It seems that every other article about the workplace is screaming out about a crisis of people quiet quitting or that workers are burned out. I think both of these issues are really different aspects of the same thing, and, as organizational leaders, we have the power to reverse that trend.
What are quiet quitting and burnout, and how are they related?
For those of you not following the headlines, quiet quitting is people who are still at work, but are disengaged and doing only the bare minimum. I argue that quiet quitting is a basically a symptom of burnout. Burnout occurs when employees feel a lack of control over their circumstances.
Employees reach this stage when they have more tasks than they can actually manage, they have little or no choice in what/how work gets done, they don't feel that what they do gets noticed, and they don't feel their leader cares about them. As a form of survival to this sort of cognitive overload, employees react by doing even less.
Employers and managers often see these poor performance issues as simply unmotivated employees. We may give several warnings, set goals or simply complain about the employee without recognizing that we hold the most important keys to increasing our employees' performance.
Why do leaders hold the key to reversing quiet quitting and burnout?
Study after study shows that people's primary decision to stay or leave a position is because of the leader. It isn't salary or the work conditions or the benefits or any other external factor we like to name. Certainly, all of these factors play a role, but we cannot underestimate the importance of the leader.
The comedy show, "The Office", plays on that by showing a bunch of unmotivated workers in response to very poor leadership. You can find more examples of the power of leadership by looking at sports teams and classrooms - where do you see poor versus excellent performance? What is the key factor? It always comes to the leader.
So why is it that the leader has so much power in how motivated an employee is? Well, look back to what causes burnout, and think about who has power over the decisions of employee workload and recognition. That's right, the leader or manager!
I would like to make one caveat, there will always be some employees that you can't motivate. My point is that you should look first at what you as a leader can do instead of placing the blame on the employee since you hold more power over employee motivation than any other single factor.
How can leaders motivate their employees?
Don't despair and suffer your own burnout over the burden of trying to motivate your employees, because you can motivate employees in two simple steps.
Step One: Listen
The easiest way to make your employees feel you care is simply to listen to them. Ask questions, and let them talk more than you. As one of the leading causes of burnout is that employees don't feel leaders care, simply by taking time to listen to your employees, you will gain loads of street cred. The key is that you are focused on truly hearing your employees and not using your listening time to defend your decisions. By listening to your employees, you will learn a lot about their pain points and ideas for your organization, which leads us to...
Step Two: Make Changes
Consider what you have heard from your employees, and try to make changes based on employee feedback. You don't need to do everything, but consider what you are hearing a lot, what is an easy ask for you, and what changes would make the most impact. I don't recommend changing too much at once, but even one change every so often will show your employees that you are truly listening and will give them a sense of control over their circumstances which will motivate them.
Over the next week, try to engage in one-on-one conversations with all your employees (or at least your direct reports). Try to take 5-10 minutes for each and go with no agenda. Just ask questions and learn about them!
Contact me to help you develop a strategy to target key behaviors which will increase the impact your organization.