On the QT: how to cope with quiet quitting

Quiet quitting is a well-documented phenomenon of our times that is costing employers dearly in terms of staff recruitment and retention. Oliver Henry offers some tips on how to keep staff actively engaged

Is quiet quitting rearing its head in your workforce? You’re not alone; according to Gallup’s Global Workplace Survey, only 21 per cent of employees are engaged at work. That’s hardly surprising given that working environments have seen a massive upheaval since the pandemic, with reduced face-to-face interaction, coupled with higher stress levels, meaning many employees are stuck in cycles of disconnect and dissatisfaction that they are struggling to move out of. 

If we think of our mental health as a continuum – burn-out at one end of the scale, languishing in the middle and flourishing as the optimum – anything less than flourishing is a watch-out signal of quiet quitting for managers and businesses. Languishing has a slow, draining and sapping effect on our workforce. It means we are not getting team creativity, productivity or performance; rather we’re faced with a culture of unmotivated and mentally unhealthy employees.

As the saying goes, if you’re not moving forwards, you’re moving backwards. Leaders must make employee wellbeing a priority, working towards nurturing a happier, healthier workplace culture in order to curb the rising numbers of disengaged quiet quitters in their teams. With lack of growth being one element of languishing, it’s at this point intervention is most needed to move apathetic employees from a state of staleness – unmotivated, uninspired and doing the bare minimum – to back on track, feeling valued, energised and engaged. 

Recognising the signs

So how do you recognise the signs of languishing to better support colleagues before they are given the ‘QQ’ label, or even worse, you’re staging a mental health intervention?

  • Changes in attitude – have they gone from optimistic to pessimistic?
  • Withdrawing from opportunities to socialise or connect with colleagues
  • Either not attending meetings, or contributing less than usual 
  • Showing up late, leaving early or being absent more frequently
  • Unenthusiastic to take on new projects, or bring ideas to the table
  • Changes in performance, not in keeping with their capabilities and skills

If these signs are already starting to show in your organisation, how can you modernise your work culture to avoid quiet quitters and spark a flourishing and thriving workforce?

  • Flow: the art of getting completely absorbed in a task, losing a sense of self and time, not worrying about the past, future, or how one will be perceived, and when the ‘doer’ and the ‘doing’ become one. In flow, we’re moving away from stagnation.

    One way to experience flow is through single task focusProductivity goes up by 40 per cent when distractions are minimised – what’s more, when the organisation helps support distraction-free time (for instance email-free Fridays), it goes up to 67 per cent. This is because task and context switching is incredibly detrimental to productivity. Have you noticed that if you go straight from one meeting to another, or from being really absorbed in a piece of work to a catch-up with a colleague, you have noticed ‘attention residue’ – your mind is still thinking about the previous activity, hindering the next? 

  • Psychological safeness: at work, this means knowing there are no stupid questions, not being shot down in meetings, and one step further, not afraid to challenge or express your worries – whatever your position. Organisations where there is psychological safety enable employees to express who they are as individuals without fear of rebuttal. As a result, employees feel safe to create and express new ideas, moving the business forward. 

  • New perspectives: Change, while requiring some initial effort first, can shift us out of feeling stale. This could be physically, for instance switching where team catch-ups are held (you might choose a ‘walk & talk’ meeting instead of the same old Zoom), or cognitively – approaching the same task in a new way. Doing the same thing, day in, day out, can eventually lead even the most vibrant employees to languishing. While this can be difficult at first, the gains in productivity and performance are invaluable.

When we’re flourishing at work, everyone benefits – colleagues and the organisation, as well as our suppliers and partners. Creating a flourishing culture takes leading by example, cultivating a sense of belonging and genuine care in employees’ growth and wellbeing. Taking a proactive stance in adapting your culture to align with the changing world of work will move teams from languishing to flourishing – in turn curbing the rise of quiet quitters and creating a happier, more engaged and higher performing workforce.

Oliver Henry is a workplace wellbeing expert and the co-founder of worklifewell.com

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