In the last several years, what it means to work has been defined and redefined countless times in countless ways. With the Quiet Quitting phenomenon, the radical realignment of values surrounding work, and Gen Z's entrance into the workforce, the future of work has never been more uncertain. We did some digging to uncover where employers need to focus efforts to best respond to 2022's work culture changes and anticipate the inevitable shifts to come.
We're all familiar with "The Great Resignation," the post-pandemic phenomenon that has seen record-breaking numbers of employees leaving their jobs in search of broader horizons. But Quiet Quitting is a lesser-known, potentially more insidious occurrence in which employees don't stop showing up for work – they just stop bringing their A-game. This sometimes causes more problems for employers than if their team members quit since they're paying full-time wages for part-time effort: the annual cost of a disengaged employee is over $29,000. So, what's the solution?
Makella Bergsmith, Senior Analyst at SKIM, believes that proactive employee engagement is the key to combating Quiet Quitting. Bergsmith notes that the minority of employees that go above and beyond at work have room to ease up when feeling burnt out. But companies start to take a hit when those who generally work at 100% effort (or less) slow down their efforts.
Companies that want to get ahead of Quiet Quitting need to engage their employees before declining effort begins. To do that, Bergsmith suggests three steps: realigning employees with the organization's mission, providing total company-wide access, and offering opportunities for organic relationship-building within the workplace.
To combat Quiet Quitting…
Keeping employees' eyes on the prize when it comes to their work is fundamental to their feeling of connection to the company and its success. Some employees' day-to-day work can seem distant from the company's mission and purpose. So, employers must actively connect those dots. Working from home can exacerbate feelings of isolation and disconnectedness. If much of your team is remote, emphasize transparency around project goals and bigger-picture objectives to help aid alignment.
Provide Company-Wide Access
Opening up communications across teams and experience levels strengthens your team's bond and improves their work. Encouraging employees early in their careers or new to your organization to learn from their seniors helps them grow more quickly and feel a sense of belonging in the workplace. Allowing them access to their seniors also provides visibility to their potential career trajectory should they advance with you, prompting deeper investment into their work and role in the company. Establish an internal initiative like a mentorship program or job shadowing that work cross-functionally and top-down. Offering a seat at the "big kids' table" to less seasoned workers can help them become better employees who feel nurtured and connected to the organization.
Offer Opportunities for Organic Relationship-Building
With company-wide access comes the bonus of new relationship development. Team members that would never have crossed paths have the benefit of gaining a broader perspective on their team and its functions as a whole. In addition, building relationships across your organization creates an even playing field that fosters new ideas and opens doors to collaborations that would have never naturally occurred.
Bye Bye Burnout
The pandemic inspired uncertainty in so many areas of life that very few people were quitting their jobs during the height of it; Glassdoor economist Daniel Zhao reports that there were 3.7 million "missing quits," or statistically expected quits, by August 2021. But, as we all know, the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. Millions of employers are facing unprecedented staffing shortages as employees resign in droves – and thus began "The Great Resignation." Amidst the chaos, we ask ourselves why so many employees are leaving jobs they'd committed years – entire careers! – to. And the answer lies in what is natural to the human condition: existential questioning.
Worldwide trauma, such as a pandemic, unsurprisingly prompts self-reflection and re-examination of priorities. When COVID-19 hit and threatened jobs and lives, workers were forced to question how they work, why they work, and what truly mattered to them on a grand scale. Some workers even faced identity crises when grappling with doubts about their work. "Especially in the United States, who we are as an employee and as a worker is very central to who we are as people," states Anthony Klotz, the psychologist responsible for coining the term "The Great Resignation." Employees can lose a sense of self or purpose when work is so closely aligned with identity and is then redefined, as it was during the pandemic. All of these factors contribute to the same problem: burnout.
Workers nationwide, especially those in high-pressure careers, began suffering mental health crises due to burnout, a problem that began rising even before the pandemic. A 2018 Gallup study found 7 in 10 Millennials felt some burnout, while 21% of older generations felt the same way – and a 2020 report from Blue Cross Blue Shield found a 43% increase in major depression in Millennials from 2014 to 2018. Luckily, there are several ways employers can mitigate burnout and keep employees happy – even amidst post-pandemic recovery.
To extinguish burnout…
Change With The Times
Pulling together a great team is no easy task. Thoughtfully considering employee experiences is essential to keeping them around. Recent years prove the inevitability of shifts in workers' values and wants for their work life. Rather than fight against changes that are sure to come, try to anticipate and work around them. COVID-19 brought about major reflections on work-life balance, so show your employees you're on the same page with Summer Fridays or monthly team happy hours. If a team member's struggling to find reliable childcare, ask if they need to move to a hybrid schedule to accommodate their family's needs. The times they are a-changin', and the businesses who change with them will be the most resilient.
