4 Ways to Maximize the Leadership Opportunity in Quiet Quitting

September 29, 2022 Randy Conley

Quiet quitting. For a phenomenon that sounds like 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, 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 TikTok post from a worker in China started going viral. The author was poking holes in the notion that work is the be-all and end-all of 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. Don’t go overboard at work, just do what’s needed to meet expectations and leave it at that.

As viral social media posts do, the news spread fast and workers from all cultures began talking openly about having a new perspective on work-life balance. Today, the topic of quiet quitting is a global media favorite that has caused people everywhere to reevaluate the role of work in this post-pandemic world. And employers have been forced to come to grips with the consequences: workers who no longer are willing to go above and beyond in their duties.

So now you’re caught up.

Quiet Quitting = Disengagement

Despite all the press it has been getting lately, quiet quitting is not a new problem. It’s just a new name for an old problem: disengagement.

As my colleague, Kathy Cuff, recently wrote about this topic, the latest Gallup survey estimated that 50% of American workers are disengaged. Beginning in 2000, employee engagement hovered around 30%. The percentage of actively disengaged employees has taken a jump the last few years, primarily due to the impact of the pandemic. Workers have been fundamentally reassessing the role work plays in their lives and the consequences are showing up in this wave of quiet quitting.

A Leadership Opportunity

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. Many are still more than willing to give their full effort at work—but only if they perceive they are getting value in return. And that value is not necessarily related to money. Surveys consistently show that people rank things such as career growth, autonomy, appreciation, and recognition higher than compensation when asked what they value most about work.

This is a prime opportunity for you as a leader to engage your team members in heartfelt, open dialogue about their growth and development goals and how you 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 say no. But it is important for you as the leader to uncover the motivation behind that thinking. Is it because the employee feels they’ve been taken advantage of? Or do they have a life circumstance 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 individual team members.

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 feeling valued and appreciated is at the root of why many people have quietly quit. They don’t believe the organization appreciates them. As a leader, you have a tremendous opportunity—and responsibility—to reverse this belief. Show people 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 visualize a career path within the company can be challenging for many leaders, especially in today’s flat organizations where there is less upward positional growth than there has been in decades past. Career growth is no longer only about gaining the next title or promotion—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 in the newest book from my friend Julie Winkle-Giulioni, Promotions Are SO Yesterday. Both are designed to help leaders explore career development opportunities beyond the traditional route of promotions.

4. Pledge commitment. People long for a leader who will be their advocate and, at times, their defender. They want a leader who will go to bat for them, lobby for the resources they need to do their jobs effectively, and strive to give them the rewards and recognition they desire. People will bend over backwards to follow a leader who believes in them. Let your people know you’re on their side. They 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, empathetic 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!

About the Author

Randy Conley

Randy Conley is the Vice President & Trust Practice Leader for Blanchard®. He is coauthor of Blanchard’s Building Trust training program and works with organizations around the globe, helping them build trust in the workplace. In 2022, Randy and Ken Blanchard coauthored Simple Truths of Leadership: 52 Ways to Be a Servant Leader and Build Trust, and most recently, Simple Truths of Leadership Playbook: A 52-Week Game Plan for Becoming a Trusted Servant Leader.

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