Quiet Quitting is the Hallmark Cards description of 2022 work environments to create clickbait not solve a problem. Yet the “Quiet Quitter now makes up at least 50% of the US workforce according to Gallup.  Prevalence, in my view, does not equal relevance as the concept of ‘mailing it in’ has been with us for years. I believe what we are doing is focusing on a symptom of a loss of connection and the root of the cause lies further back in the employee experience and is something we can and should act to change.

What do you feel when you see that resignation letter come through? Or the note laden with frustration from a senior leader about another underperformer? Maybe your company is flying and performance is high, your leader or team member might not be underperforming but instead, the lack of understanding comes from where is the next opportunity, or why is this person not fulfilling their potential?

As Leaders, particularly those of us that exist in the People space we should be asking how can that be so? People departments exist to facilitate employee engagement, to help maximize potential, and to partner with leaders to create career pathways. So why do we keep getting the same messages?

Well, let’s start with the way I phrased the question, for as anyone I have worked with and a large proportion of those that I have interviewed can attest, I use the word “feel’ consciously. After all, is this not our purpose as People professionals? To read, understand and build to the feelings, popularized nomenclature here being engagement scores, of our companies? 

I believe the answer lies in questions, not statements. Too often in times of challenge an enthusiastic leader (insert misguided if your company needs it) takes to their preferred platforms and tells the company how the future is bright, their future is hopeful and that they just need to follow the process. I find an issue with this in the same way a writer finds challenge in people taking from their art what they meant by it. Roland Barthes in his 1967 essay described the Death of the Author and nowhere has this been more relevant than in the workforce. I would suggest a read of this may be a great start to positioning your leaders and what they share with our people. For what you meant is nowhere near as important as how it is received or what your team heard. With this in mind, we need to capture the imagination of our people. In my experience, the answer you need when looking at how to help someone feel connected is something they hold, not you. I believe it is something the Japanese have espoused for years in their theory of Ikigai and as this defines the answer lies in purpose.

With my assertion, therefore, lies in connecting or identifying purpose to the rewards system within a company we need to establish where rewards are grounded in the past. This takes us to the traditional basis of rewards; the salary. When we explore the origins of a “salary” the example I will focus on means we find ourselves in the Roman period and the word “salarium”. Before you think I have gone on a tangent hear me out on this! Salarium refers to the exchange of a soldier’s time for salt, the soldier then had a currency to barter with and was able to exchange this payment for food or whatever other soldier’s need had to be addressed in their time away from training and campaigns. Fast forward to 2022 and the question I want you to consider is this, and yes, I like how far-fetched this sounds! Does that soldier’s experience differ from the team member who just typed their resignation and emailed it to you? Has the salt on its own lost its relevance? In our current climate do we need to offer more than just salt to reward the modern workforce who when you break it down is vastly dissimilar to the soldiers of ancient Rome? My answer to this question is yes.

“I believe what we are doing is focusing on a symptom of a loss of connection and the root of the cause lies further back in the employee experience and is something we can and should act to change.”

What was relevant in ancient Rome was the exchange of time for currency and through not adapting to this in the following 2000 years this has stagnated and is now an outdated and limited practice. While the soldier was bound for life in the army, the modern worker has innumerable options and access at their fingertips to explore them. In a traditional sense, they can change jobs. Moreover, they are no longer limited by geography with the advent of remote work, asynchronistic schedules, and relocation. Latterly the landscape has changed with the groundswell of the gig economy, the start-up mindset, and the side hustle becoming the passion project and full-time role with some data now suggesting that 50% of Gen Z work for themselves. You have therefore never been in a more competitive situation for talent and it shows!

Think for a second about your LinkedIn feed. Quiet quitting, lay-offs, recruiters offering assistance to the swathes of employees in the market, post-Covid burnout, Return to Office, your inbox full of headhunt messages, the list goes on. The work world as we knew it would appear is burning and you are being looked at by your people and your Executive to navigate this for them.

So what do we need to understand? Then once we do, how do we educate the leaders of the companies we are responsible for guiding? For surely, now the salt has become low in sustenance for the modern employees mind we need to showcase how to attract and retain the people we need to build the companies we are a part of. If the time money exchange is unfit for the purpose, then what has taken its place?

Step one; Ask your high performers what makes them do what they do.

I would suggest there will be a common theme in their answers. Throughout my career both in the roles I play and in conversations and sessions with peers, connection to work, feeling bought in, in essence; purpose lies at the heart of motivation. So, if organizations can offer purpose do we then have the reward that our people have been looking for? I believe so, and with this comes what team members have to offer that organizations crave: productivity.

For after all isn’t that what we all want? Highly focused, driven and productive team members whose desire to achieve is infectious and elevates the rest of the team and company?  When you can create a culture of purposeful employees you can feel it. For if you got into the People side of the business for the reason most do, your emotive self needs to feel others living their purpose so you can live yours. In doing so welcome to the Purpose Productivity collective, and your reward is a driven workforce that will justify the rewards they desire and deliver the business outcomes leaders yearn for.

Goal-setting season in a culture where the Quiet Quitters have got to this state due to apathy and disconnection can quickly become a wedge driven further between company and human. Tailor your experience to not be dominated by dry targets and KPIs set to achieve them calculated in how long they will take. If you do you are peddling salt rather than empowering purpose and reaping the rewards. Instead, ask your teams how they can use their skills to achieve the company’s goals, and don’t settle for the answer work culture has taught them to give. Dig a little or a lot! You hired a human, not a skillset, so tap into the human and find out how they fulfill their purpose with your organization and watch your goals get exceeded along the way.

If this resonates with you then try the following:

• Engage your leaders by helping them understand the purpose of their work

• Highlight for them just how individualized this is to remove the broad strokes approach

• Create goals in Q1 for all employees that link purposeful work to targets

• Challenge the status quo or roles, responsibilities, and structure to utilize people’s vision

• Reconnect your teams to the drivers that led to them choosing their careers and your company in the first place

• Link development to goals in a tangible way to give people more of the work and feel they want to experience within it

As a community we have the power to turn around Quiet Quitting, replacing it with the hum of enthusiasm and productivity, of professionals sharing stories of job satisfaction because they feel connected on a human level. They feel valued. They feel purpose.