Separate Identities from Careers
Of course, employers value their employees for what they do at work, but make sure your team embraces its members with a 360º lens. They're not just a coworker – their lives extend far beyond the office, so make sure to acknowledge that. Ask about weekend plans, encourage freedom of expression through casual Fridays or a desk-decorating contest, and model a healthy work-life balance. A recent article by Harvard Business Review notes that career enmeshment, in which the boundaries between work and life are blurred, can cause individuals to feel like their lives, personalities, and passions outside the office are unimportant. Employees who feel their entire identity and worth rest on their job performance inevitably crumble under the pressure – so take that pressure off where and how you can.
Boost Workplace Connections
Remote work has affected peoples' expectations of what work means and how it can be done. To quote Harvard Business Review: "In today's hybrid world, 'work' is increasingly something people do, not a place they go." COVID-19 has permanently changed what work can look like, and many employees aren't overly eager to lose the cushy, no-commute benefits of WFH life – even if they feel isolated in their home office. If you're interested in bringing your employees back to work, you'll have to offer some compelling perks. We're not talking about a decked-out snack bar or ergonomic desk chairs; the most convincing benefit of all is completely free.
Workplace relationships have proven to be, by leaps and bounds, the most effective way to get workers excited about being in the office again. 85% of employees say they'd be motivated to go into the office to rebuild team bonds, and 74% say they'd come into work more often if they knew their "work friends" would be there. On the other hand, 40% of employees report feeling disconnected from their company, and although we love a good Zoom room, we can admit there's just no replacing genuine, in-person connections. Encouraging employees to meet face-to-face and build genuine relationships through weekly team-wide check-ins, team-building exercises or workshops, catered in-office lunches, and even daily ice-breakers thrown into a Slack channel can strengthen teams and bring purpose to office life again. Better work gets done when teams are comfortable and connected – and employees are happier, too.
Gen Z Factor
Aside from the direct effects of the pandemic, another major change started in recent years: the entrance of Generation Z into the workforce. Older generations are struggling to integrate this new wave of workers, claiming a language- and customs-barrier; a recent article from Fortune Magazine titled, "Managing Gen Z is like working with people from a 'different country,'" says it all. When it comes to welcoming fresh faces into the workplace, there are a few things to keep in mind.
To integrate Gen Z into the workplace…
It can be second nature to expect that everyone knows the same things you do. But entering any interaction with this set of expectations can often lead to confusion, miscommunication, and misunderstanding in the workplace. Gen Z and Baby Boomers have had radically different life experiences, educational experiences, and work experiences and have entered adulthood at vastly different points in time. Expectations that Boomers or even Gen X's and Millennials may consider standard practice might not even be on the radar of workers beginning their careers today. Practice patience in teaching the workers of tomorrow the skills they need to shine.
Lindsay Pollak, a leading career and workplace expert, shares a telling anecdote on generational gaps in a recent article from Fortune Magazine. Pollak recently worked with a financial firm whose PTO policy offered an "appropriate amount of time off" for all employees. Management complained that Gen Z was taking advantage of the non-specific policy – but Pollak acknowledged that "appropriate amount" was an incredibly subjective term that might mean something different to Gen Z employees than to their older colleagues. Let go of the assumption that everyone understands unwritten codes of conduct and make rules abundantly, explicitly clear. Employees who are just getting the hang of their careers might not have the same perspective as their more experienced peers, so make it easy for them to meet office expectations.
While more experienced employees may get frustrated with what new workers are still learning, it's vital to encourage mutual respect for the valuable, unique skills each team member brings to the table. Baby Boomers have many years of professional life under their belts and can surely whip up a professional email or present at a conference without a second thought. Less experienced, younger workers may need a helping hand tackling these tasks. However, the Class of 2022 is full of true digital natives, growing up on the Internet and graduating college remotely during COVID-19 lockdowns. Thus, the technological skills younger workers boast often goes above and beyond what older team members can offer. Everyone shows up with different tools in their toolbox – and the more tools your team has, the better.
Although the changes we faced in recent years have been unprecedented and unpredictable, commitment to constant evolution is the ultimate key to keeping your business moving forward. And at The ExperienceBuilt Group, we're passionate about optimizing work, boosting employee experience, and anticipating what's coming next.
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