By Victor Assad, Managing Partner of InnovationOne.

At least half of the workforce is quiet quitting, according to a report published last week by Gallup. Weeks before, The Wall Street Journal reported on the viral spread of the topic on social media, especially TikTok, by Gen Z and Millennial employees. Sometimes the posts included snide comments directed at management. Below I will discuss seven strategies to combat quiet quitting. But let’s begin by defining quiet quitting and determining whether it is real.

Quiet quitters are employees who do their jobs but who do not volunteer for extra projects or overtime. It seems younger workers are worn out by Covid-19 disruptions, disappointed by pressure campaigns to return to the office five days a week, and want a more balanced work-life balance. It is also a revolt against “hustle culture.”

Quiet Quitting is real

Gallup has tracked employee engagement since 2000. Last week, Gallup reported that the proportion of engaged workers in Q2 of 2022 is at 32 percent, the same as Q1 of this year. However, half of the workforce is disengaged or actively disengaged from work. The actively disengaged are 18 percent of the workforce, the highest percentage of actively disengaged employees since 2008. (Please see Gallup’s chart below.)

Disengaged employees are defined by Gallup as people who do the minimum required and who are psychologically detached from their job. This definition is critical because most jobs today require collaboration on projects to solve problems, improve productivity, and innovate.

The actively disengaged employees tend to have most of their workplace needs unmet and spread their dissatisfaction — they have been the most vocal in TikTok posts that have generated millions of views and comments. Gallup reports that most employees who are not engaged or actively disengaged are already looking for another job.

Gallup found a decline in engagement and employer satisfaction among remote Gen Z and younger millennials — those younger than age 35. Even worse, only one in three managers are engaged at work. Senior leadership needs to reskill managers to win in the new hybrid environment.

Why is employee engagement (and quiet quitting) so important?  

According to Gallup, disengaged employees have 37 percent higher absenteeism, 18 percent lower productivity and 15 percent lower profitability. When that translates into dollars, you’re looking at the cost of 34% of a disengaged employee’s annual salary, or $3,400 for every $10,000 they make.

Here are my five strategies to combat quiet quitting:

1 – Don’t overreact

As Gallup’s data suggests, there is always a percentage of the workforce that is not highly engaged at work. While it is vital to engage as money employees as possible, every organization needs employees who will do their jobs reliably even if they do not take extra initiative. Keep strong relationships with these employees and do not come down harshly on them.

You don’t drive up engagement by taking harsh measures such as micromanaging employees or calling everyone to report to the office. These actions will probably lead to costly turnover, which is not your desired outcome during a labor shortage.

2 – Start with management

The most troubling news of Gallup’s report is that only one in three manager is engaged. If your managers are not engaged, they won’t work with you to engage your employees.

I suggest you start by meeting with your leaders in the organization, one-on-one, to find out what they like about work and leadership, don’t like, what they would change, and their career goals.

3 – Accept that some employees won’t engage with the company

Talent management discussions have long talked about the Pareto rule applied to the workforce. That is, 20 percent of the workforce does 80 percent of the work.

You may remember high school physics class when the teacher stood next to a fully open window, then shut it 80 percent of the way. The teacher then told you that the same airmass was traveling through the smaller opening of the window. The airflow simply moved through the smaller opening faster. You can observe the same phenomenon of shooting rapids in a river. Water races through the shallower or narrower channel at a much faster speed creating a fun thrill for the canoeists.

The same is true with the workforce. I found that with the many sales forces I have worked with, who accurately measure the performance of their sales workers, the top 20 percent usually drove 80 percent of the sales.

Not all employees will aspire to be actively engaged or your top performers. Some lack the required skills or collaborative personalities to perform at this level. Some don’t have the desire to climb the corporate ladder but can still be good and reliable performers. Some may have family issues that temporarily prevent them from dedicating the time necessary to be a top performer. This can be due to a recent birth in the family, elder care obligations, a death in the family, or serious illness.

4 – Be purpose driven

Deloitte has found that purpose-driven companies witness higher market share gains and grow three times faster on average than their competitors, all while achieving higher workforce and customer satisfaction.

