‘Quiet quitting’ hit the headlines recently and there has been much conversation (and confusion) about it since. But what is it?
It’s hard to confirm exactly what it is right now – and we won’t pretend to have a definitive answer – but common stories about people who ‘quiet quit’ are usually of those who have felt they have gone above and beyond for their company, put in loads of overtimes, pushed themselves, exhausted themselves and then when they’ve asked if that can be acknowledged – usually through a pay rise or reward – their request has been turned down. As a result, they are understandably frustrated, disappointed, and angry and so decide it’s time for them to start saying no and setting their boundaries. So, they end up ‘quiet quitting’, which means retreating from the ‘hustle culture’ and doing only what is required of them; eventually though, they often end up leaving the company anyway.
There are definite pros that have come out of this revelation. For example, it’s put a spotlight on the importance of saying no, of setting boundaries at work, and giving people the opportunity to decide whether it is necessary to take part in the ‘hustle culture’. This is important because in a world where excess workload is cited as the #1 cause of stress, and a lack of control is #2, being able to set boundaries is essential for people’s mental health.
Thanks to the stress, exhaustion and feeling of being overwhelmed, ‘quiet quitting’ seems to come about through resentment for the company and the job. It’s a sign that the employee’s mental health is being affected or has been affected and isn’t being supported. It also means that companies have lost passionate team members, ones who have ‘checked out’. None of which is in anyone’s best interests – the business or the employee.
Given the number of these ‘quiet quitters’ who eventually leave their companies, it seems that quiet quitting – though giving an initial sense of control – is a ‘band aid’ fix and doesn’t solve all the underlying issues. And why is that? We’d argue it is likely because they’re still in a culture that hasn’t supported their decision, their mental health and doesn’t promote boundary settings. Therefore, it’s important to focus on improving these areas as a way of getting those employees ‘back’, or, even better, preventing the feelings of anger, frustration and disappointment from developing in the first place.
It doesn’t have to be one or the other. You can still have team members who are encouraged to set boundaries, are allowed to say no, and are still passionate about their job and bring their all to work.
As you can imagine, as a manager, you play a role in that. The way you set your team culture, have conversations, and validate and reward their work will all play a part in how your team members feel about their role.
And in this economic climate, where businesses may be struggling to reward their team members accordingly, it’s more important than ever that managers can find other ways to show their team they are valued, as well as be able to acknowledge their disappointment and frustration that the business isn’t able to give them what they feel they deserve or need.
So, the question is, what can you do as a manager to ensure that your team is happy, isn’t overwhelmed, have the confidence to set boundaries but still able to bring their whole self and their passion to their role?
The third cause of stress in the workplace was a lack of support, so let’s look at ways you can improve the support you offer your team.
The stories of quiet quitting all involve difficult conversations. It’s never easy or nice to have to let someone down, but there are ways you can do it which still show you value and respect them.
It all comes down to communication. Strive for communication that is open and honest – that can deal with the difficulties, the frustrations, the disappointments, and the stress – and you’ll be well on your way. Here are some specific communication skills you can work on to help you support your team further.
Your team needs to be heard, yes, but they also need to feel as if you understand them, get their point of view and their side of the story. This is where active listening comes in. We’ve put this skill at the top of the list as active listening can help turn difficult conversations around.
It’s a key skill of counsellors and therapists and is being touted as an important skill in the workplace, and for good reason. It helps build strong, positive relationships – important in any working environment – boost communication and reduce the risk of conflict. Which is exactly what you need when you’re managing difficult conversations.
So, how does it work? First, empathy is key. This is needed to understand how your team member is feeling. It is casting aside what you’re feeling and focusing on how they’re experiencing the world. If a team member is feeling frustrated, angry and disappointed because you can’t reward them as they see fit, empathising with that is a huge step to showing that they are in fact valued.
Secondly, it’s not just listening to what is being said but actively trying to understand and see things from their point of view. It’s immersing yourself fully in the conversation. This means:
Overall, it will help build rapport and ensure the other person feels validated and is heard, which is vital if you’re going to support someone’s mental health.
Next up is clarity of communication. You want to do everything you can to make sure no one is left guessing or assuming what your goal is, or the next steps are. The key to this is to plan carefully what you’re going to say, and consider the ‘whys’, ‘whats’ and ‘hows’.
Why are you having the conversation? What is it that you’re trying to achieve? Sharing this at the start of the conversation is a quick way to ensure everyone is on the same page from the get-go.
The what and the how
If any actions need to be taken to achieve your goals, then it is useful to think about the ‘what’ and the ‘how’. What actions or things need to be carried out to achieve your ‘why’? To make the most of these, they should be specific and actionable. This will help prevent any assumptions or guesses as to how this is going to be achieved, and won’t leave any doubt or questions in anyone’s mind.
Constructive feedback is a way of addressing change required in your team, highlighting where improvements can be made or where work may be lacking, or even responding to a request you can’t make (such as a pay rise, in the case of quiet quitting). It may seem like it’s negative – which is often why we find it so difficult – but it will help them in the long run, and therefore can be positive. It is often down to how you view the news you are delivering, and if you focus on the positive message so will the recipient. It can be instrumental in showing your team they are valued.
It requires both clarity and active listening. If we stick with theme of pay rises or rewards, think carefully about what you’re going to say before your meeting. Why can’t the business give the pay rise? Is it the economic climate? Is their work or performance a factor? Make sure it is laid out clearly, with any relevant actions, but don’t forget to balance it out with recognition of the work and effort they have put in too. Your active listening skills are important here too; let them know that their request was heard, and acknowledge that you understand how disappointing this news will be to them.
Give you and your team members the space to share, reflect and talk about their work. This will help raise any issues before it gets to the point of quiet quitting. They are also a great place to put your communication skills to good use.
The regularity can differ, depending on what they want. It might be every couple of weeks, or every month. But always make sure to honour it, because if you don’t, this is a sure way to suggesting to your team that they’re not valued.
Every work environment needs some element of downtime. Time to recharge, relax, and socialise. When you’re in the office, make sure to build in team lunches, encourage coffee breaks, or suggest lunchtime walks – proper breaks where people are away from their screens. It’ll not only give them chance to recharge, but it’s a chance to socialise, continue to build those team relationships, which are important now hybrid working is becoming more prevalent.
All these elements help to build a team culture that is positive and trusting – which is really the ultimate aim. If the culture is in place that supports, values and respects the team members – one that allows boundaries to be set but still allows passion to flourish – then team members will be more likely to ride the waves and bring their passion and drive to work. And isn’t that what all managers want?
If you want to learn more about these skills, or take specific training to help develop them further, we have a number of courses and resources to help you on your way:
Course: Managing Difficult Conversations
Course: Giving and receiving feedback
Course: Introduction to Listening
Thank you to Champion Health for their guidance around potential strategies and techniques that employers can implement to support the holistic wellbeing of their colleagues and employees.