Do you remember the classic scene from Office Space where Jennifer Aniston’s character, Joanna, is being badgered by her manager for not wearing enough flair? (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the scene is well worth a watch – it’s only one minute.)
From the manager’s perspective, it’s disappointing that Joanna’s only wearing 15 pieces of flair, because it means she’s not going above and beyond. And, of course, Joanna is frustrated because it’s unclear what’s expected of her.
I was reminded of this scene at a recent training we facilitated on how to conduct effective performance reviews. One of the participants asked how to have a conversation with an employee who seemed to be ok with doing the bare minimum.
In March, a viral Business Insider article famously gave the practice of only doing the minimum required to keep your job the name “quiet quitting.” These are employees who only work the hours they’re paid for on the specific tasks spelled out in their contract. This approach to work is also sometimes referred to as “acting your wage.”
As the Office Space scene shows, quiet quitting is not a new phenomenon. That clip is still relatable more than 20 years after it was filmed! And a Gallup poll from this year found that more than half of American workers are quiet quitters, so the phenomenon shows no signs of ending any time soon.
What this means is that if you’re a manager, there’s a high chance you’ll deal with employees who are quiet quitters. So what’s the best way to handle this? Let’s take a look at four steps.
Step 1: Define expectations
When it comes to expectations, it all starts with the manager. It can be difficult for managers to articulate what exactly they’re looking for from employees. But if you can’t explain clearly what you want, then you’re certainly less likely to get it (and you’re at risk of sounding like that Office Space manager!).
Questions to explore include:
- What is the bare minimum for this position?
- What would it look like to exceed expectations?
- What would ideal performance look like?
The more specific and measurable you can make these expectations, the better. It’s key to be crystal-clear on your expectations before you discuss them with your employees. In an ideal world, you’ll have thought about your expectations before even hiring for the role.
Step 2: Communicate expectations
This is the part where you communicate your expectations to your employees. Remember to be straightforward and direct: the clearer you can be, the more you’ll set your employee (and, by extension, your whole organization) up for success.
It’s critical in this step to be as concrete as possible in your explanation. Get specific about the behaviors you want to see, instead of using vague corporate jargon that can be left to interpretation. The last thing you want is employees who have to guess at what you want from them!
- DON’T say that the employee needs a “positive attitude.”
- DO define what a positive attitude means to you. What does it look like? What specific, daily behaviors does it translate into?
- DON’T tell the employee to “only come to me with the important stuff.”
- DO define what falls under their responsibility, what falls under yours, and the specific issues you want to be notified about.
- DON’T tell the employee that “collaboration is important.”
- DO define what collaboration means. Who will they be working with, and how? What does working together successfully look like to you?
- DON’T tell the employee to “engage more in meetings.”
- DO ask them open-ended questions in meetings, and give them examples of the type of engagement you want to see.
Step 3: Let go
After you’ve communicated your expectations to your employees, how they choose to act from there is up to them.
There are some employees who will go above and beyond the call of duty. Perhaps they want to get on a leadership track, or perhaps they’re just ambitious and conscientious by nature. Either way, this type of behavior is great for you and for your organization.
But there’s another type of employee who only wants to do enough to get their paycheck. These are the quiet quitters of the world, or perhaps the people who have other priorities outside of work. And, provided the employee is doing what you asked of them, that’s ok too. It might not be the ideal approach from your perspective, but it should be seen as good enough – by the terms that you yourself communicated.
Let go of any desire you have to see every single employee bring the same level of engagement to the table as your top performers. It’s not going to happen, and it’s futile to try to control other people.
Consider also that it’s not always easy to retain employees, particularly in the age of the Great Resignation. Quiet quitters are likely to stay if their wish for work-life balance is respected and they feel like they’re meeting your expectations. But if they feel like you’re passive-aggressively communicating that they should be doing more, like the manager in Office Space, they’re likely to leave and find a new employer.
Step 4: Stay in dialogue
It’s important to maintain a regular dialogue with your employees about how they feel and how well they’re meeting expectations from your view. A classic way of doing this is to have a regular check-in meeting, like weekly or monthly.
Ask them questions about how they’re feeling about your expectations. Are they fair, from your employees’ perspective? Would your employees like more feedback – constructive and/or positive?
Where your employees are meeting your expectations, and especially when they go above and beyond, it’s valuable to show appreciation. Exactly how you do that will vary according to the preferences of the individual employee, which you can read more here about the five languages of appreciation.
And if they’re not meeting your expectations, it’s on you to communicate that – respectfully. If you say nothing, your employee is likely to believe (and rightly so) that they’re meeting your expectations, and all is in order.
Managing quiet quitters in this way takes practice. You won’t get it right the first time, and that’s ok. If you get stuck, try the following core workout:
- Pause: The next time you notice you’re frustrated with an employee appearing to be quiet quitting, take a quick time-out.
- Think: What’s the frustration? Do you need to define expectations or communicate the expectations? Do you need to let it go or have a conversation with the employee?
- Act: Once you determine what needs to happen, take that action!
And if all else fails, promise me this. Never ask an employee to wear 37 pieces of flair!
P.S. Do you ever experience blaming or stonewalling in the workplace? It can be easy to see when colleagues do this, but what about when you’re the one blaming or shutting down? Join us in the Thoughtfully Fit Gym TOMORROW, November 17 from 2:30-3:00 pm CT for a free workout, and find out!