insight magazine

Evolving Accountant | Winter 2022

How to Restore Passion, Engagement in Your ‘Quiet Quitters’

Whether quiet quitting is just another fleeting trend or here to stay, ignoring it won’t help. Caring about your employees, their careers, and their experience will.
Andrea Wright, CPA Partner, Johnson Lambert LLP

Made popular by Gen Z via TikTok and other social media platforms, “quiet quitting” is on top of employees’ and managers’ minds. It’s the idea of doing the bare minimum at your job—no additional efforts, no additional hours. While there have always been employees who bring this philosophy to work, it’s never been the phenomenon it is now.

Why? Likely in part because Gen Z, the eldest of which are starting off their full-time careers, have a different philosophy on work and life. While workers from previous generations largely think of themselves in part as what they do professionally (e.g., “I’m an accountant”), Gen Z doesn’t generally think of themselves that way (e.g., “I’m an outdoor enthusiast who loves to travel”). Gen Zers work to live; they don’t live to work.

Another likely contribution to the uptick in quiet quitting culture is the collective exhaustion we’ve all experienced over the past few years—a global pandemic, political unrest and extreme polarization, and economic woes.

Whatever’s behind it, any reasonable person can understand why some people—both young and old—are simply burnt out. Even if you’re someone who has a deep passion for your professional work, you’ve likely quiet quit something in your life. (I’ve quietly quit making dinner for longer than I care to admit—I make something, but it’s not inspired and it’s not something I’ve poured my passion into.)

For business leaders and managers, however, it’s harder to stomach quiet quitting—I understand and share that feeling. But I believe we can help our quiet quitters find their love for work again (or maybe even for the first time). To do so, let’s first unpack some of the reasons why an employee might quiet quit:

  • Stress and personal life changes: Maybe your quiet quitter is going through a divorce, lost a loved one, or is welcoming a new child into their family. Consider what you can do to support them. Does your organization have any mental wellness benefits you could direct them to? Have they used their paid time off (PTO) in a meaningful way (i.e., taking at least a few days in a row off)? If they need more time off, does your organization allow PTO to be used in advance in good faith or even donated by other employees wishing to help a colleague?
  • Work situation changes: Maybe your quiet quitter is adjusting to new processes and systems, received a new manager, is fighting with a coworker, or was passed on a promotion. In these cases, an open dialogue about the challenges and opportunities of those changes is an important step. They might need additional training and tools, or an explanation of why they didn’t get a promotion. If there are conflicts between coworkers, can you help facilitate a conversation between them? If they aren’t engaged, maybe it’s because they aren’t appropriately challenged by their work. Can you help them get more of the work they enjoy and develop a plan to offload some of the work that isn’t mentally stimulating?
  • They’ve always been the quiet quitter type: Truthfully, not everyone is a “go-getter.” Consider finding these types of employees mentors in your organization. Some other questions to ask yourself: Have they been given frequent feedback that’s balanced and fair? Have you or someone in your organization talked to them about a possible career path? Someone believed they were a good candidate at some point, so remind yourself what strengths or experience this person had and evaluate whether the job they’re in is congruent with their background and expertise. If not, do you have another position in your organization that they’re better suited for? Or do you need to have an honest conversation with them about their fit for the role and offer them an off-ramp from your organization?

Understanding the “why” of quiet quitting is just the first step. Stopping or preventing it is another. Truth be told, I don’t believe you can or should eliminate quiet quitting. As much as we’d love every single employee to have the passion for their work that we do, we also need to accept that some employees will just do the job we hired them to do, nothing more and nothing less. However, it’s still good practice to try to see how you can help them engage more deeply in their work. It’s also equally important to not lose focus of your non-quiet quitters and foster an environment that continues to engage those who are going the extra mile. Here’s how I think we can support both types of employees:

  • Be a workplace of constant learning and growth: We all know that organizations that don’t evolve don’t thrive, and in order for your organization to evolve, that means the talent has to evolve. This can be achieved by teaching one another (e.g., having your passionate employees teach sessions on topics they love) and creating times and spaces to share challenges and successes with the whole team.
  • Prioritize open and frequent communication: Tell your employees how the organization is doing. Celebrate successes together and crowdsource solutions for challenges with as many people as feasible and appropriate. Transparency builds trust in all directions.
  • Make ongoing, candid, and balanced feedback the norm: If you can build a culture where it’s common, encouraged, and even expected that everyone is clearly and compassionately sharing observations and guidance with one another, you invite all employees to grow in their roles and careers. You can’t guarantee everyone will make the most of that opportunity, but the more you demonstrate the value of that type of feedback, openness, and genuine investment in wanting to help everyone improve, the more likely people will buy into that. You must also have this work amongst your leadership team for true organizational culture to embrace and embody it.
  • Pay attention and watch for signs of burnout: Your strongest performers are often at the highest risk for burnout because they work so hard for so long, and that’s not typically sustainable forever. When you see atypical behavior, check in with them before jumping to criticism. If you don’t have capacity to do this for everyone on your team, consider assigning mentors or even “buddy” pairs so everyone has someone looking out for them.

The newest generation in the workforce may not get their greatest sense of joy from work, and all generations may simply be burnt out. We can’t fight all of it. But by rethinking how we treat the employee experience and being intentional about supporting every employee, we can avoid the complacency that could lead to a whole workforce of quiet quitters.

This column was co-authored with Courtney Kiss, chief growth and development officer at Johnson Lambert LLP.

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