Over the last few weeks, the term quiet quitting has gone viral. But what does it mean? “Not going above and beyond in your job to prevent burnout” seems to be the general consensus. But does that also mean we are taking a step back? Are we no longer engaged in our work? Where does the balance lie?
One of the symptoms of burnout, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is disengagement, which suggests that quiet quitting is actually a cry for help.
Let’s look at the bigger picture here.
I like to use the glass of water analogy. Imagine you have a glass, which is filling up slowly with the events of the last few years: pandemic, war, uncertainty, rising cost of living, economic uncertainty, adjusting to hybrid work, etc. Let’s face it, even if you have sailed through the pandemic, the ongoing changes and uncertainty have taken their toll, not least on our health. And if we were to add to that glass a multi-crisis scenario, such as another pandemic and more intense climate disasters, the glass could potentially overflow.
Our glasses are filling up with uncertainties, and we are not equipped to deal with it because we still haven’t addressed the trauma we’ve just been through and don’t know how to cope with being in a perpetual state of crisis. Now, that’s starting to impact our work. If this goes on for a longer period of time, it may cause disengagement and cynicism and eventually lead to burnout. In fact, a recent study titled Links Between Burnout & Moral Injury from the University of Sheffield, found a new type of burnout is emerging due to an increase in moral injury in a workplace setting.
Who are the quiet quitters? The ones who are burned out and who employers need to tune into in order to reengage them. The answer lies in well-being and fulfilling work.
Write well-being goals into employee contracts
The “always-on” culture we’ve created is not only harmful, it’s also unsustainable, and it’s why employees are clocking out mentally. And while what I’m about to suggest might seem radical to some employers, it’s not. In fact, those who see it as radical might be the very ones who need to hear this: It is time to start writing employee well-being goals into contracts.
This isn’t just about making sure your employees are maximizing their free subscription to a meditation app, but also that they are actually looking after their mental and physical health outside of work. This could include having a right to disconnect outside of working hours (no calls or emails), making sure employees are using their holiday, and/or making it mandatory to take time off when their mental health isn’t at its best. All of these can radically benefit your employees’ well-being, and are no longer “nice to haves” but an essential part of their job.
Make employees’ well-being a business goal
It might be in your company mission statement that employee health is important, and it looks great there. But if your company overlooks an “always-on” culture, crazy overtime, bullying in the workplace, or a hostile environment, then this statement means little to employees—and it’s probably contributing to their burnout.
Employee well-being must become a nonnegotiable business goal in order for your organization to engage and retain staff. This isn’t just about surveying employees about their happiness at work, but actually looking at the results and asking your people what’s missing. This might be flexible working hours, working from home, or “time-out” spaces. You most likely can’t implement every request, but is there a prevailing request your employees are asking for that would increase their well-being at work?
Be attuned to the work your employees enjoy
When employees enjoy their work, they’re more productive and engaged. Ensure that you (or the managers at your organization) are carving out time to sit with employees and find out what kind of projects they want to be involved with. There will always be projects and tasks people don’t want to do, but ensuring that there’s at least one that team members can really engage with, and are happy to work on, will improve their motivation.
Give recognition and reward often
According to research by Reward Gateway, 43% of employees felt they were overlooked or undervalued and another 40% felt demotivated by lack of recognition. Sometimes, it’s not crazy perks or pizza parties that make employees happy, it’s really just as simple as telling them well done for doing a good job.
This doesn’t have to be everyday or all the time, but when an employee has truly done great work, you see them as reliable, or they’ve made your life easier in some way, tell them, and really mean it. It’s free, and it will do wonders for your company culture.
Quiet quitting is happening because people are burned out, so it is imperative that leaders spot the signs and take preventive measures before we end up with organizations that have 80% to 90% of their employees burned out and unable to work effectively. This has a direct impact on our health and well-being. If we’re not careful, trauma-infused burnout could be our next mega pandemic.
Cara de Lange is an international burnout expert, speaker, and founder and CEO of Softer Success and the book by the same name.