Retention & Engagement

Recent work trends point toward one common problem: disengagement

disengagement at work

As employers persevere through The Great Resignation, the focus is now shifting to concerning new trends like Quiet Quitting and the rise of the Anti-Work movement. These are just the latest work-related trends, and you can bet they won’t be the last.

No one will blame you for wanting to tune out the revolving sensationalism that seems to turn with the tides. It’s distracting, confusing and even intrusive at times.

However, as leaders and people managers, we should seek to understand the true issues that are driving these workplace trends. Because they are impacting our people, and they’re often a cry for change that only we can bring.

To understand the root problem and how it’s impacting our team members and bottom line, we should first take a look at how we got here.


The Great Resignation

It all started in 2020. Our world was turned upside down, both in business and in our personal lives. We had to pivot on a dime to keep our doors open and adjust to working virtually, all while dealing with the insurmountable stress of a pandemic and an uncertain future.

We started working more hours to keep our livelihoods. Many of us struggled to maintain a balance between our work and personal lives while working from home. With so much change, we couldn’t possibly give our attention to everything that demanded it. It wasn’t sustainable, and something had to give.

We were forced to rethink our priorities and find what’s really important to us. Then, just months into the pandemic, there was a shift in the power dynamics of the employer-employee relationship.

As people reevaluated their priorities and embraced the new opportunities that came with the virtual workplace, they started leaving in droves. We had more options to choose how, when, and where we work — often for better pay. And so began the “Great Resignation.”

Quiet Quitting

Fast-forward to late July of this year. It’s been just over two years since it all started, and “Quiet Quitting” has become an internet sensation. It’s hard to pin it down to one clear definition, as so many people have interpreted it in different ways.

But there is one thing everyone seems to agree on: the name is misleading. It’s not about quitting at all. Some say Quiet Quitting is about only doing the bare minimum at work and nothing more, while the more widely accepted meaning is about reprioritizing healthy work-life boundaries.

So, at its core, Quiet Quitting is yet another symptom that points toward issues surrounding the balance of power, expectations, and priorities in the employer-employee relationship.

This trend is particularly easy to write off as silly or unfounded, especially when we realize how disingenuous the name is. But if we read between the lines, it’s clear that what we’re actually dealing with is the age-old problem of disengagement and burnout. And that shouldn’t be ignored.

It should come as no surprise that we are dealing with widespread burnout and disengagement right now. All the extra work hours we took on back in 2020 were meant to be a temporary sacrifice. Yet, employers came to expect this level of performance as the new standard, even after we moved out of crisis mode.

Quiet Quitting is about reclaiming our lives over these unrealistic expectations.

Part of taking care of your people is giving them the freedom to take care of themselves. That means letting them decide what balance looks like, coming to a mutual agreement on expectations at work, and respecting those mutual boundaries.

The Rise of the Anti-Work Movement

Sometime between The Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting, an obscure online community began to grow exponentially. Seven years after it was created, r/AntiWork would spark the “Anti-Work movement,” making headlines and gaining millions of members following the pandemic.

Reddit is a social media platform that enables its users to start communities based on their own interests, called “subreddits”. One such subreddit, r/AntiWork, describes itself as “a subreddit for those who want to end work.” At the top of the webpage is the phrase, “Antiwork: Unemployment for all, not just the rich!”

In 2019 the subreddit had 13,000 members. By 2020, it had grown to a staggering 100,000 members and exceeded the 1 million subscriber mark in November 2021.

Today, the community has 2.2 million members and counting.

It’s no longer an obscure online community. It’s become a movement and a concerning one at that. The subreddit is home to a wide variety of member-contributed content, with most being extremely negative toward employers, work, and capitalism in general.

A quick look even revealed shocking stories of sabotage and other malicious acts inflicted upon members’ bosses, company equipment, and more.

Certainly, this isn’t the norm for the typical professional. While worrying about saboteurs on our team may feel like an overreaction, it’s important to recognize the power of this movement and its ability to influence our culture as a whole.

Whether our team members act upon the movement’s influence or not, the ideas have been planted and the influence has been made.

There will always be extremism within every issue. The Anti-Work movement is a result of a common problem: people feel taken advantage of.

Winning in the Workforce Revolution

These movements and trends are just the beginning. As employers, leaders, and people managers, we need to see beyond the sensation to find the root problem and solve it quickly. Not just for the sake of the business, but for the best interests of our team members as a whole.

We have a disengagement problem, which stems from change that created a work problem, perpetuated by outdated standards from the “old world” (pre-2020). Life today doesn’t work the same as it did just two and a half years ago. And that means work can’t work the same, either.

Our new world requires a different quality of leadership — one that is centered on the best interests of the employee and aligns meaning and purpose with the work that we do.

At HireBetter, we believe that the future of business is human to human. After more than a decade of helping growth-minded companies grow and scale, we’ve seen first-hand how organizations grow faster, better, and more profitably by taking a people-first approach. In practice, this people-first approach is always evolving with the needs of the people.

So, if you want to win in this workforce revolution:

  • Update or develop your talent strategy to fit the times.
  • Implement new best practices to attract, recruit, and engage talent.
  • Stay ahead of change to win the competition for talent long term.

Learn how to achieve all of this and more in our exclusive webinar, Recruiting and Retention in the Workforce Revolution with Amy Ancira, Vistage speaker and Managing Director of HireBetter, on Nov. 4 at 1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT.


Related Resources

Employee incentives: 7 strategies to improve employee engagement

5 ways CEOs can keep teams focused and positive 

Category: Retention & Engagement

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About the Author: Amy Ancira

Amy Ancira brings more than 20 years of experience to HireBetter as Managing Director, having served in senior leadership roles in executive search, recruitment process outsourcing, organizational consulting, and strategic talent planning

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