Employees are Quietly Quitting; You Need to Cultivate Workplace Culture

Jul 14, 2023 | At Work

By: Michael McQueen

While the dust has largely settled from the pandemic, the reworking of work that it set in motion is still going strong as companies and employees attempt to navigate their different needs and interests.

Across the board, workers’ levels of stress and disengagement are at a high, as many are facing economic pressures, workplace tensions and unsatisfying team culture. For leaders, the need for intentional engagement with teams is pressing, and for workers the stakes are high.

The Return to Offices Revealing ‘The Great Mismatch’

Google’s recent update to its hybrid work policy has sparked backlash among workers and the public as it announced that in-person office attendance will be factored into performance reviews. Frustrated employees feel that the new policy represents an overly rigid approach to physical attendance by management[1].

Google is one among many companies attempting to coax employees back to the office with countless other companies having tried everything from pay incentives to company policies. Salesforce has taken a different approach, appealing to employees’ innate sense of altruism over self-interest, offering to pay $10 a day to a local charity for every employee that returns to the office[2].

While many companies are prioritising the return to workplaces, the benefits of remote and flexible workers for employees are hard to ignore. 87% of workers in the US want to work in a flexible workplace that allows both in-person and remote work[3]. With the pandemic having opened the eyes of many individuals to the flexibility and autonomy enabled by work from home, this stat is unsurprising.

However, with 50% of leaders demanding employees return to offices, the numbers reveal a discrepancy between the interests of each party – a dynamic that has been referred to as ‘The Great Mismatch’[4]. While it should come as no surprise that a sense among employees that they are being micro-managed is sure to result in a harmful erosion of trust and rapport, it is also true that there are many aspects of workplace culture that are impossible to maintain when workers are not meeting physically.

This seems to be exactly what is happening, with recent studies into worker engagement and ‘quiet quitting’ revealing that workplace cultures are suffering.

From the Great Resignation to Quiet Quitting

We all heard about the Great Resignation in its early stages in 2021, as record numbers of individuals left their positions in search of work that better met their expectations. The jury is still out on whether or not the Great Resignation has ended or is set to continue. While a survey from PwC reveals that a quarter of those surveyed expected to change jobs in the coming year[5], other experts point to falling rates of people quitting jobs and explain that interest rate hikes, inflation and layoffs are resulting in workers wanting to cling to the positions they have[6].

Interestingly, commentators across the board are highlighting rising economic pressures, workplaces stress and worker disengagement. Those looking to change positions are reportedly doing so in response to their financial situation, and those opting to stay are looking to ask for pay rises to manage the cost of living[7].

For employers, the factor that requires the most attention is the rising level of disengagement among workers. One recent survey revealed that 59% of workers are ‘quiet quitting’, that is, remaining in their jobs but mentally and emotionally tapping out for the sake of their wellbeing. Perhaps a cause of this quiet quitting, stress levels are high with nearly half of all workers reporting experiencing significant stress at work[8].

Young Woman working from home
Above: Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

Aside from external pressures such as the cost of living, internal factors such as conflict between employees and bosses and a lack of autonomy or recognition may be contributing to the dissatisfaction and stress among workers[9].

Leaders Must Prioritise Workers’ Wellbeing and Workplace Culture

For leaders, the combination of these factors represents both the opportunity and necessity for intentional leadership and engagement with teams. It is clear that flexibility is a high priority among employees – the recent responses to Google’s policies are a good reminder that stripping workers of autonomy does real damage to the company culture.

Beyond this, workers are craving encouragement, recognition and connection in the workplace. While remote work has its benefits, the opportunity for mentorship and crucial connections with colleagues within the workplace simply can’t be matched. Almost half of 18-to 24-year-old employees report that they worry remote work hinders their career progression[10], and 76% say that the workplace is their primary source of meaning and connection[11].

For a rather radical example of prioritising workers’ wellbeing and team culture, look no further than Salesforce which opened a 75-acre wellness retreat in early 2022 called ‘Trailblazer Ranch.’ Located 70 miles south of San Francisco, the facility combines work, training and wellness and aim to help new employees feel connected to the company and its culture by way of short stays with colleagues[12].

The reality is that without a flourishing workplace culture demanding a return to offices is redundant. Especially in light of the pressures workers are facing and the disengagement they are feeling, businesses and leaders need to be responding by creating environments that respond to individual needs. Better than any company policy or cash incentives, cultivating a culture that genuinely benefits team members is sure to make the return to workplaces appealing.