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Beware Quiet Quitting

Updated: Oct 20, 2022

People are rethinking their relationship with work and it’s presenting leaders with a uniquely challenging double whammy of resignations and ‘quiet quitting’. Why is it happening and how can leaders respond?

A recent survey by PwC shows that around 20% of UK workers are “very or extremely likely” to switch their jobs in the next 12 months. Many have spent the last two years reflecting on what matters most to them and experiencing what a better balance looks like – so now the genie is out of the bottle. As Kevin Ellis, chairman at PwC UK, says: "Employees will vote with their feet if their expectations on company culture, reward, flexibility and learning are not being largely met".

Perhaps more pernicious for leaders is ‘quiet quitting’, a term coined on TikTok that has now gone mainstream. Instead of outright resigning, it describes a kind of opting out where people do just enough to perform their work duties but do not go above and beyond while doing it. It is widely seen as a rejection of the ‘hustle’ mentality, mainly by Gen Zs. However, for many leaders that we speak to, there is a sense that people are withholding their discretionary effort more broadly – it’s not only Gen Z.

After years of remote and hybrid working, we seem to have lost our sense of connection and community:

  • “People are focusing only on what works for them, not the team or the wider company. It’s all about ‘me’ not ‘us’”

  • “It doesn’t feel like we’re one team anymore”

  • “People are working in siloes – there’s more friction and finger-pointing between teams”

  • “It feels more transactional – it’s ‘just a job’”

  • “Work is getting done, but where has the energy gone?”

So, where to go from here? How do you lead in a way that makes people not only want to stay but also feel more engaged in their work?

First, understand the problem you are trying to fix

Recent research shows that leaders misunderstand what is making people quit or pull back. Leaders cite pay, work-life balance and mental health as the top reasons. Whilst these are factors, the top three reasons people give for quitting are that they didn’t feel valued by their organisations (54%) or their managers (52%) or because they didn’t feel a sense of belonging at work (51%).

As you ponder this, here’s a question to ask yourself:

“Has my leadership style kept up with the shift in the work relationship?”

If you sense that a transactional attitude is developing at work, look first to your leadership. Are you leading in a way that values people and creates a sense of belonging?

Here are four practical steps that can help:

  1. Link goals to what is important for each individual – whether they are motivated by a need to achieve, help others, or climb the career ladder, you can create a sense of personal challenge and excitement by linking their needs to the group’s goals.

  2. Lead by outcomes, not activity - demonstrate trust by giving people the autonomy and flexibility they need to do their best work. Make the conversation about outcomes, not how they get there.

  3. Be savvy about how you use your in-person time. Prioritise activities that are best done together: group goal setting and top-line planning; creating shared ways of working (WoWs); finding new ways to improve the team’s performance; and team-building or learning.

  4. Prioritise the human need to connect and maintain relationships. Help break down barriers by ‘buddying up’ colleagues from different teams to work on projects together, or by finding informal ways to get people connecting such as scheduling regular ‘coffee breaks’ in pairs.

All of these activities help to build a sense of connection and belonging.

When we feel valued and a part of something, we are more willing to invest our energy into it.

Katrina Wray is an Associate Consultant for GFB and Co-Founder of Lift, a leadership development consultancy. This article was first published on Lift's website and is reproduced with kind permission.

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