"Quiet Quitting" and "The Great Resignation" Are New Responses to Old Problems
Job-embeddedness: A measure of employee/organization relationship based on the degree of interconnectedness an employee feels to the people in the organization and the potential sacrifice they would make if they left.
In chapter 1, verse 9 of Ecclesiastes, which was written sometime between the 10th and the fourth centuries BCE, it says, “There is nothing new under the sun.” You can argue whether this observation about the unchanging nature of life written over two millennia before electricity or cars or Zoom is actually true, but it sure feels true. We’ve solved a lot of problems with innovations like indoor plumbing and better storage vessels for wine than, say, animal bladders, but many of the same issues remain—like our quest for meaning and connection; our struggles for power and status; and the need most of us have to work to earn the means to survive.
I've been thinking about this concept of nothing new as I’ve followed the endless articles and discussions about The Great Resignation (or the Great Realignment, the Great Reshuffle or the Big Quit) which has spurred countless articles, books and about what it is and why it is. In one survey asking people who have quit what led to that decision, 36% said it was because of compensation factors and 5% said they didn’t actually know why they quit. That 1 out of every 20 of these folks would make such a life-changing decision for reasons that they themselves can’t fathom is, frankly, kind of weird (was it peer pressure, intoxication, a TikTok challenge?), but a subject for another day. For today, let’s focus on the remaining 59% who said they resigned because they didn’t "feel respected or cared about" at work. The legitimacy of the reasons they felt that way are debatable but the effects are not. Labor shortages mean industries are scrambling to bounce back from the pandemic without enough people to get back to business as usual. And experts say that all the quitting and realigning aren’t over. Twenty percent of respondents in 2022 said that they are considering quitting in the near future. And now we have a new term, Quiet Quitting, for those who haven’t officially resigned but have slowed their productivity to a minimum. This is all new, right? Well…
The idea of going through the motions at work isn’t really a recent phenomenon. It’s as old as work itself and the reason why the comic strip, Dilbert, hasn’t run out of jokes in 30 years and why TV shows like The Office continue to be a popular streaming choice and movies like Office Space from 1999, remains relevant despite all the big hair and pleated pants. But you know what else isn’t new? The most effective solutions.
Way back in 1940, the New York Labor Relations Board conducted a survey of employers and employees that asked them to answer the same question: “What do employees want?” The employers were convinced that their people wanted: 1. Higher wages 2. Job security and 3. Opportunities for advancement. But, still recovering from a decade-plus of The Great Depression, these employers felt justified that they couldn’t provide for what these ungrateful people wanted.
On the employee list were some of the same answers about compensation and opportunity, but they ended up farther down the list from the ones that cost actual money. The far and away most cited wish was, to be recognized. In second place was the desire to feel included as a valued part of something bigger than themselves and, third, to know that someone cared about them and their personal lives.
If recent surveys are accurate, not much has changed. People still want to be seen and heard. They still want to feel included and connected and they still want to know that they are cared about personally. And, for the most part, they still aren’t getting those things. A recent survey by Gallup asked employees how many times they’d been thanked on the job in the past 12 months and 65% said not one single time. How embedded do you think they are in their jobs?
Job-embeddedness comes from building strong connections and providing for the employee’s needs so that quitting and going elsewhere isn’t a simple math problem of replacing pay and benefits. It becomes a multi-dimensional calculation of what else they’d have to sacrifice. It results from creating a workplace in which recognition, inclusion and and the message that they are cared about as people is ingrained in the culture.
Compared to what most leaders think their people want—higher pay, security and promotion--it costs nothing and as a solution to quiet or actual quitting, it’s pretty simple. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Creating a workplace where embeddedness is strong takes an enormous commitment to examining communication processes and work experiences that create a sense of belonging, a mechanism for recognizing and expressing gratitude for the value that they provide, a sincere effort to earn trust through transparency, compassion and connection and even a sense of play and shared laughter. It’s really nothing new under the sun. It’s what employees have always wanted. Except now, if you won’t provide it, they’re perfectly willing to quit— quietly or actually—until they find someone who will.