In this segment of “Office Optional with Larry English,” Larry discusses the recent “quiet quitting” trend and why great remote leadership is the solution.
A recent Gallup study found that at least half of the U.S. workforce are “quiet quitters.” The problem goes deeper than workers doing the bare minimum to meet expectations: Worker engagement is at its lowest in nearly a decade and many organizations have yet to shed old-school leadership thinking in this new world of work.
Old-school leadership thinking looks like this: Half of business leaders believing remote employees aren’t working as hard; 48 percent of businesses using monitoring software to track remote employees; half of managers of knowledge workers planning to force people back into the office next spring. It’s all the leaders stuck in the traditionalist belief that remote workers are phoning it in. It’s the countless companies “flex washing” their job descriptions, promising remote work they don’t plan on allowing.
The solution for quiet quitting isn’t to monitor employees or force them to work where they don’t want to work (the office), and it’s certainly not to hire more motivated people. Instead, organizations need a modern remote leadership strategy to train leaders to reframe their perspective of what makes for a hard worker and give them the essential tools for inspiring, engaging and motivating distributed teams.
Leaders have direct influence over all the elements of worker engagement. When leaders lead with trust and empathy, workers are engaged, feel supported and valued by their manager, understand their purpose in the organization and know how to move forward with their career. Engagement also unlocks discretionary effort, that extra 10 percent of effort that can lead to great things.
At Centric Consulting, we help organizations with remote and hybrid workplace strategies. One common problem we see is an impasse between leaders who want to keep doing things the old way and their employees, who have fully embraced the new world of work with all its promises of flexibility.
When leaders ignore this disconnect, disengagement increases. The opposite can happen, however, when leaders learn to operate in a new way, upskilling their toolkit to lead in a remote-work environment.
For instance, one of our clients, a global manufacturing company, decided to take the plunge and go remote to reduce costs and increase productivity and employee satisfaction. Even amid tackling the change, the company saw its engagement scores increase.
Essential Elements of Remote Leadership
The skills needed to increase engagement and unlock discretionary effort aren’t complicated. But they do require leaders to learn to reframe their perspectives around productivity and their relationships to their direct reports. Here are the essential skills of remote leadership:
Evaluate remote employees by results achieved.
The old-school way of thinking about productivity, where hard workers come early and stay late, is not only wrong and outdated but also counterproductive for unlocking discretionary effort.
In a remote setting, this style of leadership contributes to digital presenteeism, which causes burnout and decreased productivity.
Digital presenteeism is so pervasive that 54 percent of remote or hybrid workers feel pressure to be “seen” online at certain hours of the day, on average working an extra 5.5 hours per week. They may feel pressure to immediately respond to chats or emails, offer comments on documents just as proof of work and other non-results-oriented tasks.
Yet visibility does not equal results. Research bears this out: One study found office workers are productive for less than three hours each day, the rest of the time frittered away on chitchat and surfing the web.
Instead of number of hours worked, meetings attended, spreadsheets produced and other meaningless metrics, leaders need to measure employees by outcomes, setting specific, measurable goals so people always know how they’re performing. They need to communicate to employees how they are doing on a regular basis, and not just during an annual review.
This seems simple, but many organizations fall short. Gallup found that, incredibly, less than 40 percent of young remote or hybrid employees have clarity around what is expected of them.
Build deep, trusting relationships with employees.
The funny thing about the old-school model of leadership is that it features little trust between managers and workers, probably because there’s also no framework for building deep relationships.
Yet relationships between leaders and workers are everything when it comes to the employee experience. When employees are disengaged, you get quiet quitting. Or not so quiet quitting. Three-quarters of employees who quit do so because of a poor relationship with their manager.
The most impactful way for leaders to build relationships with employees and improve engagement is straightforward: Weekly one-on-one check-ins. Just 15 minutes can go a long way toward building trust, providing performance feedback, catching engagement problems early on and helping leaders get to know employees so they can better guide and mentor them.
Above all, leaders need to invest in the talent they have today. If quiet quitting is a problem at your organization, it may be time to dig deeper into employee sentiment about your organization and its leaders, repair any areas of disconnect and invest in upskilling leaders for the new world of work.