The practice of “quiet quitting” – fulfilling your contractual obligations at work and no more – has apparently spread like wildfire. According to a Gallup poll, at least half of the US workforce is quietly quitting, disengaged and detached from work; in short, doing the bare minimum required by their job descriptions. Undoubtedly, the phrase is gaining attention because of its intriguing and provocative undertones, but the focus on this workplace phenomenon raises interesting points for consideration, not least the fact that much of the discussion around engagement of employees focuses on millennials and Gen Zers. It is baffling that the welfare of older, more senior employees appears to be pushed to the margins.
Young, well-educated, flexible employees who find themselves disengaged from work can vote with their feet and look for employment elsewhere. As the years progress, employees may become tied to a certain geographic area owing to family circumstances or constrained by financial commitments, which makes any potential job move more complicated and subject to various non-negotiable conditions. If the people who have committed to a company and possibly a role for substantial periods of time, are overlooked, they will vote with their heads, and a downward spiral towards disengagement begins, to the detriment of both the organization and the wellbeing and prospects of the individual.
Effectively “losing” employees in this way is a needless waste of resource. A YouGov poll found that two thirds of workers aged 18‒29 bought into the idea that they should only do the work that they are paid for, while only 35% of workers in their 60s felt the same, with 54% continuing to believe that they should go above and beyond what their job entails. If this stronger cultural mindset, inherent loyalty and ingrained positive attitude towards work is allowed to fade in older generations, it will be owing to unforgivable complacency on the part of organizational leadership.
Consider the needs of the many, as well as the few
A tremendous amount of effort is put into both attracting and retaining younger employees. While this is all to the good, in many organizations, the younger generation are in the minority of the workforce and certainly they will hold only a fraction of the knowledge and experience that resides in the business. In terms of motivation, engagement and general wellbeing, it is just as valid to consider the needs of the 50-year-old middle manager as the graduate starter.
In some areas, those needs may well coincide. All employees will show greater loyalty to an organization that demonstrates that it cares for its employees and maintains a considered work-life balance. This is not to say that employees who want to go beyond their remits and contribute extra time and effort as part of their commitment to the job and personal development should be discouraged but, rather, that they should not feel obliged to work extra hours as a matter of course. Working for an organization that can articulate a purpose beyond simply making money can also be a hugely motivating factor for many employees, and a shared feeling of organizational purpose can make them much less likely to drop into the quiet quitter zone.
Employers should try to understand the needs of employees at different stages of their lives and act on their findings. Younger people, thirsty for knowledge, will appreciate an organization that allows them to work in different areas, building up experience and skillsets as part of developing a rich career. In contrast, those with younger children may regard greater flexibility in terms of working hours or the option of remote working particularly important. Employees over the age of 50 may, for example, appreciate their employers’ being prepared to shift some of their base pay towards a pension scheme, helping them to plan for the next chapter of their lives. To keep employees feeling positive and motivated, it is important to understand each person as an individual, rather than treating them as a homogeneous group.
The value of feeling valued
In a previous role, I worked in an organization that was gathering different perspectives on some strategically challenging issues. We made a point of looking beyond young employees, ensuring that people from different age categories were contributing. We involved people from across the value chain – from sales, manufacturing, R&D, finance, and HR – and even made sure that we had a range of personality types. The exercise had a significant impact on the engagement levels of all categories of employee: The feedback showed us that it was one of the rare occasions when people across the organization felt valued, resulting in greater engagement and a positive impact on performance.
Asking a more seasoned, experienced employee to contribute their expertise is a win-win exercise. The company benefits from knowledge that might otherwise remain untapped until it leaves the business with the employee at the end of their working life. In parallel, the employee gains a heightened sense of worth, feeling that they are valued and able to contribute.
Passing on knowledge and values
I recently visited a very large company that has a structured mentoring program, where older employees, including members of the executive committee, are trained to mentor new hires. It is working exceptionally well. There are positives for the organization, for the senior employee, whose knowledge is valued and, of course, for the younger individual, who benefits from the passing down of expertise. Interestingly, the mentors express a sense of value that is as great, if not greater, than that expressed by the mentees. They feel enormous pride in being highlighted as a respected person, whose knowledge and insights should be tapped into for the benefit of trainees. Teaching those that follow to become stronger than their teachers provides huge motivational energy for those who take up the opportunity.