitting — here’s how

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Michael DePrisco* shares five leadership actions to stop quiet quitting (and undo the damage).

“Quiet quitting” has evolved from a life hack on social media into a global phenomenon.

But all the discourse and the alleged newness of an age-old problem distracts leaders from the real issue: a lack of employee engagement.

Quiet quitters—employees rethinking their relationship with work and are unwilling to go above and beyond basic job requirements—are not slackers.

Most likely, they feel mired in the workplace mud because they aren’t getting the direction, recognition, or motivation they seek from their leaders, managers, or mentors.

Disengagement—a history lesson

A recent Gallup survey revealed how widespread employee disengagement is, cutting across industries and generational lines.

For example, half of US employees surveyed consider themselves quiet quitters.

And another 18 per cent aren’t so quiet; these are actively disengaged employees who are, most likely, seeking another job.

Most employees want to be engaged at work.

They want to feel like they have a sense of purpose, understand their role and responsibilities, have a pathway to advance in their career, and believe their skills align with the outcomes they’re working to achieve.

Creating a work environment conducive to these positive outcomes requires leading with intention and empathy—and it’s absolutely worth the effort.

When leaders actively engage their employees, employees return the favor, and performance—individually and as teams—is greatly enhanced.

For example, our research at PMI found that 71 per cent of top-performing organizations—those that experience fewer hurdles when it comes to attracting and retaining talent relative to their peers—promote a culture of continuous learning, compared to 51 per cent of all organizations.

Employees may disengage from their work for many reasons, from demands in their personal life to dissatisfaction with their career choices.

Quiet quitting is a complex (and longstanding) issue, but one that leaders can help rectify by taking new action.

Here are five tangible steps leaders can take to foster employee engagement as the counter-balance to quiet quitting:

Communicate early, often, and transparently.

If the only time you and your employees discuss their progress and goals is during performance reviews, they are destined to become quiet quitters.

No one wants to feel isolated or ignored—schedule regular one-on-ones to discuss their work and aspirations.

While frequent check-ins with your leader are essential, it’s also critical that employees hear from upper management and leadership, whether through one-on-one conversations, teamwide meetings, regular company updates, or companywide town halls.

Democratize decision-making.

Give day-to-day decisions to those closest to the work and interact directly with clients and customers.

Employees are incentivized to actively participate when given this level of ownership.

As a result, collaboration is enhanced, trust is engendered, and productivity is improved when employees can go beyond being tactical worker bees.

Consider reviewing upcoming projects as a team and assigning ownership and roles using a RACI chart that denotes who will be responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed on each key project.

Give them a project that fits their skills and goals.

A great way to avoid or extract someone from workplace malaise is to provide a new assignment that aligns with their skills, interests, or career goals.

In today’s increasingly decentralized workplace, many employees are adversely affected by role ambiguity.

Projects, by design, should come with a team, clearly defined responsibilities, desired outcomes, and checkpoints along the way—all of which can reignite their passion for work and bolster their confidence.

Invest in their professional development.

So often, the pathway to career growth is blocked by an individual’s lack of qualifications for a particular job or promotion.

Ensure your teams have the opportunity to take refresher courses or pursue new avenues of interest.

Employees are more likely to quit figuratively—or literally—if their future looks cloudy.

Training can’t be one-size-fits-all—it must be customized for each employee based on their role, level, and career aspirations.

Providing learning and development opportunities in a variety of different formats is critical.

Our research at PMI indicates that top-performing organizations are more likely to:

  • Provide in-house coaching, mentoring, and shadowing opportunities
  • Use tech to facilitate agile, innovative, and continuous learning
  • Provide team-based training
  • Partner with external training providers
  • Provide on-demand micro-learning opportunities
  • Adapt training to diverse employee needs

Be a role model.

It’s fine to talk a good game, but your actions are more inclined to encourage your team to change their workplace behaviours.

Are you motivated and enthusiastic? Do you proactively engage with them? Do you seek their opinions and observations?

By taking these and other steps, leaders can build a culture of trust that empowers employees and helps them make better choices—for the business and their careers.

And in the process, you will sidestep the dangers of the quiet quitting conundrum.

*Michael DePrisco is the chief operating officer at Project Management Institute (PMI), the world’s largest association for project professionals, with 680,000+ members spanning more than 200 countries.

This article first appeared at qz.com

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