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Quiet Quitting Is a New Name for an Old Problem, but How Can We Solve It?


Re’s executive strategy director, Rana Brightman, writes about the issue facing employers now and how employee experience provides the solution they’re looking for

Quiet Quitting Is a New Name for an Old Problem, but How Can We Solve It?

Industries all over the globe are facing the same issue: high rates of quitting staff and a difficulty attracting new talent. What started as the ‘great resignation’ during the pandemic has evolved into a new form - ‘quiet quitting’, which sees employees do the bare minimum to get by at their jobs. It’s further characterised by a lack of passion or attachment to the job and the wider company, and that’s bad news for employers and their output. While the pandemic put the wheels behind this mechanism in motion, the problem isn’t a new one - we know that employees have been unhappy for a long time. 

Long hours, longer commutes, a strict separation of personal and professional lives was all part of the old order that covid stripped away. Combined with the digital revolution, evolving demographics, and changing social and cultural roles, and suddenly the lack of employee satisfaction looks like a perfectly reasonable response to workplaces that failed to change with the times. Research by Gallup found that 50% of the US workforce can be classified as ‘quiet quitters’; rates of engaged workers stayed steady in the second quarter of 2022 at 32%, while the percentage of actively disengaged ones rose to 18%. Gallup reports that the drop in engagement started in the latter half of 2021, which coincided with the increased number of resignations. 

People’s values have shifted. Gone is celebration of overwork while health and wellbeing are taking centre stage together with social and environmental consciousness. One word reared its head above all others: purpose. Employees are looking for more than a paycheck - they have been for a long time - companies need to rethink how they operate before it’s too late. 

The Power Shift

An inherent power shift has taken place between employees and employers. In the past, it was an employers’ market, choosing freely from multiple highly qualified applicants while dictating the terms; today, employees are more discerning, evaluating whether a potential employer aligns with their purpose, values, and goals. Even as economic uncertainty has curtailed the boldness of the first wave of resignations, it has only slowed the problem once more, and recovery is likely to trigger another wave in the future.

So, is it too late to reverse the malaise that’s set in among employees? Not at all. But employers need to start thinking about employee experience (EX) now to slow and stop its negative effects. At Re, we define employee experience as the result of all the interactions an employee has with their employer. It’s essentially their perception of the journey they’ve been on at a particular company or organisation, from the moment they considered them a place to work through to how they were hired, onboarded, trained, developed, ways of working, appraisal, and through to their exit.

Why focus on employee experience? Because it’s about creating and shaping a great working environment for companies to get the most out of their people.

We know that before mass resignations and now ‘quiet quitting’ started to sweep across industries, employee experience was not a consideration for most companies. The truth is that people were often taken for granted and the focus for too long has been on customers rather than the people at the forefront of delivering the service or key moments in the brand experience. That’s why it’s now imperative for companies to change course and to start investing in their employer brand and internal brand experience for current and prospective talent. 

The talent market continues to be brutal for many companies and industries. Good people have always been hard to find and while employers’ expectations remain high, they’re not seeing their top choice candidates accepting offers. People are less tolerant of staying in jobs (or performing at the highest level) that make them unhappy. That’s why the impact brands make when they bring talent in is critical to making a good first impression. 

Defining the Employee Value Proposition

Some companies have been putting in the work to create great employee experience. Starbucks realised early that its people are the brand. In line with this, Starbucks has enabled its employees to take greater accountability and ownership of the company while providing continuous training. 

Similarly, Spotify’s purpose is well-defined - to unlock the potential of human creativity, giving artists the opportunity to live off their art and fans the opportunity to enjoy and be inspired by it. Spotify’s employee value proposition (EVP) is - ‘Join the band’. The company has defined its EVP and EX in a way that is truly people-centric and built on the principles of collaboration, sincerity, and shared passion. 

Even with growth, Spotify has kept a fairly flat management structure in line with their EVP and created an EX that prioritises employee well-being, taking inspiration from their Swedish heritage and encouraging flexible and balanced work. This might look like a ‘fika’ break (leisurely coffee break), a ‘work from anywhere’ policy, and a programme that’s centred on destigmatising mental health issues and providing the right support.

Spotify isn’t alone. Tech companies have always known that to attract and retain the best talent, a high salary isn’t enough when competitors can offer the same or even a higher one. Employees want more. That’s why a lot of tech companies today, including Netflix, have well-defined EVPs that translate into a thought-out EX strategy, allowing them to find and keep the industry’s best minds. 

On the other hand, we can see in real time what not prioritising EX looks like as Twitter’s employees are quitting en masse following a directive from the new CEO, Elon Musk, that anyone staying at the company needs to commit to working “long hours at high intensity”. It’s estimated that hundreds of staff have chosen to resign rather than sign up for working conditions that were once seen as the norm. 

Today, companies need purpose and to centre their employees to not just survive, but to thrive. One of my favourite workshop exercises is to ask clients to imagine if their company ceased to exist. What would be missing in the world? It’s a great way of exploring the role a brand plays beyond profit or shareholder value. Purpose must inspire talent and allow them to find their own meaning within it. When the purpose is meaningful to the individual, that’s where true motivation and ownership is created. From a clear purpose, companies can then design the right EX strategy, ensuring that it reaches into every part of the organisation. 

Today both employers and employees are in a difficult spot, this is an opportunity to change the way things have always been done. By centring customer experience, companies can start to capture the minds and hearts of a employees that are looking for more from their workplaces.

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Re London, Fri, 25 Nov 2022 09:22:45 GMT