Agile – an antidote to quiet quitting

As lack of motivation and engagement grips organisations Giora Morein suggests that agile methodology could be the way to re-energise flagging employees

While quiet quitting isn’t new, the pandemic brought this phenomenon into sharper focus. In remote work, employees literally aren’t located where their managers can see them, resulting in less visibility and control over their teams. 

Some weren’t content with trusting their team members to get the job done (without being concerned about exactly when and how that happened). To get control back, many began micromanaging their team members, which may have been meant to light a fire under them and boost productivity, but ultimately demoralised and demotivated them. 

Others found themselves extremely challenged with having the same workload coupled with juggling childcare, overseeing at-home schooling, and the pressures of successfully carrying out an office job in a work-at-home setup. The world of work was “flipped upside down,” according to Jill Cotton, career trends expert at EMEA, which “prompted more and more people to question their career and work-life balance choices.” 

A Gallup poll states that worldwide only 15% of employees are actively engaged at work, with the US at 33%.

The result was an increase in quiet quitting, which is far more widespread than we may think. In fact, according to Teambuilding, a Gallup poll states that worldwide only 15% of employees are actively engaged at work, with the US at 33%. Put differently, up to 67% of US employees and 85% worldwide could be quiet quitting. That should give us all pause.

When does an off day become quiet quitting?

During the pandemic, many had “wobbly” periods of lower productivity, or were working odd hours to keep up. But they were still in there, doing the best they could do in less-than-optimal conditions. And whilst some employers not only understood but made allowances, many did not!

The symptoms of quiet quitting are pretty much the same across most industry sectors. Instead of doing their best work, employees start doing the bare minimum to get by – just enough to show that they’re actually working and ensure they still have a job. Beyond reduced productivity, other symptoms may include increased “sick days,” less engagement and involvement in projects, reduced work hours, and more.

The causes, however, could be different. In some cases, people simply aren’t passionate about their jobs. It’s a means to an end – a way to fund activities that they actually enjoy.  Some may feel they’re not making progress up the ladder fast enough, aren’t getting the recognition they deserve, don’t have opportunities to grow, don’t resonate with the company’s values and culture, or are experiencing other challenges. For others, the response to burnout is to cut down on the amount of effort they’re putting in to attempt to find some much-needed work-life balance.

Quiet quitting is quite often the step just before actually quitting.

What to do about quiet quitting?

First, don’t accept this as the new working norm. To prevent workplace attrition, there are ways to motivate valued employees and keep them onboard and engaged.

Giving employees the space, authority, and tools to reach their goals is a big step in the right direction. In his book Drive, Daniel Pink outlines the three factors that motivate people at work: mastery, autonomy, and purpose.

Creating a work environment that optimises these three motivational drivers is key to stoking passion and dedication so that people choose to pursue far more than the bare minimum. Here’s how this three-tier approach works:

  1. Mastery – People are motivated to improve their skills and knowledge and to grow as people and professionals. Creating a working environment and process that prioritises reflection and improvement without blame or retribution will not only result in a more skilled labour force but a far more motivated one too.
  2. Autonomy – People are motivated by having more control over how they work.  Nobody likes to be micromanaged or directed in everything they do.  By decentralising planning, decisions, and execution, organisations can further empower workers resulting in not just a greater sense of ownership and accountability but also better, more rapid, lag-free decisions. 
  3. Purpose – People are motivated by working on things that are impactful – tackling problems and causes larger than themselves.  By focusing company and team efforts on only high-value, important opportunities and consistently connecting the work and decisions that employees make to the higher-level goals is key to creating purpose-driven organisations. Purpose-driven companies become destination companies that people aspire to work for.  

What’s agile got to do with it?

Most organisations have adopted agile methods to better deliver products to their customers. But agile methods – like scrum or standup – can inherently help tackle quiet quitting because they explicitly address these three primary aspects that influence employee motivation. It’s about creating an organisational environment that supports motivated individuals and creates opportunities for mastery, autonomy, and purpose.

Let’s zoom in on how this three-tier approach can work in agile:

  1. Continuous Improvement – Agile and scrum is an adaptive process with continuous inspection and reflection of what we’re working on, how we’re working on it, and the result – both in its underlying principles but also in its practices. In the daily scrum, we’re constantly evaluating the learnings and discoveries. In retrospectives, we’re constantly evaluating our process and looking for ways we can improve. In reviews, we’re getting feedback from customers and stakeholders as to how we can improve our product. As such, continuous improvement as a principle is built-in to agile and its frameworks – and the result is elevating mastery.
  2. Self-managing teams – The scrum framework creates employee autonomy by decentralising decision-making to self-managing scrum teams who decide what to work on and how to best work on it.  There is no manager or supervisor directing work on a day-to-day basis and telling people what to do. It’s all about identifying the right goal and empowering teams to pursue those goals in the best possible way.
  3. Goal-driven prioritisation – Prioritisation as a practice is fundamental to any agile framework. By continuously evaluating priorities and then focusing only on the most necessary, and valuable work, scrum ensures that teams are always working on the most important things. We’re constantly engaging customers, stakeholders, and consumers in our process to understand how the things we are working on impact them. We’re continuously seeking ways to deliver more value to our customers faster so as to help them better pursue their own goals.  

It’s about looking at agile and scrum as more than just a way to deliver projects or work, but as a way to structure teams and organisational environments. So agile and scrum, the very same values, principles and processes that help organisations deliver value faster to customers, can also be leveraged to create a hyper-motivated workforce that aligns its passions and personal goals with those of the organisation.

Giora Morein is CEO and founder of ThinkLouder

Giora Morein

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