Quiet quitting has become a hot topic in recent months. Google searches have increased by nearly 23,000% globally since July, and the flood of recent articles and social media posts suggest it’s a new phenomenon. But is it really? Has something changed in the employee experience or is it just the latest media buzzword? If something has changed, what is it, and what can employers do to fix it?
To find out what’s really going on, we turned to our global database of employee opinions, the world’s largest with over 250 million completed employee surveys. We examined data from the second quarter of 2022, globally across all sectors and geographies, and compared that data with global averages from 2020 and 2021.
Definitions of quiet quitting often include references to drops in discretionary effort, a reduction in energy toward one’s work and declines in advocacy toward the organization — what you might ordinarily call declines in employee engagement. Interestingly, however, our analysis showed no demonstrable dip in energy or inspiration in the second quarter; engagement held steady.
If engagement is holding steady, what has changed?
Of the full range of employee experience, one of the biggest drops in sentiment was around staffing and workload, confirming the impact of the great resignation. In fact, in the first six months of 2022, employees perceived their employers as doing a significantly worse job of retaining and recruiting top talent and maintaining efficient staffing levels and manageable workloads.
The second most significant area of decline was in the perception of compensation — not in absolute terms but in whether it was perceived as fair. Most notably, employees’ perception of whether their pay is fair compared with that of others in their organization dropped significantly.
Employees continued to acknowledge flexibility to support work/life balance in the second quarter, most likely through their hybrid and work-from-home arrangements; however, we still saw a decline in employees’ perceived ability to balance their work and personal lives. We also saw a drop, back to below 2020 levels, in how much employees believe their leaders are interested in their wellbeing. This is despite an uptick during the pandemic.
Fascinatingly though, despite a significant increase in the messaging, focus and financial investment in wellbeing programs as well as resources and the effort of employers to communicate they care, employees’ perception of “caring” has dropped. What’s causing this disconnect? We suspect a “say/do” issue: Employers are saying they care, but their actions (or inactions) around resourcing, the magnitude of work and the sheer amount of stress are off.
According to WTW’s engagement data, it seems there hasn’t been any real downturn in discretionary effort in recent months as the quiet quitting articles suggest. Our data shows that we have moved into a new employee experience globally, created from a combination of workload and staffing stressors because of talent attrition, concerns about fair and equitable pay, and increased pressures affecting physical, financial, emotional and social wellbeing.
The reality right now, and likely for the foreseeable future, is that with inflation and the increased cost of living, real wages are going down. And because of the “great resignation” and decreased staffing, real workload is going up. As a result, it makes sense that work/life balance is going down. This new employee experience creates a potent mix of raw emotion, real hardship and feelings of being taken advantage of. And employers need to address it, immediately.
The truth is, there is no silver bullet to magically make everyone happy, fully engaged, feeling balanced and highly productive. Because every company is different and every company’s culture is unique, it’s important for employers to make decisions based on their own unique facts.
To navigate this difficult period, employers have some tough choices to make. Here are five actions for consideration:
Final thoughts: While we question whether quiet quitting is the most pressing issue of the day, we believe talent retention and employees’ increased consideration of quitting to be serious issues. As economic tides turn, voluntary attrition rates continue at pace and involuntary attrition becomes a foreseeable threat, there is a growing urgency for employers to (re)engage their most valuable resource: their talent.