“Quiet quitting”: just a Gen Z term for poor employee engagement?

by Time Doctor
Quite quitting employee engagement

It’s easy to discount quiet quitting as social media-inspired melodrama. A way for younger people to put their own stamp on an idea that attentive leaders have understood for many years: people who don’t feel valued or respected, don’t bring their whole selves to work. 

But the fact that the trend emerged from a generation of true digital natives — workers in their teens through to their late 20s — offers a new insight. Perhaps, because Gen Z are earlier in their career and more wary of the glorification of work, they simply feel safer than many other workers to reshape the conversation about what they ‘owe’ employers.   

In doing so, they’ve inspired people of all ages to set better boundaries. That’s raised many questions for employers in every industry, but particularly in sectors with historically high employee churn and low engagement, such as Contact Center and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies.

In response to quiet quitting, employers should be taking a renewed interest in attitudes to work, how their expectations influence engagement, and ways to help all employees feel empowered, included, energized and purposeful. 

In fact, for thoughtful people leaders this small act of defiance could be exactly the impetus you need to build a more balanced and sustainable employee experience.

Is the quiet quitting trend even real?

Advocates of quiet quitting make a clear distinction: it’s not about ‘slacking off’. Instead, they say, it’s a pushback against unfair expectations, like being asked to take on added responsibilities during Covid without a promotion, or working overtime without acknowledgement, support or compensation. 

For BPOs, whose competitiveness hinges on high levels of staff productivity delivered at low cost, any hint of employees ‘scaling back’ their efforts can be concerning. Reducing labor costs is a major reason organizations outsource, so BPOs who want to grow need efficient and productive teams. Yet the sector is also increasingly focused on providing fair conditions, flexibility, and a positive employee experience, to retain its best agents and attract qualified candidates around the world, including young talent. 

Employees being careful about how they spend their time may be a natural consequence of this ongoing refashioning of workplaces — underpinned by our collective awareness of the importance of work-life balance. 

Some people scoff and say quiet quitting is a non-event, because there’s nothing unusual or wrong with only doing the job you’re paid to do within the hours you’re paid to do it. 

Yet, while we know that excessive hours and extreme productivity are unsustainable — working extra hard has long been seen as a way to get ahead, and it remains an expectation in many workplaces. In reality, some managers continue to favor people willing to stay late. In reality, people who balk at unpaid labor may experience less job security. 

For minorities and marginalized people, doing more than what’s required (and more than mainstream colleagues) can even feel necessary in order to be treated with respect, or the only way to get noticed. 

Who’s more likely to quit quietly and why?

Setting boundaries and saying ‘no’ to the boss isn’t easy or without consequences. That could be why quiet quitting has been spearheaded by Gen Z workers: they’re more resistant to ‘hustle culture’, and they have less to lose.  

McKinsey research into Gen Z as consumers finds the age group is characterized by a stronger belief in individual expression, inclusivity, and truthfulness — rather than idealism. Their pragmatism, independence and open-mindedness means they’re less likely to put stock in work being the only path to purpose in life. 

Of course, Gen Z are not alone in not wanting to be defined by a relentless pursuit of professional goals and status, which is why quiet quitting has become a rallying cry for people of all ages, backgrounds and job types. 

It’s the perfect demonstration of how maximizing the efforts of your team can become counter-intuitive if your culture saps their enthusiasm and loyalty. 

And this is a particular concern for operations with tight margins where the productivity of every team member is key to scaling profitably like BPO companies. However, the new breed of outsourcing company—ones that make employee engagement a priority and create flexible and rewarding work environments — have an opportunity to position themselves as desirable places to work. 

Employee engagement - BPO guide

What does quiet quitting really tell us about engagement?

It can be argued that quiet quitting is a symptom of employee disengagement, but in some ways it’s a positive reaction. 

Globally, engagement is low and many workers are desperate for the weekend, and working just for a paycheck. Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report found that just 21% describe themselves as engaged and that disengagement costs the global economy $7.8 trillion. 

Of course, you don’t want members of your team to ‘phone it in’. But you definitely don’t want people to just keep pushing till they face total burnout, or to get fed-up and quit. Both outcomes increase your resourcing and recruitment costs, and further impact your culture and engagement.  

Employees’ capacity to find fulfillment in their work or invest in your company long-term is diminished when they start to feel like:

  • They don’t have control over decisions about their work
  • They can’t see how the work contributes to a higher goal
  • They don’t believe their efforts will be recognised
  • They don’t feel like they belong

What if you looked at quiet quitting as a helpful, self-directed attempt to focus on what matters during productive hours as a way to offset an increasingly chaotic, overwhelming and unsatisfying work environment. 

In fact, modern BPOs may even have an advantage in this new paradigm. Offering solid jobs via innovative, remote models, with clearly defined expectations and processes that support strong performance during standard hours, closely aligns with the values of people of any age who might embrace quiet quitting. People who believe in the concept can still be good performers, and may actually present a lower turnover risk.

If employees’ resolve to ‘take back’ their personal time means you reduce attrition and get a fair and steadfast contribution during their workday, isn’t that a win? 

We’re talking about people who want to keep working, and do. You still have the opportunity to restore their motivation, and put your organization at the forefront of employee engagement, retention, talent development and driving high performance. 

Do you have a management gap that quiet quitting compensates for?

Disengagement is exacerbated by managers that are ill-equipped to delegate, motivate others, make informed decisions, or handle conflict. In some cases, employers need their employees to enforce boundaries — because the systems and management approaches in place are failing to create a healthy work environment. 

Quiet quitting as a concept gives people leaders a chance to deeply reflect on:

  • The extent to which your team feels the need to protect their energy
  • Beliefs and knowledge about the importance of rest for productivity  
  • Whether employees feel capable of saying when their plate is full
  • How good managers are at ensuring work is necessary and worthwhile
  • How well managers can get visibility of activity, performance and problems

Microsoft’s Chief People Officer Kathleen Hogan recently wrote about how the tech giant was tuning its listening systems to move from measuring productivity to gaining a better sense of whether its 220,000-strong workforce felt “energized and empowered to do meaningful work.”

She argues that individuals can’t bear the full weight of responsibility for their flagging energy and wellbeing—and understanding how your people are affected and what will help them are critical first steps for employers. 

For BPOs, now is a great time to explore new tactics and tools to address aspects of your workplace culture that are limiting your ability to foster a vibrant, committed attitude among your staff. Could your systems be better at enabling autonomy, monitoring activity, and gauging employee wellness?

For instance, Time Doctor’s non-intrusive time and activity monitoring tool provides clear and unbiased organization-wide analytics that managers can use to see how and when people are working, their level of contribution, and patterns of behavior. 

Time Doctor helps managers spot overworked employees sooner, give their teams more autonomy and flexibility (less micromanagement), and more easily see where progress is being made and by who to underpin better feedback, reward and recognition conversations that keep people feeling valued and purposeful. 

 
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