One More Mile? Quiet Quitters Say ‘No, Thank You’
More than 50% of the workforce is taking part in this louder than quiet trend. When employees stop going the extra mile, what can CPA firms do to re-engage their teams before it threatens their busy season?
Even after a long career in public accounting, Rita Keller—a nationally known CPA firm management consultant, speaker, and author—still remembers a manager who consistently expressed gratitude for her work during her early days in the profession.
“When I first started as a CPA, one of the partners began thanking me for every little thing I did,” she says. “And I would work hard for him just because of that simple gesture.”
Keller later became a shareholder in that firm
and stayed at it for more than 30 years before venturing out on her own to focus on helping CPA firms thrive. While Keller’s story may resonate with some, it’s no longer the norm. Increasingly, today’s CPAs are no longer showing the
same commitment to maintaining loyalty and building a career at just one firm. Driven in large part by the COVID-19 pandemic, today’s workplace culture has shifted to employees having more power over when they work, how they work, and who they work
for, and they’re not shy about pursuing opportunities to align their work with their wants whenever they arise.
In fact, Gallup surveyed nearly 15,000 workers in June 2022, finding that 60% of them would be highly likely to change jobs if they weren’t
allowed to work remotely, for instance, up from 37% of those surveyed in June 2021.
This post-pandemic trend, which saw hordes of workers leaving their jobs and switching careers, quickly gained the name “the Great Resignation,” a trend that
CPA firms and many other professions are still grappling with today.
Now, as busy season approaches, CPA firms have a new, trending threat to wrestle with—quiet quitting. This phenomenon, spreading virally via social media, is the practice of putting
minimal effort into each workday while still merely satisfying one’s job requirements.
All this runs counter to the hustle culture CPAs have traditionally embodied, especially during their busy seasons when putting in long hours and working days,
nights, and weekends has been customary.
For some CPAs, like Keller, it’s worth the hard work and extra effort when it leads to promotions and career advancement. For others—many of them from younger generations—going the extra mile
to spark career opportunities doesn’t appear to be an important goal. This seems especially true of those now accustomed to working remotely, where the realized rewards are greater flexibility and free time.
ATTITUDES ABOUT WORK ARE CHANGING
to Gallup’s survey, quiet quitters make up at least 50% of the workforce, and possibly more. That statistic is a growing concern with employees in leadership and management roles, particularly at CPA firms facing another challenging busy season
ahead. But is quiet quitting the threat it’s been made out to be?
Damien Martin, CPA, a partner at FORVIS Private Client in Chicago, believes people’s overall attitudes about work are just naturally shifting. He thinks quiet quitting is an
unfair description of people who aren’t driven by ambition. “Personally, I think the term is a bit of a misnomer,” he says, stressing that times have changed, and people today are taking a more holistic approach to their work and lives.
“I sat in the intersection where I learned from earlier generations of accounting professionals that work was about putting your nose to the grindstone, keeping your head down, saying goodbye to your family and friends, and working seven days a
week during your busy times,” he says. “Nobody wants to do that anymore, and if you subscribe to that philosophy, you’re going to think everybody is quiet quitting.”
Keller also isn’t a fan of the term. “I don’t
think quiet quitting is a fair description for professionals who may be happy doing exactly what’s required of them,” she says. Keller adds that these employees still want to be recognized and feel appreciated.
While lack of overt ambition
among some employees may cause managers heartburn, of growing concern is a lack of engagement. Gallup reports employee engagement has been declining since 2020, when 36% of those surveyed indicated they felt highly “involved in and enthusiastic
about their work and workplace.” That figure has fallen to 32% in Gallup’s 2022 survey, which also shows 17% of those surveyed are actively disengaged, disgruntled, and disloyal because their workplace needs are going unmet.
These stark numbers
show us that quietly doing nothing isn’t going to make this loud trend go away anytime soon. So, how can CPA firms get a handle on employee engagement, satisfaction, and motivation to create a better, more balanced work environment so staff do feel
energized to push through the busy season?
EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION CAN SPARK ENGAGEMENT
“In healthy teams, life and work will ebb and flow, but if you draw a hard line on your expectations, people will disengage or leave entirely,” Martin
cautions. The answer lies in better communication, feedback, and empowerment, he suggests:
“I think the onus is on managers to navigate communication. Often, employees aren’t even aware of what they don’t know, especially those early
in their careers because nobody ever talked to them about expectations.”
Martin recommends first taking an individualized approach by engaging with employees informally to help raise their comfort levels. “If you notice they seem disengaged,
abruptly confronting them head on can be intimidating to the employee and they may just tell you what they think you want to hear,” he says. “Rather, having relaxed conversations with each individual, asking them how they’re feeling,
how their work is progressing, or if they have questions will encourage them to open up.”
Keller adds that convening informal small-team meetings can be effective for communicating and building camaraderie, which helps employees stay engaged. “Having
short morning huddles, either remotely or in person, can really foster communication with both bosses and colleagues,” she says.
During these short meetings, ask if anyone is overloaded, if anyone has time to take on additional work, and offer opportunities
for staff to share their concerns with the team or ask for help with any problem solving. Keller notes this will go a long way toward creating a sense of teamwork in action. “It’s about building relationships with your staff and taking care
of them, just like you do with your clients,” she says.
PROVIDE FEEDBACK AND EMPOWER EMPLOYEES TO LEARN FROM MISTAKES
Just as managers seek feedback from their team, employees need feedback from their managers, and that can be a powerful motivator.
But rather than waiting until it’s time for a quarterly or annual review, Keller recommends providing regular feedback. “You might be able to do away with your annual performance evaluations if you give your staff enough ongoing feedback,”
Keller says. “That way, you’ll be able to see when they're struggling or when they're excelling in real time and can make adjustments or provide encouragement along the way.”
Empowerment is also a strong motivator for sparking engagement,
especially when an employee makes a mistake or encounters a problem. Keller says managers who step into rescue mode and fix mistakes or solve problems themselves may feel like they’re being helpful, but from the employee’s viewpoint, those
actions can be demoralizing.
“Sometimes staff will complete a work project and pass it to their manager who finds two or three mistakes, but rather than giving it back to the employees for corrections, the manager fixes the errors and sends the
project on up the line because it’s faster,” Keller says. “This practice results in depriving employees of the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.”
Managers must also understand everybody is working toward the same goal but
are doing it differently, and they must meet their employees where they’re at, Martin says. “There’s a wide variety of reasons people work the way they do, and they find motivation in different aspects of their jobs,” he says.
“You might need to incentivize them better.”
Tailoring incentives to employees’ needs can be an effective approach to keeping them engaged and inspired to do their best. Incentives could be in the form of more money, generous time off,
or a flexible schedule that helps them tend to personal needs.
Some employees also want to feel their time and labor are going to a good cause. “I think the younger generations especially want to understand their ‘why,’” Martin
says. “They want to understand the bigger picture, what they’re contributing to, and the end result.”
No matter how managers go about understanding their staff’s motivations and what gets them more engaged in their work, Martin
stresses not to wait on taking some form of action. “If you wait until April 1 to deal with employee engagement when tensions are high, you’ll get more of an emotional response rather than how your employees really feel about their jobs overall,”
he says. “The investment in your team needs to happen before you start ramping up for busy season.”
Martin compares it to putting gas in your vehicle before taking a trip. “You have to make intentional deposits into your team’s
gas tank before you can accelerate into busy season when you know your firm will be expending a lot of energy to go the extra mile.”
Teri Saylor is a Raleigh, N.C.-based writer with experience covering a range of topics from business to lifestyles. She’s also a frequent contributor to AICPA’s FM Magazine and Journal of Accountancy.
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- Three Ways to Combat the Big Quit: As employees resign in record numbers, these leadership skills can help you stem the tide of turnover.
- The Big Quit: Now that COVID-19 has receded just enough for the economy to rebound, an interesting trend is emerging: record resignations.