According to the viral video, quietly quitting is doing the bare minimum at work. Rather than going above and beyond, a quiet quitter’s sole goal is to do enough to justify his continued compensation.
But while stressors exacerbated by the pandemic may leave many employees feeling exhausted, discouraged and disengaged at work, that’s not quite the same as actively deciding to control it, he says. Leigh Thompsonprofessor of management and organizations at Kellogg and expert in navigating and negotiating workplace relationships.
And luckily, disengagement is treatable. “Most of us want to be engaged, because it’s more fun to be engaged. If I’m going to be at work, why not get engaged?’ Thompson said.
It offers some strategies for rehiring employees.
Turn the lens inwards
If you suspect someone in your ranks is quietly quitting, Thompson recommends first considering the possibility that you’re misinterpreting their behavior.
“If I’m an extrovert and I’m super animated in the way I talk, maybe I shouldn’t use the same evidence to judge whether another person in my group is really engaged,” Thompson said.
Meet with the employee and ask what keeps them busy and energized. And ask them about the last time they felt excited about work. In these types of conversations, you might learn that they like their work, but show their enthusiasm a little more quietly than others—like you—do.
If the issue is work-related, however, you should first consider whether someone else is to blame: yourself.
“Any question we ask this team member, we have to ask ourselves,” Thompson said. “If my impact is low, or negative, or the glass is half empty, that’s going to really impact the mental state of my team.”
Managers set the tone for their teams, Thompson says. Her research confirms this. He found that, in negotiation tasks, the emotional state of the more powerful party has a greater impact on the final outcome than the emotional state of the less powerful party. In other words, a leader’s mood affects others to a great extent.
So make sure you don’t emit negativity. If so, forgive yourself — and then fix it.
“As leaders, we need to check our own energy levels, because each of us has probably undergone a profound change since the pandemic,” Thompson said.
Write a solution
Whether the problem is with you or the employee, you’ll want to consider getting your team back on track — with their help.
Thompson recommends establishing a team charter—a one-page document drafted by the team that answers three questions: What is the team’s purpose, what are everyone’s roles and responsibilities, and what are the rules and ground rules where should everyone follow?
Collaboration is key to charter success.
“If you get people to buy something and they feel like they helped write it, then they’re more likely to support it,” Thompson said.
This general approach will also help eliminate suspicions that a corrective action is targeting someone in particular, which could have a chilling effect. In fact, that’s why it’s not a bad idea to have your team work on this document before new issues arise.
“The team charter should be a proactive statement – not a reactive statement,” Thompson said. “I think a lot of leaders could have a really good meeting now with their teams saying, ‘Here are some things I’d like to address before they become a problem. How will we deal with the holidays? How will we deal with people who want to work remotely? Can we all come up with a working plan?’
It can be awkward or awkward to spell out how everyone should behave if the team has never sat down to consider how it works, Thompson says. So instead of having everyone share their thoughts out loud, let them write their thoughts anonymously in a shared cloud-based document like Google Docs. Use their answers to write a draft and ask the group to suggest changes that shape the final document.
Help people feel responsible
Once your team has agreed on a final map, you’ll want to create an environment where people feel held accountable. This might include holding short meetings on a regular basis to check in with members of your team: How well have they fulfilled their obligations?
Another effective way to create a sense of accountability is to have a weekly or semi-regular gathering where teammates can announce what they accomplished that week, month, or whatever time frame makes sense for your team’s workflow. Thompson says that teams that “endure and deliver” tend to be more productive than those that don’t.
Finally, Thompson suggests finding a way to show people the impact of their work. People tend to be more engaged when they know that the hours they put in actually make a difference. For example, nonprofit groups may want to see and interact with the beneficiaries of their work.
It can be hard to know if someone on your team has mentally “disengaged” from the job, but Thompson says it’s important to give people a chance to prove they want to
to be engaged—and that they haven’t quietly given up.
And if your efforts to re-engage a disengaged employee fail, Thompson says, the problem may end up being fixed.
“If you have a busy workplace, anyone who is being quietly checked probably won’t want to be around. It’s going to get very uncomfortable to be around a lot of people who are really committed and passionate, and they’re going to self-destruct,” Thompson said.