5 ways leaders can counter quiet quitting

How to inspire employee engagement as half of US workers are just going through the motions

Quiet quitting isn’t a new phenomenon. Employees who coast, slack, or just do the bare minimum have been around forever. However, in recent years, the pandemic has served as a pressure cooker, stressing every aspect of life and work, and amplifying fissures in institutions and relationships.

As a result, companies are now being forced to contend with a severe uptick in the number of disengaged employees in their midst. According to a recent Gallup Poll, more than half of US workers declare themselves quiet quitters. This trend cannot be discounted as a generational or cultural shift toward laziness. Instead, the responsibility for the astounding number of disengaged employees lies at the top.

Here are four ways leaders can roll up their sleeves, dig in, and build an engaged workforce.

Take a small-team approach

Ditch the top-down leadership structure of old. When one manager oversees hundreds of people, that leader can’t possibly assist with engagement in an effective way. By breaking up massive departments into groups of 15 to 20 people, a team leader has much more opportunity to engage with every individual.

It’s not a matter of micromanaging. Instead, it’s a vital way to make sure every employee is heard, understood, and connected with leadership. When managers know each person on their team, they can pick up on individual strengths and nurture those qualities. They can also evaluate why an individual may be disengaged.

Once leaders understand what’s going on with a quiet quitter, they can determine strategies for fostering re-engagement and boosting productivity. Or they may discover that the employee is not a good fit for that position, and it might be time to part ways.

Give managers the tools to lead

Not everyone comes to a leadership position with the skills to lead. Whether you invest in outside coaching or develop in-house training, an emphasis on excellent communication is paramount. If your top people cannot communicate without criticism, you will have difficulties.

When you bring in a coach or trainer, you may also find that employees are more likely to be candid with an outsider than their direct manager. An added bonus of providing good training may be a deeper insight into what’s going well within your company — and what needs some work. 

Good communication is as fundamental to boosting engagement as the tried-and-true, practice-what-you-preach approach. In other words, lead by example. If leaders demonstrate engagement, their colleagues are likelier to emulate that commitment to a task, team, and company.

Finally, take the time to evaluate your managers’ strengths and weaknesses through an objective assessment tool, such as DiSC®. If you have a good read on your management team, then you know where to encourage people and where to nudge them to stretch.

Foster a positive culture

Employees come first. Every human within a company needs to be heard, appreciated and supported to be engaged. Much of that nurturing and positive feedback comes from leadership, but it also comes from the company’s overall culture. Craft a message incorporating no more than five or six values and clearly communicate that statement to all employees.

All generations in the workforce value authenticity and loyalty regardless of whether they’re Boomers, Gen-X, Millennial or Gen-Z. Once employees have bought into what the company is about, they need to feel included and supported. Understanding each generation’s nuances and cultural norms is important to making that happen. Acknowledge and tailor conversations to take those cultural differences into account, but focus on core, unifying values and each individual’s potential.

Build your team by creating opportunities to cultivate relationships and generate honest feedback. Support comes from coworkers as well as leaders, so set up social activities, such as regular in-person gatherings, to help everyone connect. Or, for the hybrid or virtual crew, invest in occasional in-person get-togethers and consider implementing purely social, Zoom lunches by springing for food delivery. Mentorship programmes can also help develop stronger relationships and a positive culture. For feedback purposes, regular town halls may help hone in on ways to engage employees better. Be sure to offer avenues for staff to submit anonymous questions and comments ahead of town halls so sensitive issues can be addressed.

Strengthen the onboarding process.

Want engagement from the get-go? Initiate a positive, comprehensive onboarding process. You have a golden opportunity to get an employee to buy into the company values and mesh with the company culture from day one. If the C-suite has lost touch with that onboarding process, that’s a problem. Executives need to know what’s involved in the process, who is touching these people as they come in the door, who is training them, and whether there is training in place for values, cultural activities, and team bonding activities. The big picture approach is the same with onboarding as it is with feedback mechanisms: evaluate what’s working and establish a strategy to address what isn’t working.

The final takeaway…

People don’t leave jobs. They leave leaders. If an employee buys into a company culture, feels valued, and has opportunities for growth and professional development, they’re more likely to kick it into high gear.

Conversely, dissatisfied employees will simply go through the motions and collect a paycheck. Combatting disengagement means that a company’s leadership must look inward and evaluate and strengthen the structure, culture, onboarding processes, and short-and long-term feedback mechanisms.

A company can only engage employees when the leadership shows up, gets involved, walks the walk, and does the hard work of earning employee buy-in every day.

Noelle Federico is CEO of Delta Hire LLC She also serves as Director of Project Management for Bryn Law Group.

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