Why Half the Workforce Is Quiet Quitting, and What To Do About It

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Why Half the Workforce Is Quiet Quitting

The phenomenon of “quiet quitting” has recently taken the workforce (and the internet) by storm. Unlike actual quitting, a manager wouldn’t necessarily know if an employee has “quietly quit,” which perhaps explains why the trend is so unnerving. This, plus the fact that it’s worse than previously thought. Gallup recently found that “quiet quitters” make up at least half of the U.S. workforce today, if not more. 

sustain-leadership-habits-previewQuiet Quitting Is Just A New Name For An Old Problem

Quiet quitting is actually a new term for an old concept: it describes employees who exist in that state between “actively engaged” and “actively disengaged.” Employees who are “actively disengaged” are dissatisfied with their workplace. Disengaged employees are the most likely to leave, many having one foot out the door at all times. On the opposite end of the spectrum are actively engaged employees, or those with a deep, emotional commitment to the organization and its goals. Engaged employees are happy at work and willing to give their discretionary time and effort back to the organization. 

Quiet quitters live in the hazy no man’s land between these two states. Employees who are neither engaged nor disengaged show up only to do the bare minimum. They don’t feel compelled to go “above and beyond” in their roles, but they’re also not looking to leave. Quiet quitters are content to cash their paychecks and phone it in—nothing more, nothing less. Some blame remote work for quiet quitting, believing it has given quiet quitters a way to hide their complacency. While this may be partially true, the reality is that “quiet quitting” has always been a “thing.” Now we just have a name for it. 

The Solution To Quiet Quitting? Develop Your Managers In These 12 Research-Backed Behaviors

So what’s to be done about the proliferation of quiet quitters? Would a few extra vacation days be enough to “actively engage” employees? Or maybe a day of in-person team building? These solutions are like ibuprofen for a sprained ankle. They won’t accomplish anything if you keep walking on that sprained ankle. You can’t just treat the symptoms. You have to fix the root cause. 

In comes managers. Gallup research shows that 70% of the variance in employee engagement can be tied back to the manager. The principle that “people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad managers” applies to quiet quitting too. It’s just that, in this case, many managers of quiet quitters aren’t actively toxic or bad; they’re just okay. They’re average, mediocre managers. The good news is that most mediocre managers aren’t fatally flawed. They’re just underdeveloped when it comes to the leadership habits that create engaged employees. 

According to a survey of 10 million workers in 150 countries, there are 12 leadership behaviors that are directly correlated to employee engagement. Each can be trained for and developed. They include:

  1. Future vision – Does the manager communicate the organization’s goals and strategy in a way that makes employees feel confident about the future?
  2. Psychological safety – Does the manager create an open and trusting environment where employees feel free to speak their minds without fear of negative consequences?
  3. Trust – Does the manager keep their commitments? Do their words and actions match?
  4. Feedback – Does the manager give employees actionable feedback that helps them improve performance?
  5. Meeting Efficiency – The manager’s meetings are a productive use of the team’s time.
  6. Autonomy – Does the manager provide the autonomy employees need to do their jobs? Do they not micromanage?
  7. Care – Does the manager show that they care about employees as a people?
  8. Recognition – Does the manager show appreciation or give recognition when employees do good work?
  9. Career – Does the manager have meaningful and frequent discussions about career development?
  10. Accountability – Does the manager hold people accountable for their performance?
  11. One-on-ones – Does the manager meet with each employee one-on-one at least twice a month?
  12. Two-way communication – Does the manager listen to ideas and opinions?

It’s not enough for managers to display these behaviors every now and then. To be effective, these leadership behaviors must become habits. 

A 5-Step Framework To Turn These 12 Behaviors Into Habits

Follow these five steps to turn these 12 key behaviors into habits (and engage your employees in the process). 

  1. Measure Your Managers. Before you can get to where you’re going, you first need to establish where you are. The first step is to deploy a manager effectiveness survey to employees across the organization. This survey doesn’t need to be long or complex to provide you a clear picture of each manager’s strengths and weaknesses. A simple survey containing the 12 questions above will provide the data needed to benchmark your managers and establish a foundation for each manager’s development. Just make sure the survey is completely anonymous so employees feel safe to answer questions honestly. 
  2. Give Your Managers The Data. This may seem like an obvious step, but it’s one that many organizations miss. Once you’ve collected and analyzed the survey data, meet with each manager to debrief their results and ensure that their growth areas are crystal clear. Managers will be much more “bought in” to data-backed, employee-driven training areas than they will to a general training. It’s also equally important for managers to understand what they’re doing well so they don’t abandon those efforts as they grow and learn in other areas.
  3. Train And Develop Those Key Behaviors With Learning In The Flow Of Work. Once you and the manager are on the same page about growth opportunities, it’s time to train and develop around those specific behaviors. Ideally, development happens in small doses in the flow of work and focuses on practice and application. Studies have shown that within just 24 hours of attending a training session, attendees will forget 70 percent of the information presented (and more than that after 24 hours). When learning is delivered in smaller doses and emphasizes application on the job, managers will be better set to retain what they learn.
  4. Leverage Personalized Nudges. Personalized nudges draw on the behaviors that a manager has targeted to improve, offering specific strategies for managers to apply on the job. For example, an employee working on “recognition” might receive a nudge that says, “Improve your engagement score by kicking off meetings with a moment of recognition.” Nudges like these, delivered consistently over time, help turn key behaviors into habits. 
  5. Measure Your Managers Again. After giving managers time to learn new leadership behaviors and implement them as habits, deploy your manager effectiveness survey again to evaluate progress. Seeing progress in black and white feels good, and when managers see their scores go up, they’ll feel motivated to continue practicing and growing. 

Slow Quiet Quitting And Impact Your Bottom Line In The Process

Easing the tide of quiet quitting is an important goal, but what happens when you actively engage your employees? Everyone benefits. Author and CPO of Goodwater Capital, Russ Laraway, wrote in his recent book When They Win,You Win about how developing effective manager behaviors leads to bottom-line performance. As he trained managers to be more effective at engaging their employees, he found, for example, a significant impact on metrics like “quota attainment,” “contract renewal rate,” and “productivity.” Point being, build a good strategy to address quiet quitting and you’ve likely also built a strategy with a deep impact on your company’s performance. 

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CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE trial of the LEADx platform at https://leadx.org/preview.