Have you heard of “quiet quitting?” The term has been sweeping through social media lately, originally representing the idea of doing only what is required at work and not going the extra mile for an employer.
As the trend evolved, quiet quitting has taken on several meanings. Some social media users claim it as a tool of empowerment, emphasizing that there’s nothing wrong with setting boundaries with your employer, and that no one is really obligated to do more than what is required of them.
Others are critical of quiet quitters, implying that those who refuse to go above and beyond are lazy, unmotivated or unhelpful.
Quiet quitting can take on a unique meaning in the healthcare world. Not going above and beyond your job requirements has a different meaning when your job requirements are actually quite demanding on their own. Plus, healthcare jobs almost always require going above and beyond to care for patients or clients.
However, with increasing staffing difficulties and the prevalence of burnout in healthcare workplaces, it’s almost inevitable that some form of quiet quitting exists within your healthcare team.
So, what can you, as a healthcare leader, do to help quiet quitters find a healthy balance at work?
Seeing people on your team dis-engage can feel frustrating, and it’s normal to first think about what they’re doing wrong and how you can help them do better.
But first, ask yourself if there’s anything you might be doing that is resulting in team members feeling disconnected from the vision and mission of the organization.
What are your expectations of your team members and which of those, exactly, are not being met? If you want your staff to “go above and beyond,” what does that actually mean? Do you expect them to be willing to take an extra shift occasionally? Or are you expecting them to take an extra shift every week?
If it’s not about taking extra shifts, is it about what staff do during their shifts? Do you feel that they’re taking too many breaks or not interacting with patients or clients in a satisfactory manner?
Once you have a clear idea of what it means to meet or exceed expectations on your team, think about whether all of those expectations are actually reasonable. Maybe your team members aren’t quiet quitting, but are actually engaging in a healthy relationship with work.
You wouldn’t be the first healthcare leader to get caught up in the high-stress environment and start to expect more and more from your staff. If you find yourself being critical of someone for not working as much overtime as other staff or for taking their breaks in full while others skip them, it’s important to pause and reflect on how you arrived at that line of thinking. What needs are not being met in your organization and how can you meet them without burning out your staff?
If there are reasonable and necessary expectations that are not being met, you may consider clarifying those expectations with your team.
When a team member appears to be “quiet quitting,” it’s important not to make assumptions about why they’re disengaging. They could be burnt out, dealing with issues outside of work, unclear on the expectations of the workplace or just not feeling connected to their job.
Open up a dialogue with your team members. Clarify your expectations of their performance. If they feel unable to meet those expectations, find out whether there’s anything you can do to support them.
It’s also ok to have honest conversations about whether the organization’s vision and mission still align with a team member’s values and interests. If they aren’t feeling that alignment any more, ask them what support they need to feel excited about their work again. Could you rework their schedule to reduce their hours for a while? Would they benefit from a leave of absence to recharge? Do they need help accessing mental health or wellness support? Be conscious of the shame that may be associated with taking a break—especially in a healthcare setting.
Creating a culture that prioritizes wellness can pave the way for having these conversations without shame or stigma.
It’s common for healthcare workplaces to unintentionally develop unreasonable or even unhealthy expectations of their staff over time. High-stress work environments with high stakes can create a culture where burnout, overworking and putting the needs of the employer over the needs of the employee are normalized and self-care, prioritizing personal time and setting boundaries are stigmatized.
As a leader on your team, you have the power to counteract this tendency by interrupting the problematic cycle of burnout culture.
Encourage your staff to take their breaks, stop working when they clock out, and take sick days when they need to. And, more importantly, model self-care and boundaries in your own behaviour. Show your team that it’s ok to put themselves first, to prioritize family and personal commitments, and to leave work at the door when they go home.
In other words, a certain degree of “quiet quitting,” or reducing the number of extra responsibilities that aren’t strictly required, may actually be healthy for your team members. Make sure they know that.
If you're a healthcare leader dealing with quiet quitting and other complex workplace dynamics, there are specific actions you can take to make change. But deciding where to start is a real challenge.
We help healthcare leaders turn their feelings of overwhelm into a practical, actionable plan to foster change in healthcare organizations.
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