Purpose-driven companies clearly express the good they do for their customer, communities, and employees — and they follow through. They are genuine.

For years, I lead HR for two business units of Medtronic, a purpose-driven – or in their words a mission-driven company. The main tenant of the Medtronic Mission is to “contribute to human welfare by application of biomedical engineering in the research, design, manufacture, and sale of instruments or applications that alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life.” (Learn the other five tenets here.)

Medtronic executives always talked about the mission, the measures that have for each tenant of the mission, and how employees, from scientists to sales members to assemblers live the mission.

One quick example is an assembler in the Tempe, Arizona facility who saw a green ooze while inspecting solder welds on leads to a semiconductor hybrid chip. All the leads were good, so she could have passed the chips, but instead she halted the line and asked for an engineering inspection. If something was wrong, she reasoned, it could impact the performance of a newly implanted pacemaker in a human body. She was thinking of the company’s mission and customers. The two-month investigation identified an unauthorized chemical substitution in the supply chain, which would have caused a high percentage of pacemaker failures after patient implantation.

When your employees believe in the higher good of your organization’s mission, they will contribute to the company’s customer success, productivity, and profitability.

5 – Build relationships

It is always important to hold employees accountable to perform their work well and on time. Recognizing employees for their work verbally and with financial rewards is essential. Research shows that a culture of recognition when employees receive sincere positive messages five times more than constructive criticism leads to higher performance and engagement .

Management is critical to building relationships by understanding what employees like and don’t like about their jobs and career goals. Research by employee engagement expert Marcus Buckingham at Gallup has long shown that employees perform better when work can be shaped to allow employees to show their strengths.

Managers must learn how to have conversations to help employees reduce disengagement and burnout. Only managers can know employees as individuals — their life situation, strengths, and goals.

Gallup finds that managers should be encouraged to have one meaningful conversation per week with each team member — 15-30 minutes.

Fifteen minutes with each employee. That sounds like a reasonable task to me.

6 – Use technology to eliminate redundant work

Research shows that many employees hate conducting boring and monotonous tasks. Why not use digital technology to automate more of these tasks? How you do it, and how you involve employees in the process is critical. Please read Use a people-orientated approach to implementing AI.

7 – Build a transparent and collaborative culture of innovation

Change is imperative for organizational success. The bedrock of organizations that achieve success is a culture of innovation. Yet many leaders resist these cultures of innovation. They may believe culture is too mushy to measure and manage or takes too much time, or perhaps they don’t think about it because it was never taught to them in business school.

Our research at InnovationOne has uncovered that when an organization has a collaborative and transparent culture of innovation, its employees are more active in generating ideas and participating in teams to solve problems and improve the organization’s innovation.

In addition, companies scoring in the top quartile of our InnovationOne Culture Index© reported higher financial performance by as much as 22 percent.

Additionally, an MIT study released this year shows that strong, thriving cultures reduce employee turnover. MIT researchers uncovered that toxic organizational cultures drive employee turnover ten times more than pay.

Quiet Quitting is real – and it is probably hurting your organization’s productivity and innovation. But don’t overreact to it with draconian measures. Instead, first build relationships with your disengaged managers.

Then focus on building relationships with your employees. Learn what they like about work. What they don’t like and what they would change. And act upon the high-impact issues. Learn their career goals and accept that not everyone will be a go-getter. Managers are on the front line of this work. Use the information they give you to focus on communicating why your company exists. In this way, you will be able to build collaborative and transparent cultures of innovation.

About InnovationOne®, LLC.

InnovationOne®, LLC helps organizations worldwide build a culture of innovation and make it sustainable. InnovationOne® uses a scientifically developed assessment to measure, benchmark, and improve your company’s culture and capability to innovate and enjoy better outcomes and financial results. Companies scoring in the top quartile of our InnovationOne Culture Index© reported higher financial performance than bottom quartile performers by 22 percent. Our latest research shows that R&D Labs can improve their performance by 20 to 30 percent with higher innovation culture scores. Measure and ignite your culture of innovation.