The latest headlines about the American workplace have focused on “quiet quitting.” But this is more than catchy clickbait, it’s a real, ongoing issue for employers and employees.
Different from the “Great Resignation”—the voluntary exodus from the workplace during the COVID-19 pandemic—quiet quitting is a new phenomenon in which workers do the bare minimum at their job to continue collecting a paycheck. Gallup even recently reported that quiet quitters make up “at least 50%” of the American workforce today.
There are always some workers who simply want to clock in and clock out each day. But most employees—no matter where they are in their careers or what they do for a living—want to feel a sense of purpose in what they do. They also want to feel valued by their employer and colleagues. That’s why the real driver behind quiet quitting is negative—even toxic—workplace cultures that too often leave employees feeling unappreciated, drained and unmotivated.
We must not ignore this shift, or pretend that workers are simply reprioritizing, and hope it spontaneously improves on its own. Because when workers fall into a rhythm of indifference, it can quickly erode an entire business’ ability to succeed.
Luckily there are ways to combat these workplace issues and keep employees feeling engaged, supported, and connected to their work and their workplaces. I offer three recommendations:
The four-day work week.Research shows that a four-day work week improves productivity, creates a healthier work environment and increases employee retention. In fact, a new survey from the United Kingdom shows that out of 70 companies who shifted to a four-day work week, 88 percent attest that the arrangement is working well. Of course, the purpose of a four-day work week is to decrease work, so it’s not effective if we cram more meetings or responsibilities into Monday through Thursday, or if employees feel they can’t step away from their computers in the evenings or weekends. To accomplish a successful four-day work week, businesses must be purposeful in how workers spend their time. At our organization, employees still average 40 hours a week—down from about 55 hours previously—we just do it differently. It takes coordinated planning and effort, and sometimes some additional financial investment, to make it work. But it’s worth it.Most Americans roll their eyes when they hear my organization runs on a four-day work week every other week. But less is more, right?
No internal meeting days.
Research also shows that a high number of virtual meetings causes work stress to increase. We recognized this burden on our employees and adjusted to meet their needs. This is why our organization alternates between a four-day work week and a five-day week with no meeting Fridays. During the weeks we’re open for five days, we designate Fridays as “no internal meeting” days. This is a time when employees can catch up on their work, take a deep dive into longer term projects, and wrap up administrative tasks from the week. Providing a day when workers can do uninterrupted work ensures greater efficiency and enables us to build slack into our departments so employees have the flexibility to get their work done in fewer days. It’s not always flawless—we’re regularly adjusting processes and programs—but it’s definitely feasible.
Unlimited vacation time.
Gone are the days when employees accrue vacation days in hourly increments. A workplace that encourages rest is a healthy one. Taking time away from the office and making more time for ourselves, family and other interests makes us more productive and creates a happier work environment. It also ensures that we are treating our employees like adults. If you need to make it to your child’s soccer game, that’s okay. If you want to take a break from the winter in D.C., that’s okay too. In fact, we think it’s so okay that our organization closes altogether the final two weeks of the year, and we work on a rotating skeleton staff during August. This not only enables all our employees to take advantage of special times during the year and ensure they’re getting the rest they need and deserve, but also helps reinforce the idea that rest is encouraged.
These policies might not work across all industries or all types of businesses, but as a mission-driven non-profit, they’ve allowed us to transform our organization into a space that puts its people first. A business that feeds off the frenzied competition between employees—who arrives earlier, stays later or does the most busy work—is not a healthy one. Instead, all businesses ought to want their workers to be passionate about what they do, and retain that passion longer.
Quiet quitting is bad for workers and their companies. A few small changes might be all you need to prevent it.