Getting Curious about Quiet Quitters

How to gather valuable intel from your quiet quitters

Quiet quitting is the new trendy way of describing a time-honored tradition in the workplace: setting boundaries around their roles. It’s where people quietly stop doing the “extra” citizenship stuff around the office. They’re in at 9, out at 5, and are doing exactly what’s in their job description.

Wait, that sounds pretty fair… is this a problem?

At this point, leaders generally understand that business success is predicated on people being super engaged at work. It’s unpopular to say the quiet part out loud, but yes– companies often depend on people who volunteer to blur the lines of their own role description when things get messy in real life.

Most companies are probably not fully staffed 100% of the time. As of July 2022, there are 3.4 million fewer people participating in the US labor force than there were in February 2020.* And even before “pandemic” was a household term, disengagement was estimated to cost US businesses between $483-605bn each year in lost productivity.*

Let’s review.

Companies are chronically understaffed. Successful teams rely on engaged people who go above and beyond.

It follows, then, that successful companies are the ones that are able to retain and support people who are motivated to extend a helping hand beyond their own department. The ones who are actually pretty chuffed about organizing that impromptu happy hour. The ones who step up to cover a little extra admin when someone goes on parental leave.

And in September 2022?

People are burnt out, disengaged, and tired of going the extra mile.

Source: Know Your Meme

An obvious way to get ahead of quiet quitting on your team is by reducing role ambiguity, a major contributor to burnout.* One way to do this is by facilitating a role clarification exercise. Even if you think roles are pretty clear, let’s assume that anxiety around workload is ratcheted up to an all-time high in the wake of mass layoffs and the chaotic mess of our macro-economic environment.

But let’s assume that we are not, in fact, ahead of the quiet quitting problem. Let’s say that lots of people have already quietly quit. What now? How do you get them back? What can they teach you about your organization?

Our advice? Get curious. Make information, not persuasion, your desired outcome.

Think of the problem like the game Battleship, a strategy game where you try to find your opponent’s ships by guessing coordinates on a grid.

If you can identify problem spots (“A1 – HIT!”), dig deeper into those areas to uncover more. Shift the goalpost from “get people to work harder” to “learn where the battleship is.”

Is this a ship? Where is the ship? How long is the ship?

Are people actually quiet quitting? Which departments? Why are people quiet quitting here, specifically?

Once you think of discovery like a game, you might start to feel excitement (rather than dread) when you uncover problems. A hit is good! It means you have more information! Dopamine rush!

In other words, if you can see a problem bubbling up, you have an opportunity to get even better data about it. This is the first and best thing you can do to solve any problem, because it helps you narrow the scope to deploy limited resources more effectively. Crucially, this process also helps you identify the stakeholders you’ll need to involve in problem solving.

Don’t have time to conduct weeks of discovery? A great way to structure information gathering in a team setting is with an exercise called Stop, Start, Continue.

The goal of Stop, Start, Continue is to jointly identify which team behaviors are unhelpful (stop), which behaviors would be helpful (start), and which ones should you keep doing to promote team health and performance (continue).

It sounds simple, right? Well… it is. But like most things that are worth doing, the simplest option is usually the hardest one to execute. It takes a blend of willpower, courage, and discipline to get it right.

The value you’ll get out of exercises like Team Role Clarification or Stop, Start, Continue is going to be directly proportional to the quality of facilitation.

Are you confident that you can get honest answers out of reluctant or aloof participants? Are you concerned that the conversation will go in circles because no one wants to say the actual thing? Before you dive into any discussions that may surface heightened emotions or escalate political behaviors, you’ll want to check out our psychological safety checklist.

*Sources:
State of the American Workplace – Gallup, 2017
Understanding America’s Labor Shortage – US Chamber of Commerce, 2022
Job burnout: How to spot it and take action – Mayo Clinic, 2021

And of course, if you need extra support on this (most leaders do!), BOxD would love to help.

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