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By now, just about everyone has heard of the term “quit quietly.” It to arise in March 2022 and refers to performing the minimum duties of your job description well enough so that you don’t get fired. The concept fast went viral on TikTok.
Yet it only started to gain popularity as a concern among business leaders back then government data on productivity released in August 2022 showed a sharp and unexpected decline in Q1 and Q2 of 2022. Shortly after that worrying data point in August, Gallup released a survey in early September, indicating that as many as half of all Americans are silent quitters, exacerbating corporate executives’ concerns about this problem.
A lot traditionalist Leaders rushed to attribute this drop in productivity and rise in silent cessation to remote working. For example, Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock attributed the decline in productivity due to remote working. He called for requiring employees to come to the office to address this issue.
Yet the claims of traditionalists are wrong. If the silent shutdown and resulting drop in productivity came from remote working, we should see a drop in productivity from the start of the pandemic, when office workers moved to remote working. As offices reopen, especially after the Omicron surge in late 2021, we should see productivity pick up as workers return to the office from early 2022.
In fact, we see the opposite tendency. U.S. productivity rose in the second quarter of 2020 as offices closed, and remained at an elevated level through the fourth quarter of 2021. When companies began mandating a return to the office in early 2022, productivity fell sharp.
Related: Employers Should Fear the Truth Behind Quiet Quitting. This is why.
So what accounts for the drop in productivity associated with quitting quietly?
According to According to Ben Wigert, director of research and strategy for workplace management at Gallup, forcing employees to come to the office under the threat of discipline leads to withdrawal, fear and distrust. Gallup finds that “the optimal engagement boost occurs when employees work 60% to 80% of their time – or three to four days in a five-day work week – away from home.” Found the Integrated Benefits Institute in October 2022 questionnaire that employees who work remotely or in a hybrid environment reported being more satisfied (20.7%) and more engaged (50.8%).
No wonder, then, that mandates that force employees to come to the office result in quiet quits. Dissatisfied employees are not productive. This is especially true if they are looking for a new job. The career website Monster reported that two-thirds of respondents would quit rather than return to the office full-time. Not surprisingly, many of those forced to return to the office start brushing up on their resumes and meeting with recruiters.
How do you solve quietly stopping when you have to return to the office?
When I add this data to my consult customers, they often ask me what they can do to address this problem. First of all, I remind them of a joke by the famous comedian Henry Youngman: “The patient says, ‘Doctor, it hurts when I do this.’ The doctor says, ‘Then don’t do that!'” The best approach to the future of work is a flexible team-driven approach, where team leaders rely on working arrangements that meet the needs of their team. Team leaders know best what their teams need, including how to maximize productivity, engagement, and collaboration.
However, often it is not that simple. They may be dealing with an unforgiving board of directors, or the rest of the C-suite may be united in requiring employees to return to the office for much or all of the work week. What then?
In that case, I help them figure out best practices for returning to the office, minimizing the worry of leaving work. You might imagine it’s as simple as people paying more. And indeed, a conversation about compensation is always part of a return to office initiative. For example, Research by Owl Labs suggests that it costs the average office worker an average of $863 per month to commute to work instead of staying home, which is about $432 per month for utilities, office supplies and so on.
Related: You need to let your team determine their approach to hybrid work. A behavioral economist explains why and how to do it.
What I think works best is to pay for allowances related to specific office-related expenses, rather than a general salary increase. So pay your staff’s commuting costs: IRS daily allowances for miles traveled, public transportation costs, and so on. Pay for a tasty catered lunch. Pay for their dry cleaning costs.
Such payments help address initial dissatisfaction and reduce the churn typically associated with mandatory office returns. But they don’t address the silent shutdown resulting from people coming to the office and doing the same thing they do at home, except with a two-hour commute.
An October 2022 questionnaire Slack found that many knowledge workers returning to the office spend up to four hours on video calls. UK head of Slack Stuart Templeton said employers risked turning their offices into “productivity killers” as “a two-hour commute to make video calls is a terrible use of the office”.
That’s the kind of thing that immediately leads to quiet stopping. We know people are much more productive on individual tasks that require attention at home. The questionnaire from Slack confirmed this impression: 55% of respondents preferred to do “deep work” at home, and only 16% called the office a better place for deep work.
Instead, the office should be a place for socializing, collaboration, and in-depth training, especially for newer employees. To meet social needs, it is valuable to organize fun team-building exercises and social events when staff return to the office.
To facilitate collaboration, it’s important to consider how office staff interact with remote workers. Some of my clients have staff coming in on different days of the week, which requires x. To facilitate such collaboration of office and remote staff, it helps to provide virtual office environments, putting both types of workers on a level playing field. Likewise, it is imperative to improve audiovisual (AV) technology to enable hybrid meetings to enable effective collaboration.
There is no substitute for face-to-face experiences for in-depth soft skills training, such as effective face-to-face communication, conflict mediation and resolution, and ethical persuasion. My customers find that when they bid valuable training If their employees regularly return to the office, quiet quitting decreases and employee engagement and productivity increase.
Finally, we find it valuable to help employees deal with burnout as part of the return to the office, for example by providing mental health benefits. In a Gallup questionnaireCompared to office work, 71% of respondents said hybrid work improves work-life balance and 58% reported less burnout.
While a mandatory return to office will inevitably lead to quiet dismissals and loss of productivity, smart leaders can solve this problem by best practices. Helping employees socialize, collaborate, and get great professional development and mentoring, showing them the value of the office, reduces quiet quitting and improves performance.