Combatting the Quiet Quitting phenomenon

The concept of ‘quiet quitting’ is a more modern term for what many of us know as ‘work to rule’. In other words, it is where employees work within their defined hours and do exactly what the job requires – nothing more. It is said to be a post-pandemic phenomenon – particularly in younger workers or those who were furloughed during the pandemic and might still be holding on to some residual antipathy.

With productivity at the forefront of the minds of many business owners, especially in this time of financial pressures across the economy, quiet quitting is a concern. It is the opposite of ‘discretionary effort’, which is what we work with our clients to encourage through developing a workplace culture where employees are well engaged and motivated to do more than the bare minimum.

Disengaged people who don’t feel like they have a sense of purpose in their job role, or connection with their colleagues and the business they work for, are less likely to go above and beyond. Employees who enjoy their work and the working environment will always put in more effort because they get a buzz from achieving and being part of a bigger vision.

Author Daniel Pink argues that there are three crucial elements to encourage intrinsic motivation in your employees (i.e., it comes from within them and not through threat of punishment or promise of reward): autonomy, mastery and purpose.

He suggests that leaders should encourage autonomy amongst employees across time, technique, team, and task. For instance, some organisations allow employees to have time at the workplace for their personal development or to encourage a work-related project outside of their usual tasks, which can lead to innovative ideas and solutions (Google is the famous example of this). More flexible working practices is another example of allowing employees more autonomy as they are trusted to get their work done in a way that suits them. Teamwork is another good way of facilitating autonomy, particularly where the team members pick the team and people get to work across functions.

Pink describes Mastery as the desire to continually improve. Most people get a high degree of job satisfaction from getting better at things or developing their own skills. Creating opportunities for employees to develop themselves in different ways contributes to an increase in their inner drive and motivation. In contrast, a lack of opportunity for people to spend time improving themselves or investing in their professional and personal development leaves the potential for employees to feel demotivated and even bored by the lack of perceived progress they are making in their own careers. The key is to find the ‘Goldilocks’ tasks – those things which are neither too stretching, nor too easy – they are just right!

Finally, and we would argue is most important for business owners to cultivate, is Purpose – that is the desire to do things that contribute to something larger than themselves. Doing things that matter and make a difference is a big motivator – particularly to younger employees who are said to be more conscious of their impact socially and environmentally. Regardless of age, most of us spend half of our waking hours at work and we want that time to matter.

A key part of adding purpose to work is to ensure that the organisation’s vision and goals are clearly communicated to employees in a way that is personal to them. They need to know the big picture and understand how their work and contribution fits into that. Having a clear line of sight from the large organisational goals to what an individual is working on day to day is a great way of establishing this, but like most things it isn’t a ‘one and done’ exercise. Regularly updating people as to how the business is performing against those goals is key, as is giving employees regular feedback on their own individual performance.

Of course, none of this works in isolation and in the current climate there is no denying that additional money above the set salary is a motivator for many at work, but Pink argues that once people perceive they are paid fairly for the contribution they are making, then they become much more motivated by intrinsic elements.

Our biggest piece of advice is for line managers to get to know their people and really understand what motivates them. If you have employees who you suspect could be prone to becoming quiet quitters, start there. Encourage line managers to have a conversation with them, acknowledge that the phenomenon exists and seek their feedback on what motivates them. Employers often shy away from these conversations in fear that people will make demands for more money that they can’t meet but this often isn’t the case, and you might just be surprised at some of the ideas they have which cost little or no money.

Weaving the crucial elements of autonomy, mastery and purpose into your employment offering is easier than you think, and the DICE team has a wealth of tools and techniques that can help. Get in touch if you’d like to find out more and ensure your employees don’t quietly quit on you, because they are likely to quietly quit before they actually quit. Email to organise a free and confidential chat about your business.

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