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Quiet Quitting: Remove the Quiet to Conquer the Quitting

September 26, 2022 Employee Experience
mary slaughter
By Mary Slaughter LinkedIn

It’s not often I write an article that makes me feel like the outlier. According to all of the leadership assessments I’ve taken over the years, empathy is one of my strengths. But despite that, I find myself not fully appreciating why someone would quietly quit.

From what I’ve read about this trend, essentially the decline in the number of actively engaged employees is being matched by the rise in the number of actively disengaged ones. As a reminder, actively engaged employees volunteer a high degree of discretionary effort that contributes to the success of the organization, and they bring others along on that positive journey. The same is true in reverse. Actively disengaged employees not only choose to withhold discretionary effort, but they bring others along with them on their negative journey.

I don’t get it. The labor market is working in favor of the employee. Unemployment is astonishingly low. Competition for talent is up, as are wages. Remote and hybrid work arrangements abound. There are lots of available choices, so why choose to stay and remain unhappy?

During the pandemic, I was one of the millions of workers who chose to make a job change. When I did, I was provided the opportunity to be a fully remote worker — something for which I will be forever grateful. But as the pandemic reality wore on, many of us found that our emotional health had deteriorated. In hindsight, we’re not surprised. As a species, humans are not meant to be isolated. While our physical health took center stage, our mental health quietly took a big hit.

Related Article: Workers Are Lonely: Here's What Leaders Can Do

There are many legitimate reasons to value remote work. I’ve been a hybrid worker for over 20 years and no doubt my family and I have benefited from the flexibility I’ve enjoyed. However, there’s one big caveat. I was never isolated before the way I was during the pandemic.

Do a quick internet search on quiet quitting, and you’ll find multiple research articles that describe the underlying causes. The absence of an emotional connection to your employer, to your colleagues and to your work itself is fueling quiet quitting. It’s sadly logical — if you don’t feel some sense of attachment, then detached behaviors and emotions are the likely outcome.

The next time you are in a discussion about remote or hybrid workers “returning” to the office, perhaps you can be the catalyst to reframe the dialogue. The benefit of being together at work is human-centered — we’ve proven it’s not about productivity, efficiency or other business school metrics. Like it or not, we actually need one another. Our emotional well-being comes from being with others. We even have a type of neuron in the brain called mirror neurons that enable us to experience similar feelings and emotions to others, including triggering empathy. The human biology is clear: together is better than alone.

As for quiet quitting, I think we should deal with both words separately. Make sure your employees have access to one another, and work to eliminate the “quiet” part of the equation. The patterns of increased isolation that we developed during the pandemic are still with us and we’re working our way out of them, real-time. The stronger our emotional health, the better our decision making.

As for retention of unhappy employees, the only thing worse than quitting and leaving is quitting and staying. Those of us in coaching roles — managers, mentors, formal coaches — can help our colleagues sort through their options. If we’ve learned nothing else in the last two years, life is too short to be unhappy if you don’t have to be. 

Related Article: Lack of Social Interaction Tops Remote Work Challenges

Margaret Brake, co-founder and chief coaching officer, Quantuvos
Margaret Brake is co-founder and chief coaching officer at Quantuvos. She has over 20 years of experience in leadership and organizational development across a range of industries, including leadership positions at Bank of America, Intercontinental Hotels Group and MCI Telecommunications (now Verizon).

While it has carried different labels over the years, quiet quitting is not a new phenomenon. Workers have been doing just enough to get by for as long as there have been employers who might otherwise terminate them. What is of concern is the increasing rate at which it is being identified and what can be done to reverse the trend. At its heart, quiet quitting is a symptom of a disengaged workforce. With that in mind, the challenge for managers becomes how to engage or re-engage the people who work for them. As a professional coach, I find the following questions invaluable in preventing and/or reversing quiet quitting:

What about your job gets you excited about coming to work every day?

How can we better align what excites and fulfills you with what the organization needs to have done?

What do you need from me to be successful?

If this job is no longer fulfilling, where else in the organization might you find a role that is fulfilling?

Those who are quietly quitting are hoping their managers would ask them these questions, and yet many of those individuals are hesitant to ask these questions to those who report to them. As coaches, we increasingly are working across the full spectrum of talent, from senior executives to frontline employees. Managers often ask, “How do I have these conversations with my reports?” and, “What do I do with what I hear?” The same is true in reverse, “How do I have this conversation with my manager?” and, “What do I do with what I hear?” Coaching can be a powerful tool to foster dialogue, uncover concerns and ultimately help take the “quiet” out of quitting.

About the Author

Mary Slaughter is the Global Head of Employee Experience at Morningstar, an investment research and management firm headquartered in Chicago, IL. Prior to joining Morningstar, she served as a managing director, People Advisory Services at EY.


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