Address New And Damaging Employee Attitudes
auremar/Adobe Stock

Address New And Damaging Employee Attitudes

Five best practices to counter "quiet quitting" and Great Resignation trends at your company.

November 17, 2022

Recently, “quiet quitting” has taken over social media and the news as employees across the country openly declare a change in attitude, perception, boundaries, and work ethic. Quiet quitting has no single definition, and its meaning and application varies depending on the employee. Some interpret it to mean “mentally checking out” or doing just enough work to keep their job. Others treat it as setting boundaries between home and work life. Indeed, a recent Gallup survey found only 33% of American workers were reported to be engaged at work, and 26% of respondents stated that they were doing “the bare minimum or less” in a survey of 1000 workers conducted by ResumeBuilder.com.

Employers are also facing the Great Resignation, in which employees have been voluntarily leaving their jobs in record numbers. While the voluntary resignation rate has begun to slow, as of August 2022, it remains 25% higher than pre-pandemic levels. Compounding these issues, recent data indicates that the country may be heading into a recession. What should employers do?

The root cause of quiet quitting and the Great Resignation appears to be the same: employee dissatisfaction. Addressing quiet quitting and improving workforce retention in the current economic climate does not require employers to adopt any drastic new approaches, but instead to shore-up several tried-and-true employment best practices.

Set Clear and Consistent Expectations
Each employee should know their duties and responsibilities, and employers should be clear about expectations concerning performance, productivity, attendance, and attitude. Out of date job descriptions, particularly ones developed pre-pandemic, should be updated to reflect the various ways that work has changed since 2020. Similarly, employer should develop or update their written employee handbook and employment policies. Employers should keep in mind that handbooks and policies are as important in providing guidance to managers as to employees.

Enforce Policies and Procedures Consistently
Setting expectations and updating policies and procedures is insufficient on its own. Employers must also consistently and equitably enforce them. Not only does consistent policy enforcement reinforce an employee’s reasonable job expectations, it also provides crucial evidence to defend against potential future discrimination claims.

Address Concerns Before they Become Problems
If you suspect any performance or other issues with an employee, including potential “quiet quitting,” address these issues early. Speaking with employees before minor issues turn into disciplinary actions can foster an atmosphere where both the employee and employer are invested, but can also head off situations in which an employee’s behavior creates a ripple effect in work culture.

Utilize Feedback from Employees to Create a Positive Work Culture
In 2021, some of the leading reasons provided for resigning included feeling disrespected, having insufficient benefits, and working long hours. When employees feel invested in work culture, respected, and fairly compensated, they are less likely to quiet quit or resign.

Document, Document, Document
Employers should take care to follow best documentation practices. For example, personnel files should be maintained and updated regularly, and should comply with applicable state and/or local law. Employee reviews should be conducted consistently and honestly, and a written record of the review should be maintained in the employee’s personnel file. If an employer chooses to use Performance Improvement Plans with employees, they should take care to contemporaneously track the employee’s performance and prepare a memo to file at the conclusion of the PIP period. In addition, fulsome records should be maintained any time an employee has been disciplined or terminated, including when only verbal feedback is provided. Many Human Resources software applications now allow employers to input this type of information, which can provide invaluable comparator data later when an employer must show that an employee was not treated disparately. Similarly, consistently documenting disciplinary issues and warnings provides an employer with evidence to defend against other potential wrongful termination claims. The adequacy of documentation becomes particularly important when an employer has to perform a reduction-in-force, and an employee claims that he, she, or they were included in the group of affected employees for an unlawful reason.

The current challenges facing employers are vast and hardly limited to quiet quitting and the Great Resignation. However, by implementing best practices such as those discussed above, employers position themselves to improve employee satisfaction, encounter fewer employment issues amongst its workforce, and decrease both the number of claims from employees and the employer’s risk of exposure to those claims.

Guest contributors R. Victoria Fuller and Megan Gable are employment and labor law attorneys at Freeman, Mathis and Gary LLP's Boston and Cherry Hill, NJ offices, respectively.