- "Quiet quitting" within the Great Resignation is a call to better understand burnout and workplace issues.
- Healthy work cultures strive to build psychological safety and trust.
- A commitment to equitable practices and fostering a sense of belonging and shared meaning can help mitigate burnout and disengagement.
“Quiet quitting” is having its 15 minutes of fame. It’s got a bit of ring to it, unlike its clunky synonyms “presenteeism” and “employee disengagement.”
Beyond the group contagion recently ignited through TikTok, the construct isn’t necessarily new or surprising. Burnout was already ravaging the workplace across the globe before the pandemic. In 2019, The World Health Organization recategorized burnout from a health condition to one of the modern workplaces. The pandemic only amplified the wildfire, setting off alarms for change. The data emerging from the subsequent Great Resignation, when an estimated 47 million employees left their jobs in 2021, is telling: Work isn’t working.
Employers and employees know that much like the newly popular concept of quiet quitting, the underlying tensions inherent within work aren’t new. Power struggles and structures have always been a thing, and work has always been hard.
Even so, there are plenty of documented gratifying benefits, such as a sense of purpose, positive contribution, emotional and social connection, and being a source of stability and sustainability. These benefits can easily be drowned out in work environments that are oblivious to the human condition and don’t treat employees like people.
Throughout the pandemic, I’ve worked with companies and employees salivating for solutions to the crisis at hand. They’re reeling from the quiet and not-so-quiet quitters. The scramble to acknowledge the old normal wasn’t normal, and to recreate a new one, has left its share of befuddlement and tensions.
The workplace risks of today won’t go away quietly. Gone are the days when we can chalk it up to a shortage of "bootstrappers" or some other sign of moral failing and flaking. The carnage reveals the harsh realities of childcare demands, disparities, and oversaturated emotional thresholds, all of which must be addressed. Even with the best intentions, workplace wellness programming can fall flat if the office culture is oblivious to what people need to recover and thrive.
The science of human flourishing and behavioral change can help us make work work. Here are four ways:
- Treat people like people. This shouldn’t be novel, but employee engagement shrinks in environments where people feel unseen and replaceable.
- Build a culture of psychological safety. High-trust work environments, where individuals feel secure in their capacity to manage change and safe to engage in interpersonal risk-taking, are more apt to demonstrate innovation, creativity, and learning behaviors associated with engagement.
- Communicate candidly and consciously. What’s spoken and unspoken matters. Work to build positive relationships, which are cited as protective factors towards resilience. Focus on creating a culture of belonging and camaraderie. Allow for candor. Be willing to collaborate and co-ideate solutions and dismantle power over structures and dynamics.
- Demonstrate relentless commitment to inclusive and equitable practices. Disparities abound across workplaces, whether in pay or fair treatment, particularly for BIPOC and LGBTQIA persons. Making sure policies are fair, just, and humane, with a deep reverence for varied identities and a relentless commitment to inclusion, can help create safety, maximize talent, and spur collective investment in the organizational mission. Othering, micro-aggressions, gross inequities, and any form of discrimination sabotage work environments and reflect poorly on any institution.
Quiet quitting won’t go away quietly, especially given the significant obstacles at hand. Making work work requires a steadfast commitment to discovering what helps people thrive and co-creating the conditions for them to do so.
Lee, K (2022). Worth the Risk: How to Microdose Bravery to Grow Resilience, Connect More, and Offer Yourself to the World. Boulder: Sounds True.