Yes, You Can Reengage Quiet Quitters

reengage quiet quitters

By Yvonne Milosevic

The Great Resignation of 2021 set the stage for the much-ballyhooed quiet quitting movement of 2022. Now that we’re heading into a new year, it’s time to tackle the issue of disengaged employees once and for all. As a supervisor, it can be frustrating and disheartening to discover that a team member you value has gone on autopilot. But it’s important to realize there may be many reasons why that’s happening. It’s worth the effort to try to reengage quiet quitters so that you can hang onto their substantial skills and contributions.

“Most of us want to be engaged because it’s just more fun to be engaged. If I’m going to be at work, why not be engaged?” asks Leigh Thompson, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management. In a recent episode of The Insightful Leader, Thompson chats with host Laura Pavin about what’s really going on in the post-pandemic business world. Rather than writing off disengaged employees as lost causes, Thompson thinks they just need help to feel more connected. 

reengage quiet quitters

How to Reengage Quiet Quitters on Your Team

Here are a few steps you can take to get ambivalent employees reinvested in their work.

Identify the root causes of disengagement.

The first step in re-engaging an employee is to understand why they feel that way in the first place. Are they experiencing burnout or stress? Do they feel undervalued or unappreciated? Do they feel they lack support or resources to do their job effectively?

Pavin says that rather than assuming an employee is just not into their job anymore, you should first consider what else might be happening. “Respectfully probe around to figure out if it’s you or it’s them that’s making them disengage,” she suggests. “Consider your own vibe. You could unknowingly be setting the very tone you’re trying to correct.”

Thompson agrees, noting that “Team leaders are very contagious. If my affect is low or negative, or glass is half empty, that is actually going to strongly affect the mental set of my team.”

Once you understand the underlying causes of disengagement, you can tailor your approach to addressing the issue.

Communicate openly and honestly.

Let employees know you value their input and are willing to listen to their concerns. Make sure to provide regular feedback, both positive and constructive, and encourage employees to speak up if they have ideas or concerns about their work or the company.

Thompson advocates for something she calls the “team charter”— ideally put in place before a course correction becomes necessary. Unlike a decree imposed on employees from on high, this “is a one-page mission statement collectively coauthored by all members of the team,” she explains.

Here are the crucial components of the team charter:

First, the document identifies the company’s purpose and why we exist as a team. “It’s an organizing principle that should be at the center of everything the team does,” Thompson explains. Next, the team charter lays out the roles and responsibilities of each team member. Through that, they can understand and leverage each other’s expertise, she adds.

Plus, Pavin notes that when people take ownership of what’s expected of them at work, they feel more energized.

“If you really want to create a culture where people are enthusiastic about their contributions, ask your team what they think should be expected of them, and have them hold themselves to it.” –Laura Pavin

Finally, the document should address the team’s norms and ground rules. Think of things such as expected meeting etiquette, the turnaround time for assignments, or processing vacation requests. Also, decide when it’s okay to challenge a coworker’s ideas—and whether you do so openly or in private.

“If I hear one more team say, ‘Our rule is that we have no rules,’ I’m gonna scream,” says Thompson. “Because those teams are the most dysfunctional when you don’t have any rules. What that means is that most people are frozen in place.”

Having an explicit team charter helps reengage quiet quitters because they understand expectations. Also, employees who feel like they are learning and growing in their roles are more likely to stay engaged. Consider offering training or professional development opportunities and ways for employees to take on new challenges and responsibilities.

Show appreciation and recognition.

A little appreciation and recognition can go a long way toward re-engaging employees. Make an effort to acknowledge and reward your team’s contributions through formal recognition programs or more informal gestures like handwritten notes or personal thank-yous.

By taking these steps, you can help reengage quiet quitters and keep them motivated and committed to their work. Remember that rebuilding trust and engagement may take time and effort, but the investment is worth it in the long run.