‘They’re in a state of fear’: Quiet quitting is scaring CEOs

CEOs are worried about quiet quitting.

As news of the trend flooded the internet, human resources companies, consultants, law firms and even artificial intelligence startups have jumped in to offer advice on how to prevent and combat it. By all accounts there is demand: Leaders at large and well-known companies in finance, tech and health care are very concerned, said Ben Granger, chief workplace psychologist at survey company Qualtrics.

“It’s pretty rare that a lot of leaders in major organizations would bring this up to us within as short of a time as this has been talked about in the media,” he said. “I don’t see that a lot.”

But executives don’t know what to do about it. Human resource professionals say leaders are concerned about whether they can rely on their employees if there’s a recession — or if they can afford to fire and replace quiet quitters in a tight labor market, Granger said. Leaders are worried they won’t be able to spot it spreading under their noses.

“A lot of leaders and clients I work with, some for the first time in 30 years, they’re in a state of fear as an employer,” said Erica Dhawan, workplace consultant and author of a book about remote and hybrid work. “They feel they have to keep people that aren’t performing.”

Especially scary for leaders is the “invisible” nature of the trend, according to Granger. In a remote or hybrid environment, the classic signs that an employee is checked out, like tardiness and absenteeism, can be harder to spot. While their first reaction is often to blame quiet quitting on laziness, Granger said many come to realize that it’s actually a management problem. There’s even an artificial intelligence startup that claims to offer a solution, analyzing emails and Slack messages to detect engagement, burnout and turnover risk among employees.

However, chief human resource officers tend to be less freaked out about all the talk of quiet quitting than others in the C-suite, according to Caroline Walsh, vice president in the human resources practice at consulting firm Gartner. Since they’ve spent years focusing on and talking about burnout, the phenomenon comes as less of a surprise.

They could be underestimating the issue. More than half of HR professionals from a range of industries surveyed in late August were concerned about quiet quitting, according to a Society for Human Resource Management poll of over 1,200. Yet only about a third think it’s happening in their own organization, a perception that doesn’t align with Gallup’s recent estimate that a full 50% of the US workforce can be considered quiet quitters.

While it’s hard to say how much more quiet quitting is happening since the trend went viral, Granger said the fact more people are talking about it is itself significant because it’s more likely to catch on and spread.

“Now you’ve got a big problem,” I said. “If you get into a situation where organizations start to see this tip, and now there’s massive amounts of quiet quitting happening, that is almost certainly going to lead to some massive downstream effects on the business.”

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