Proactively address and reduce quiet quitting with Agile techniques proven to help cultivate a culture of teamwork.
The term “quiet quitting” exploded in popularity in 2022. In fact, a Gallup poll found that at least 50% of the workforce engaged in this practice last year. Broadly used to describe carrying out the minimum responsibilities of one’s job, the rise of this phenomenon came on the heels of a global pandemic that changed the way people work.
Though the days of long commutes and strict working hours are seemingly now behind us, somehow an unspoken rule of working longer settled in. These longer hours combined with the social and professional isolation of working from home may have benefited employers in the short term, but over time workers began to experience burnout with the lines that separated professional and personal life. The term “burnout” has also seen an influx in usage and is arguably what triggered the birth of quiet quitting. Workers no longer have the drive to overperform - they simply want to do the job that they were hired (and are being paid) to do. Climbing the corporate ladder may still be important to some, but many are actively choosing not to strive for advancement in favor of a more balanced life.
For employers, this shift can certainly mean a loss in productivity – at least in the over-productivity that they may once have enjoyed. A recent survey from SHRM.org found that 43% of HR professionals agree that employee productivity is a big concern in their organization, and 36% reported that quiet quitting was actively occurring in their organization. Further, the effects of quiet quitting go beyond output, and may also affect culture. According to the same study, 83% of human resources professionals believe it will negatively impact employee morale in the workplace.
One study found that at least 83% of human resources professionals believe quiet quitting will negatively impact employee morale in the workplace
Many organizations are trying to combat this phenomenon by adding more perks or benefits, but these changes won’t address the root causes of quiet quitting. Take a proactive approach instead of fighting it reactively by instilling the Agile practices of focusing on functional products, inspecting and adapting often, and sticking to clearly defined roles and responsibilities. High morale and productivity are both long-sung benefits of Agile working environments, and even if your organization is not delivering software or building new technology, you can still adopt Agile practices to overcome quiet quitting in the workplace.
Focus on Developing Functional Products
One of the principles of the Agile Manifesto is to prioritize Working Software – as delivering a non-functional product provides no customer or business value. Take a similar approach with your organization even if Agile is not fully embraced yet, by prioritizing value delivered to customers over the quantity of work performed. This approach not only results in higher-quality outputs, but it diminishes the pressure on the individual and shifts focus to team collaboration. While one person may be assigned to lead the effort of a work item, it is truly the responsibility of the entire team to bring that item to fruition.
Instilling a culture of true teamwork requires breaking down notions of individual performance and rewarding the whole. This may mean changing the organizational performance processes and most likely will not happen overnight, but managers can begin to lead the change and focus on the team versus the individual. The resulting collaboration and shared success both strengthen the bonds between individuals and lead to a greater likelihood of employee retention. As the emphasis on product-centricity continues to gain momentum in the Agile space, the focus is shifting away from the productivity output of the individual and toward the holistic outcome. Establishing a culture of teamwork will further support this ongoing shift.
Inspect and Adapt Often with Retrospectives
Next, make regular reflection part of your organizational way of working by engaging in regular retrospectives. In Scrum, a popular Agile software development framework, retrospectives are events that encourage team members to celebrate their wins, discuss their challenges, and brainstorm ideas for improvement. Teams are encouraged to switch up the prompts they use, for example, "Start-Stop-Continue" or "Thumbs Up-Thumbs Down-Actions." Each member is encouraged to add their feedback to a virtual whiteboard and verbally express them with the team.
It is critical that the feedback be constructive, not criticizing or finger-pointing, and that the entire team feels psychologically safe to express themselves without fear of repercussion. One of the greatest benefits of a retrospective is that it rarely requires management or leadership intervention and in fact, the team should be given a safe space to retrospect without influence from their superiors. Although there may be sensitive topics to discuss, a strong facilitator (such as a Scrum Master or Agile Coach) will be able to redirect conversations that start to turn negative, while encouraging open and honest participation.
Although the retrospective is often overlooked or deprioritized, the most mature organizations make it a rigorous practice within their teams. Retrospectives result in a collective understanding of the team's path forward – in other words, how they improve the value delivered to customers. By allowing the team to resolve their own problems, ideate new solutions, and implement them the way they see fit, leaders are giving their workers autonomy and empowering creativity.
Clearly Define Roles and Responsibilities
Lastly, set clear roles and responsibilities and acceptance criteria for your employees. Imagine the frustration of going through the interviewing and hiring process only to find out that expectations are not aligned. On top of risking having to start the process all over again, this results in wasted time and money, and further contributes to lost productivity. Ensure that job descriptions clearly define the responsibilities of the role and avoid vague statements such as “other responsibilities as directed.” Give team members regular feedback that praises their strengths and details the skills that need improvement. Replace underperformers to protect your strongest team members from taking on responsibilities outside of their roles. Periodically evaluate the business context and working environment against job descriptions and make changes where necessary. Reward the individuals who consistently outperform others and express a desire to grow in their career and respect the team members who are satisfied with their role and perform it well.
On top of quiet quitting, we are now starting to see the use of the term "quick quitting" representing the greater likelihood that an unhappy employee will not stick around for long. Unlike the baby boomer generation who frequently pledged allegiance to a single employer for the duration of their career, we are now seeing a jump from job to job when the terms of employment are less than ideal, or even if a better offer comes around. Employers can prevent this trend with the same techniques as quiet quitting – by focusing on value, encouraging regular reflection and adaptation, empowering teams, and maintaining clear expectations of roles.
Your organization does not have to be practicing Scrum or Kanban to adopt these techniques to proactively reduce the chance of quiet quitting. Even incorporating a select few best practices will instill Agile values into your teams. One study found that teams with higher-level agility experience much higher morale than teams that do not practice Agile values. Work may even become fun again – a place where people want to stay, learn, grow, and contribute to something bigger than themselves.
Allowing workers to drive the direction of the solutions they provide may seem counterintuitive to the traditional management style we have been conditioned to accept. But if you give it a try, you may just find that your employees are more engaged, collaborative, and happy. Quiet quitting may be here to stay, but there are simple, free ways to reduce it that will also make your team more efficient and productive in the process.