4 Ways to Deal with Quiet Quitters

Quiet Quitting—for a phenomenon that is titled as something that doesn’t make much noise, it sure has caused a commotion lately, hasn’t it?

In case you’ve been cloistered in a monastery and cut off from all outside contact and don’t know about all this quiet quitting hubbub, let me quickly bring you up to speed.

In April 2021, a Tik-Tok post from a worker in China started going viral. The author was poking holes in the notion that work is the end-all, be-all in life; pretty radical stuff in a culture known for its strict work ethic. Instead of selling his soul to work, the author talked about “tang ping,” which literally translates into “lie flat.” In English we’d commonly say, “lay low.” You know, just lay low, chill, and relax. Not go overboard at work, but just do what’s needed to meet expectations and leave it at that.

As viral social media posts do, the news spread around the world, and workers from all cultures started talking more openly about having a new perspective on work-life balance. Quiet Quitting is all over the news as people reevaluate the role of work in this post-pandemic world, and employers come to grips with the implications of workers who are no longer willing to go above and beyond in their duties.

So, now you’re caught up. But, despite all the press it has been getting lately, Quiet Quitting is not a new problem. It’s actually a new name for an old problem: disengagement.

As my colleague, Kathy Cuff, recently wrote about this topic, a recent Gallup survey estimated that 50% of American workers are disengaged. Since the year 2000, employee engagement has hovered around 30%. The percentage of actively disengaged employees has taken a jump the last few years, primarily due to the impacts of the Covid pandemic. Workers are fundamentally reassessing the role work plays in their lives and that’s showing up in this wave of Quiet Quitting.

Rather than viewing Quiet Quitting as a challenge that must be managed, I encourage leaders to look at it as an opportunity to be seized.

People are quietly quitting because they perceive the ROI of work isn’t worth it. People are more than willing to give their full effort at work if they perceive they are getting value in return. And that value is not just related to money. Surveys consistently show that people rank things like career growth, autonomy, appreciation, and recognition, higher than compensation in what they value most about work.

This is a prime opportunity for leaders to engage team members in heartfelt, open dialogue about their growth and development goals and how the leader can partner with them in pursuit of those goals.

If you’re not sure how to engage your folks in these kinds of conversations, here are four steps to take:

  1. Connect with care—If you have a team member who appears to have quietly quit, address the issue with care and empathy. Openly acknowledge the reality without placing blame or judgment on the person. In fact, there’s nothing to blame. Is it wrong for a person to fulfill the duties of their job description without going above and beyond? I’d argue that no, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, it’s important to uncover the motivation behind that thinking. Is it because the employee feels like they’ve been taken advantage of? Do they have life circumstances going on that is causing them to pull back from work? Everyone’s situation is different, so take the time to explore, listen, support, empathize, and truly understand the needs of your team member.
  2. Express appreciation—One of the leadership nuggets Ken Blanchard and I share in our recent book, Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, is Simple Truth #35: People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. A lack of value and appreciation is at the root of why many people have quietly quit. They just don’t feel or believe the organization appreciates them. As a leader, you have a tremendous opportunity (and responsibility) to reverse this belief. Show how their work connects to the greater purpose of the organization. To the best of your ability, make sure they are appropriately recognized and rewarded for their contributions. When people feel valued and connected to something greater than themselves, they naturally go above and beyond the call of duty.
  3. Explore options—Lack of growth, development, and opportunity is another key driver of quiet quitting. Helping team members see a career path in the organization can be challenging for many leaders, especially in today’s flat organizations where there is less upward positional growth than in decades past. Career growth is no longer about gaining the next title or promotion, and in fact, many Millennials and Gen Z folks are looking for skill and experience development instead. This career discovery process starts with conversations between you and your people. Two good resources are an article I wrote about 10 questions great bosses regularly ask their people and Promotions are SO Yesterday, the newest book from my friend Julie Winkle-Giulioni. These resources can help you explore career development opportunities beyond the traditional route of promotions.
  4. Pledge commitment—People are longing for leaders to be their advocates, and at times, their defenders. They want leaders who will go to bat for them, lobby for the resources they need to do their jobs effectively and strive to give them the reward and recognition they desire. Those are the kind of leaders to whom people give their hearts and minds. People will bend over backwards to follow a leader they believe in, because they know the leader believes in them. Let your people know that you’re on their That doesn’t mean you’re not on the side of the organization, because you are, and your people know that. But your people will respect and value your authenticity in doing what you can to be their champion and you’ll see that evidenced in their level of engagement.

Quiet quitting is a golden opportunity for leaders to connect with their people in a genuine, authentic, heartfelt way, and those opportunities don’t come along often. Don’t freak out if you think someone has turned into a Quiet Quitter. Instead, muster up the courage to talk to them about it. Approach the conversation with care, let them know how much they’re appreciated, explore options to meet their growth desires at work, and commit to walking alongside them in the days ahead. Your team members will appreciate it and you’ll feel good about it, too. That’s a win-win.

This post originally appeared on The Ken Blanchard Companies' LeaderChat blog and I thought the Leading with Trust audience would enjoy it as well.

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