Quiet Quitting: a Symptom, Not Diagnosis of Toxic Culture


Contrary to popular belief, quiet quitting is a symptom and not a diagnosis of toxic workplace culture. Odessa Jenkins, president of Emtrain, says making concerted efforts now to address lack of belonging, and feeling unvalued and unseen can save your teams from disastrous business outcomes caused by an unhealthy corporate culture. And the good news, is there are at least three things you can do today to reduce quiet quitting and inspire your people.  

While toxic workplace culture remains more responsible for unwanted attrition than almost any other factor, it is not synonymous with quiet quitting. Quiet quitting exists in all forms of relationships, even the good ones. 

Social media might call it “acting your wage,” but the American worker has struggled with boundary setting for decades. This was made worse during the pandemic, particularly for knowledge workers. I like to think of the phenomenon as what happens in extended moments of 3 workplace experiences: A limited sense of belonging, feeling unvalued, and feeling unseen.

According to Emtrain’s 2021 Workplace Culture ReportOpens a new window , only 39% of employees feel valued and belong in their organization. If your company does not have leaders, tools, systems, and an organizational design that emphasizes continuous assessment and improvement of social skills, you will fall victim to quiet quitting. 

But… there is good news. Quiet quitting is a symptom and not a diagnosis of Toxic Culture. Making concerted efforts now to address the lack of belonging and feeling unvalued and unseen can save your teams from disastrous business outcomes caused by toxic workplace culture.  

So, let’s go on the offensive. Here are three things you can do today to reduce quiet quitting and inspire your people! 

1. Embrace Flexibility

The top-down days of “doing it your way or the highway” are just about gone. The future of work and the executives who will thrive in it must learn to listen to what matters to their employees. We must embrace accountability and inspire our employees in many ways, and many cases, in different places. Evaluate how, where and when you are asking your employees to work. At Emtrain, we have found that our employees are more productive over a four day work week than they were over a five day work week. We used our product to conduct employee listening and concluded that our people needed a structural shift to remove wasted time and effort. While your workplace might not be ready for a four day work week, there are other ways to give your employees more flexibility. Let them own their style in the office, and and give them tools that make hybrid work more efficient. Offer unique benefits packages that promote and support the things that matter to your people. 

Executive teams that make room for flexibility exude confidence. Employees are more likely to be engaged when confidence is shared with their leadership team. Find ways to allow your employees to set the tone and for you to amplify it. 

See More: 40% of Employees Who Quit Are Unhappy in Their New Jobs

2. Conduct Journey Check-Ins

Quiet quitting is made more accessible in companies that do not have a consistent “check-in” culture. Every employee is on a career journey, and your company is likely a temporary stop along that way. The goal for the business should be to make this part of the employee journey a long one that benefits the employee and the business. Every employee in the business should be given a mechanism to share and receive feedback regularly. Check-Ins are also a great way to make positive social connections between leaders and employees. 

A 2020 Willis Towers Watson studyOpens a new window found that more than 3 in 5 employees with high social connectivity report being highly engaged, whereas just over 1 in 10 employees with low social connectivity consider themselves highly engaged at work.

Employees who are void of social connection at work, are less engaged, and those who are less engaged are more likely to be quietly quitting. If the organization is not designed to encourage or execute regular check-ins, quiet quitting will quickly escalate to unwanted attrition. 

Also, train your people leaders on giving and receiving compassionate yet direct feedback. People leaders should be trained in holding effective check-ins. This should be something other than guess work. Clear, concise, empathetic communication is generally assumed as a leadership trait, yet more employees than ever are quitting their bosses. 

Invest the time to ensure that your people leaders have core listening and social skills to enable respectful, inclusive, ethical employee interactions.

If the business is too large/matrixed to engage with C-Suite executives directly, make room for regular town halls or C-Suite office hours designed for employees to “stop-in” with company leaders. These office hours can be done in person or virtually and signal to everyone in the business that they are valued and worth being heard.

3. Amplify and Invest in Inclusion

Workers from minority and marginalized backgrounds have been quiet-quitting for years. Your people are tired, and the weight is disproportionately heavy for those who are impacted by systematic racism, injustice, inequity, or feel like they cannot bring their full selves to the corporate world. These employees also feel greater stress and anxiety about leaving because their experiences are not unique to their current workplace. 

C-Suite executives must hold themselves accountable for the commitments made during the social justice movement. They must invest time and money to create lasting change and focus throughout the organization. To avoid quiet quitting, you must make room for who your employees truly are (culturally) in the workplace. 

Start by finding out what gives these employees purpose and joy outside work. Ask them what truly matters. Create clear programs to create opportunities for mentorship and representation in leadership for minorities. Demonstrate your commitment to inclusion through your internal investments first.

Be intentional about how you speak about these efforts. Intentional does not mean perfect. More Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging, and Justice programs are a work in progress. The key is to cut out the work “program” and to build diversity and inclusion into your normal course of business.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” I believe that this same sentiment applies to our teams at work. Our teams begin to fail the day our leaders become silent about the things that matter. You will inspire and energize your employees when you consistently address the things that matter to them.

Ultimately, balance is key. While boundary setting is important, you need to make intentional moves to ensure that while your people are at work, they are inspired, engaged, and passionate about their work. Less, it might be best for the journey to end. 

Which best practices have you implemented to fix toxic culture? Share with us on FacebookOpens a new window , TwitterOpens a new window , and LinkedInOpens a new window .