Take a Quiet Approach to Reengaging Your People

September 27, 2022 David Witt

A lot has been written about quiet quitting, where workers make a calculated assessment of their work environment and decide their work isn’t that meaningful, their role isn’t that critical, and the people around them aren’t that invested in who they are or how they are performing. Left unaddressed, these types of feelings lead to burnout, negativity, cynicism—and, eventually, withdrawal.

This is a dismal scenario. But according to recent polling, it’s estimated that approximately 20% of workers are teetering near this decision point.

It’s important for managers to know how to recognize the symptoms of physical and emotional withdrawal and proactively address them. Employee burnout rarely gets better on its own. So what can you, an individual manager, do to make some progress on engagement without it turning into a major event? Here’s a 3-step “quiet” approach to reengaging your people.

Quietly increase the frequency of communication.

“There’s really nothing more important than sitting and having a conversation with each of your people,” says leadership expert and bestselling business author Ken Blanchard. “You are taking time to focus on them so they know they are being heard. It doesn’t matter whether it is face to face or virtual—the point is that you are speaking privately with each person about anything on their mind. You are building trust by seeing each other as fellow human beings, not just manager and direct report.”

“Make it a priority—and make it real,” adds Blanchard senior consulting partner Courtney Harrison. “Don’t ask ‘How are you doing?’ Instead, ask ‘How are you really doing?’ Be willing to dive beneath the waterline to talk about their emotional climate. The depth of feelings shared will likely vary from person to person, and that’s okay. Meet people where they are. Allow your actions to intentionally communicate that you care about the person first; you don’t see them as a human doing, but as a human being.”

Quietly focus on a few key areas.

Burnout researchers Christina Maslach and Michael Leiter recommend a dialogue that uses six key areas as a guide for people and organizations to take well-informed action. First, identify mismatches that may lead to burnout; then, collaborate on methods to target and find resolutions for specific concerns. The six areas are:

  • Workload. Is there a mismatch between high demands and low resources? Lots to do but not enough time, people, tools, or information to get it all done?
  • Control. How much choice, discretion, and say do people have regarding innovation or doing things better or differently?
  • Reward. Not just pay and perks, but also recognition for having done something well and the social and intrinsic rewards of doing a good job.
  • Community. Specifically, workplace community: the people who are in regular contact with each other. Are those relationships supportive in working out problems and doing things better?
  • Fairness. The basic human need to be treated fairly whatever the system, whatever the problem.
  • Values. The meaning of the work and the pride people take in doing it well and contributing to the bigger picture.

Quietly make sure you’re having these same conversations with your leader.

No one is immune to the effects of burnout. Some 60% of leaders and 75% of mid-level managers reported symptoms of burnout during the previous 12 months in a recent Blanchard survey with 800 leaders worldwide.

Researchers at Gallup have identified that one of the best ways to address employee engagement is to begin by addressing manager engagement. Gallup’s research has consistently shown a strong correlation between the engagement levels of these two groups.

Consider your experience with the six areas above. Open up a conversation with your manager—and be sure to encourage your people to have this same discussion with you!

About the Author

David  Witt

David Witt is a Program Director for The Ken Blanchard Companies®. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.

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