Employee Engagement Strategies to Turn “Quiet-quitting” Employees into Engaged Superstars

April 12, 2023

By Kelley Briggs
When the term “quiet quitting” emerged in March of 2022, it painted a picture of lazy, entitled employees — or at least those with unrealistic expectations about their work.

But, as many experts have shrewdly noted and we mentioned in our 1Q 2023 Trends and Forecasts Report, the phenomenon of employees doing only what their jobs require (and no more) is neither new nor is it a symptom of “bad employees.” Rather, it’s a workplace culture problem. And in many cases, “quiet quitting” can even be the trademark of a bad boss, says Harvard Business Review.

A toxic work culture that fails to motivate and engage team members can’t be repaired overnight — but there is hope and, indeed, many companies have recovered from an unhealthy work culture with the right mindset, strategies, and effort. Today’s HR leaders can help redefine community within their organization and build an environment where employees feel like they belong are accepted and valued for who they are and what they bring to the table, are acknowledged and rewarded for their good work, and are given opportunities for career growth and advancement.

Here are a few employee engagement strategies that can help eradicate a toxic culture and increase employee motivation:

Acknowledge it’s the Culture, Not the Location

While managers may worry that remote work contributes to disengagement, research tells another story. A 2022 survey by The Conference Board revealed that employee engagement was down across work locations, including fully remote workers, hybrid workers, and in-office employees. That means there is no evidence that remote or flexible work schedules were at fault for the lower engagement levels that lead to “quiet quitting.”

But employers have more tools than they think to proactively protect engagement before “quiet quitting” can set in, regardless of where employees are working. Employee engagement technology can be used to connect workers and create a community that isn’t geographically dependent. When there is a culture where workers can support each other, they feel a sense of belonging and inclusion, which leads to high motivation and engagement levels.

Reverse Employee Burnout

With talk of an economic downturn, employee burnout figures are still climbing. HR Dive reports 89% of U.S. employees are experiencing burnout. Globally, it’s not much better: a new study by Asana looked at over 10,000 employees across seven countries and found approximately 70% of people experienced burnout in the last year. So when Forbes reports it’s a worldwide problem, organizations need to listen up.

The World Health Organization defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It is characterized by three key symptoms:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • reduced professional efficacy

Company leaders can reverse the conditions that lead to burnout by taking action to protect employees from harmful experiences in toxic workplaces. To reverse burnout, organizations need to focus on employees’ physical, emotional and even financial well-being. Give employees purpose and meaning so they feel their work contributes to the business’s success; provide growth opportunities to learn and develop; draw boundaries between work and home life (and keep them!); provide appreciation and recognition for a job well done. This works best when leaders set an example by embodying a healthy work-life balance, being transparent about their needs and checking in with employees about theirs.

Increase the Focus on Wellness

Workplace mental health and wellness are key contributors to burnout, so HR leaders and other company leadership can nurture a culture of self-care within their teams just by prioritizing mental wellness and inclusion. Wellness is not just an HR issue; it’s an organizational issue. Leadership needs to model the behavior they wish to see. “If executives want their employees to prioritize their mental health, they need to be doing the same in a very visible way,” says Adam Weber, the SVP of Community at 15Five. “It’s one thing to encourage people to take time off for therapy or a mental health day, but most leaders have yet to take the next step of doing that themselves in a transparent way.” Organizations can start by building a psychologically safe environment where employees feel secure speaking up with ideas, questions and concerns, without fear of being punished or humiliated. In the workplace, this means that employees work in an environment where they feel they can be genuine and honest — and that they can make mistakes (intentional or not).

Lean on Neuroscience

When HR professionals talk about employee engagement, those conversations typically revolve around organizational culture and employee productivity. After all, engagement is about purpose and clarity — and engagement (or disengagement) is all about the brain. But that is only half of the equation. After years of focusing only on employee engagement, organizations are now adding happiness into the equation. Happiness is an emotional feeling that speaks to the heart. Organizations are integrating happiness into their employee engagement strategies to turn disengaged employees into engaged and happy brand ambassadors.

Inspirus is pioneering this initiative by integrating Employee Voice and feedback tools, in partnership with The Happiness Index, directly inside our employee engagement technology platform, Connects. Using tools like this can transform the way organizations think about employee engagement by creating an engaged workforce that smartly uses tech to keep employees happy and motivated.

Give More (and Meaningful) Feedback

According to Gallup, employees who receive regular feedback from their managers (rather than waiting for the dreaded annual performance review) are 3X more likely to be engaged. Feedback is so important to employees that when they don’t get it, they are likely to seek employment elsewhere.

And it’s a two-way street. Employees need a mechanism for providing feedback, too, so they feel their voices are heard and opinions matter. A LinkedIn survey found the vast majority (86%) of employees feel people at their organization are not heard fairly or equally — and nearly half (47%) say that underrepresented voices remain undervalued by employers. If this gap between employees needing a voice and employers providing a mechanism for employees to have a voice is left unresolved, employee disengagement will continue to soar, fueling turnover and hindering business performance. In response to this demand, Inspirus has integrated an employee engagement survey tool into its employee engagement technology: Employee Voice.

Provide Opportunities to Learn and Grow

Few people want to work in the same role for the duration of their careers. This is why career development and growth opportunities are so important to job seekers and to employees who are considering looking for another job. Not surprisingly, it’s also at the top of the list of drivers of great work culture, according to the 2022 LinkedIn Learning Report. That report ranks the top factors that contribute to a great culture:

  1. Opportunities to learn and grow
  2. Belonging
  3. Organizational values
  4. Support for well-being
  5. Collaboration

Career development was ranked #9 in 2019, marking a significant leap in only two years. Those were two long Covid-filled years, where employees were forced to rethink every aspect of their personal and work lives. Providing opportunities for learning is a win-win for employees and employers: it contributes to a positive culture and powers employee engagement because employees are energized with passion and itching to try new skills to innovate. Done strategically, learning and professional development can also help organizations close skills gaps and develop a strong internal talent pipeline.

High Engagement Can Cure “Quiet Quitting”

Low employee engagement because of a toxic work environment is a widespread problem. With only 32% of U.S. employees saying they are “engaged,” and Gallup estimating that “quiet quitters” could make up more than 50% of U.S. workers, organizations have plenty of ground to cover to reverse this trend. With the right perspective and strategies — and with caring and engaged leadership — progress is not just possible, it’s within reach.