Barbara Ritter: Post-pandemic workers are fed up, burnt out and disengaged

  • In Business
  • 2022-09-24 09:00:37Z
  • By The Florida Times-Union
How's your work-life balance?  

When I was in graduate school, I clearly remember the day we talked about attitudes at work. We were told to train for skill development but hire for attitude. As an organizational leader who has hired many people over many years, I find this adage to be true. Selecting a group of highly positive and willing people certainly makes for a good work environment.

Now "quiet quitting" has become a hot term in the popular press as we struggle to define how to capture the anxiety and burnout the workforce is experiencing in the aftermath of the pandemic. Quiet quitting means performing your basic job duties and no more. It suggests workers are fed up with giving it their all and burnt out to the point where they retaliate by more narrowly defining their job duties.

Quiet quitting is a catchy term to describe a real phenomenon happening in the workplace today - Gallup finds that 18% of the workforce is actively disengaged at work.

On a continuum, quiet quitting might range from retaliation (active efforts to sabotage work tasks), resistance (refusal to engage in work tasks), to withdrawal (psychological detachment from the job). Quiet quitting may mean you don't clean up the communal kitchen before you leave, or it may mean you send out an email to a client without proofreading it first.

These are two different things that affect performance outcomes in disproportionate ways. Refusing to put in the extra effort to proofread an email to a client harms your work performance as related to your basic job duties. These are the types of withdrawal behaviors that hurt your performance ratings and your ability to continue with an organization.

This is not the type of quiet quitting any expert or pundit should be encouraging. However, if quiet quitting means that you are carefully self-reflecting on your anxiety levels and your ability to feel well when accounting for all of your life demands, then this is a positive for both employees and their employers.

If you are feeling burnt out at your job, take steps to protect your mental health and overall well-being. It is in your best interest to do so, and in your organization's best interest to support you with sick time, adequate pay, health care benefits and appropriate flexibility to balance work-life demands.

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On the other hand, quiet quitting in the form of producing subpar work or affecting the work of others by being difficult will only make your health and work outcomes worse in the long run.    

There are a number of things that organizational managers can do to help employees experiencing work withdrawal:

  • Reflect on their own level of engagement. Withdrawal can be contagious and organizational leaders role model behavior for others.

  • Get to know employees personally to help them reduce disengagement. Understand when employees are facing anxiety or overload and take steps to assist them through it in a constructive way.

  • Allow employees the flexibility they need to balance life demands, but also ensure opportunities exist for people to engage socially at work. People are social beings and engaging with each other in a positive way can help create a social support structure.  

  • Give purpose to work and allow for individual development and advancement. Be creative in thinking about the structure of work so that you can empower employees in areas of interest to them and let them shine.

Dynamics in the current workforce are raising interesting and important questions about our relationship with work. The concepts underlying quiet quitting are not new, but the realization that we bring our whole selves to work is necessary for organizations to adapt to the current and future demands of the workforce.

Dr. Barbara Ritter is the dean of Davis College of Business & Technology at Jacksonville University. 

This guest column is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Times-Union. We welcome a diversity of opinions. 

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Barbara Ritter: Post-pandemic workers are fed up, burnt out, disengaged


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