Put a Ring on it: Rules of Employee Engagement
on November 29, 2022
By Jared Eardley, MBE, RRT, Director of Patient Services, Norco, Inc.
If you are a leader, it is likely that you have become aware of the term “quiet quitting.” In case you missed all the hubbub, let me bring you up to speed.
The term recently became popular after millions of people watched a TikTok1 where @zaidleppelin talked about the phenomenon. In a nutshell, quiet quitting is an informal term for limiting your work engagement to the bare minimum as spelled out in the job description. You don’t agree to extra tasks. You don’t stay one minute past quitting time. You don’t…well, you get the idea.
This concept has resulted in a firestorm of controversy, most often negative, regardless of which side of the issue you find yourself.
What is interesting to me is that the general idea of quiet quitting isn’t new. In fact, I think leaders have been dealing with the root cause for as long as there have been teams to lead. The real problem is disengagement.
What Is Disengagement?
In 1990, William Kahn from Boston University proposed a psychological theory which defines disengagement as an “uncoupling of selves from work roles; in disengagement, people withdraw and defend themselves physically, cognitively, or emotionally during role performances.”2
Most leaders will do a quick mental assessment of their team and, without much trouble, pick out a person or two who is actively defensive or just seems to be going through the motions. That isn’t so bad, right? You might even think—not everyone can be a superstar. Everyone else is doing OK, so it won’t impact me much.
Or will it?
Would it surprise you if I told you that Gallup published a study which forecasts that two-thirds of employees are currently disengaged at work? Did you catch that?
Let me say it another way; if you lead a team of three, only one of them is showing up to work with the intention to do their best. If that person is you, what did you just learn about the rest of your team?
Now scale that to larger organizations and you can see the scope of the issue. What could you get done if you were running on more than one-third power?
Perhaps this still isn’t hitting home. Maybe you are more of a facts and figures leader. How about this? Gallup also estimated that a disengaged employee will cost the organization 34% of that employee’s annual salary. Go ahead and grab your calculator. I’ll wait. If my math is correct, disengaged employees are one of the most expensive costs you have.
How Do You Help Them Re-engage?
So, as a leader, how do you help them re-engage? I’m glad you asked. Here are 5 suggestions that have proven to be successful:
1. Be clear with your mission, strategic vision, and culture
I still remember the first time I was introduced to the concept of a mission statement. It was longer ago than I would like to admit and while working for a different employer. The purpose was to check off some mystical “good business practices” box, but it never had any impact on how we actually did business. It was an empty promise.
The workforce today is far less forgiving. Younger generations are especially committed to having a work experience that is deeper than just a steady paycheck. In fact, many have stated they would choose an employer who paid less if they felt strongly about the mission of the company.
Let's be clear that “making as much money as possible” is not a mission—it is a sales goal which does little to inspire employees to be engaged. Instead, explain how the world will be better by your company being in business, and then make sure you keep your promise. Our industry is one where we can certainly improve the quality of people’s lives by doing what we do. Celebrate that. Your team will thank you.
2. Build in regular one-on-one interactions
One of the most important steps you can take as a leader is to better understand everyone on your team and how they are uniquely motivated.
In my experience, the best way to do that is by scheduling time with them individually. Once is nice. Regularly is powerful.
Regularly is going to look different based on the individual. I have one team member who is always anxious for feedback and another that is fine with a quarterly check in. It doesn’t have to look the same for everyone. Ask them what they prefer and be flexible where you can.
Remember, your goal should be to better understand what motivates them. What is important in their work life? What would they like to learn? What are their career aspirations?
When leaders begin this practice, it can sometimes be difficult to know what to discuss. One of my favorite starter questions from Michael Bungay Stanier is, “What’s on your mind?” Often, it breaks the ice and allows the conversation to flow in a productive direction. Be warned that occasionally it will fall flat, so make sure it isn’t the only arrow in your quiver.
3. Create individual opportunities
Now that you have taken the time to regularly interact with each member of your team, you will want to create opportunities for them to progress individually.
I believe that a key to keeping people engaged at work is keeping them moving forward. If you can help move them in a direction where they expressed interest, all the better.
My current boss is the president of the company. I have had the opportunity to work with him for several years now, and he maintains a very demanding schedule that has only compounded over the last few years. Throughout that time, it would have been very easy for him to lose focus on his professional relationship with me. Instead, he listened to my ideas and encouraged me to act. Thanks to his backing, I feel like the last few years have been some of the most rewarding of my career.
Providing individual growth opportunities will do the same thing for your team and reignite the fire that has grown dim.
4. Address pain points and collaborate on solutions
No one likes work all the time. I’m an annoyingly upbeat guy, and even I have tough days.
One of the most frustrating conditions is when there is a problem that could easily be solved by consulting with the frontline worker who is most familiar with the situation, but instead management pushes multiple bumbling approaches that ultimately fail. Invariably the frontline worker feels frustrated and undervalued, which leads to them becoming disengaged.
What if, instead, after we identify the challenging areas of our business, we consult our internal content experts (i.e., frontline workers) first to collaborate on the best possible solutions. As leaders, we could identify the best solution faster and enjoy the bonus of a more engaged workforce that catches the vision of being part of something larger.
5. Make work fun
The final recommendation may surprise you.
Think for a moment of some of your past work teams. Which ones bubble to the top as your favorites? I can tell you that in my experience they have always had two things in common.
This article was originally featured in the VGM Playbook: Business Planning and Leadership. To read the full article and more like this, download your copy of the playbook today!
- Zaid K. [@zaidleppelin]. “On quiet quitting #workreform.” [Video]. TikTok. July 25, 2022. https://www.tiktok.com/@zaidleppelin/ video/7124414185282391342?is_copy_url=1&is_ from_webapp=v1.
- Kahn W, “Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work.” Academy of Management Journal. 1990; Vol. 33 (No. 4). https://doi.org/10.5465/256287.