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Intentional Listening: An Antidote to Quiet Quitting 

September 7, 2022

From trending on TikTok to bombarding business headlines to further complicating corporate culture in the COVID-19 era – this silent, subtle trend is having a profound impact. That’s right, we’re talking quiet quitting.

After going viral on TikTok in July, there’s no doubt the quiet quitting trend is creating waves in the corporate world. But what are employers to make of this trend? Is it a momentary social media fad? Or is it something more?

What is quiet quitting? 

Quiet quitting essentially describes employees who meet the expectations of their job description but choose not to go above and beyond – usually to establish better work-life boundaries. 

While clearly not an ideal situation for employers who strive for engaged employees, the factors that have led to quiet quitting have been around for some time. Bringing us to our next question … 

Why has quiet quitting gained so much attention now? 

Today, many employees are tired, frustrated, unmotivated and burnt out – and not without reason. The past few years, with countless economic, social and personal challenges, have not been easy. That’s especially true for employees who have given their all to keep themselves, their families and their employer afloat during constant uncertainty and stress. 

Throughout the pandemic, these concerns and issues have been flaring up … and all it took was a catchy name and a social media site to light the match to spark controversy. 

Why should employers care about quiet quitting? 

It’s easy to dismiss the latest TikTok trend and its implications for your business. But quiet quitting has hit a nerve and sparked a lot of conversations because of some very real issues employees have been dealing with for quite some time – like decreasing engagement and satisfaction, increasing levels of burnout and frustration, and the desire for more autonomy and flexibility.

As employers attempt to address the trend and its many layers, they should first invest the time, effort and resources to intentionally listen to their employees.

Bringing intentional listening to life

“They haven’t listened to a word I’ve said.”

Hopefully, your employees haven’t uttered these words, but don’t assume they haven’t.

In a workplace environment of mounting pressure and stress, overwhelmingly complex projects and seemingly endless to-do lists, it’s easy to forget to check in, connect with and listen to your employees.

But, now more than ever, there’s a pressing need to ask employees how they’re doing and give them the floor to express themselves. It shows them you care. It builds trust. And, just as important, it provides feedback you can use to generate new ways of working. And that’s just a start.

Intentional listening also equips you with insights to address two critically important workplace dynamics: employee-manager relationships and employee retention.

Empowering the employee-manager relationship

Managers are employees’ most trusted information source, drivers of workplace change and lynchpins of engagement. But the past few years have strained even the closest employee-manager relationships.

Ideally, managers would instinctively know if – and understand why – their employees are quiet quitting. But with the plethora of stresses virtually every employee has faced in these turbulent times, managers may not know exactly what those employees are dealing with or how they’re feeling about their jobs right now.

In fact, many managers themselves are feeling the weight of the same issues that are overwhelming their teams … on top of the responsibility of driving their businesses forward. And the discussion of the quiet quitting trend could weigh further on their minds, potentially compounding the employee engagement and retention challenges in organizations that aren’t adequately giving those managers the support they need to support their employees.

As managers look for new ways to engage their employees during these unprecedented times of dissatisfaction, frustration and burnout, rebuilding lines of transparent, candid communication and connection are at the heart of addressing the quiet-quitting problem. Managers will have a greater chance of making critical connections with their employees if the organization equips them with resources they need to reach and inspire their teams.

The only offense worse than not checking in with employees is disregarding what is heard. So, ensuring managers have guidance on how to actively listen and capture feedback – and then share that feedback with senior leadership – can help ensure managers follow best-practice approaches for fostering an effective flow of communication. This can take the form of providing managers with mental health first-aid training or even just short toolkits – nothing more complicated than customizable talking points, FAQ, a discussion guide and feedback form – for use with employees when new initiatives are introduced … whether those are initiatives that have the potential to increase or alleviate the burnout their teams are experiencing.

Better still, organizations that go a step further and act on the feedback gathered – and then communicate back to employees that they have been heard and seen – stand a better chance of maintaining a loyal, engaged and productive workforce.

Now more than ever is the time for managers – and senior leaders – to seek out their employees and meet them where they are … not the other way around. And, perhaps most important of all, senior leaders can model what is needed for the whole organization, by listening to and connecting with their direct reports and managers. This has the dual benefit of meeting the needs of other leaders and managers while also showing them how they should be reaching out to their teams.

Enhancing employee retention

While any quiet quitting is problematic, a top performer quiet quitting can be especially damaging.

Think of the employees you always count on in a pinch – the ones who consistently go above and beyond, who willingly accept the challenges others won’t, who always raise their hands but never complain. Those exemplary employees have trained their bosses to expect excellence every day. They often earn more autonomy because they’re reliable.

In the pandemic years, employers have concentrated so hard on maintaining productivity, they may have overlooked their indispensable team members.  

As a good business practice, employers should check in regularly with every employee and clearly outline performance expectations. But today they should make a point of personally engaging those who consistently go above and beyond, who have and continue to take on more and more, and who may be questioning why they do it now, especially if there’s no recognition or reward for the additional effort.

Checking in on and expressing gratitude to these employees can go far in driving high performance, loyalty and retention.

Putting the onus on the employer

While quiet quitting is a trend that started with employees, it will only end with employers.

Quiet quitters, so to speak, are being labeled as complacent and lazy by some. The same label could be applied to employers who are doing the bare minimum to keep their people engaged and motivated.

In this uncertain environment, assuming your employees will continue going above and beyond could be a serious mistake that deteriorates productivity and culture over time.

Provide your employees with the bare minimum and you can expect the same. Provide them a place to thrive and recognize them for their contributions, and you can earn increased engagement, improved productivity, greater loyalty – and stronger business results – in return.

To do that, start with your people. Ask them. Thank them. Listen and act on what you hear. And give your managers the support and tools they need to connect with and inspire their teams. Those few small actions will take you a long way.

For support in developing a customized approach to analyzing and addressing challenges like quiet quitting, reach out to FleishmanHillard’s Talent + Transformation team.