I came across this LinkedIn post from Andy Pirruccello a few weeks ago as I started toying with the idea of doing a post on Quiet Hiring.
Andy has a very valid set of points; He says it all started with #quietquitting (aka discretionary effort). Then came #quietfiring (aka intentional manager neglect of employees). And now we have #quiethiring (aka internal mobility).
His beef with the “quiet” phrasings is they describe things that have existed in the workplace forever, and more importantly they glamorize the notion of being quiet about it as you experience it.
So why is that a problem? Well, we could start with the conditions that lead to all of this “quiet”, yet devastating impact on your business; Gallup found in its latest survey only “32% of full- and part-time employees working for organizations are now engaged, while 18% are actively disengaged” which is a 2% lower engagement level than in 2021. And it’s not all pandemic related, as low employee engagement and high employee disengagement has been a decades-old problem for business:
What is Quiet Hiring?
Emily Rose McRae, the head of Gartner’s future of work research team, says the idea behind quiet hiring is to prioritize crucial business functions by temporarily mixing up the roles of current employees. This can be seen as a way to avoid lengthy interview processes and save time and costs by using current workers to gain new skills or address specific needs.
Quiet hiring has been effective for Google (notwithstanding recent layoffs), which uses it as a recruiting method to identify the brightest minds, both internally and externally, and fill open positions. By showcasing themselves for positions they would like to have, candidates can demonstrate their skills and qualifications.
However, quiet hiring can be a double-edged sword, as demonstrated by the example of Qantas rotating executives in as baggage handlers to address a labour shortage. While it may show that all roles within the company are important, it could also affect employee engagement if it’s only temporary roles, and especially ones that are seen as step backwards, that are on offer, as this can rightfully be seen as primarily benefiting the employer rather than the employees.
To make quiet hiring more productive and beneficial for both employers and employees, it’s important to use it in a way that aligns with employees’ interests and values. When seeking roles we love, it’s essential to understand our own strengths, interests, and values and look for opportunities that align with them. And when approaching employees to take on new opportunities it is important to keep that in mind.
Of course, all if this begs the question, what’s driving all of this quiet stuff anyway? Our series on Hybrid Work, gives some clues:
- The pace of change and the number of possible change vectors that exposed what is fundamentally wrong with how organizations plan and execute work
- The changing demographics of the workforce from one that has a labour-based emphasis to one that is knowledge-based
- The pandemic which accelerated the exposure of what is fundamentally wrong with how many organizations are structured and managed which affects their ability to recognize and respond to unexpected events
It’s a tempest that has been a long-time brewing, one that the pandemic blew the lid off of, and one that can no longer be ignored.
Employees want to feel valued
Anyone who has ever worked for someone else wants to feel that what they do is of value and makes a difference. As Gallup’s annual surveys show, employee engagement levels have remained low for decades; When we don’t feel valued or that our work makes a difference, we lose interest and disengage.
In the early part of my career, I was happy working for the government. We had just finished a set of projects that included a lot of innovation, I had just been published in an industry book and magazine on the innovations we had made, and I had just finished my masters. But when the projects were over and I’d have to go back to my old role as a Manager of Operations, I asked for a role that built on my recent experiences. I was told it was my old role or no role. I left within thirty days.
To build a healthy relationship between employees and employers, Sian Beilock, a cognitive scientist, suggests it’s essential to be selective about the type of duties employees are asked take on, to focus on the desired outcomes, to become partners <in organizational growth, innovation, and strategy> rather than adversaries, and to be able to delegate or drop other responsibilities that aren’t a priority.
Beilock also recommends that employees and employers work collaboratively towards the same goal. As Amanda Bernardo noted in Hybrid Work Part 2: Do this, Don’t do that, a lot of managers can have poor communications and relationship skills, and hence do a poor job explaining the why behind things. When managers communicate poorly, Beilock suggests employees need to be more strategic about the type of duties they agree to take on, and managers need to ensure everyone is working collaboratively, setting clear expectations about communication practices and determining what needs to be done next.
Overall, a healthy relationship between employees and employers requires open communication, a shared understanding of goals, and a willingness to work together.
In that particular moment all those years ago, I just couldn’t go back to my old role and my executive was not willing to work with me to do something about it. Fortunately, as Beilock and Bernardo suggest, there are things that we can both do differently.
Employers want to improve Business Performance
Every organization, regardless of industry, wants to succeed and improve performance; And, so do their employees. When employees are disengaged, it negatively affects productivity and increases turnover rates, which ultimately impacts overall business performance. It can also affect their mental health. However, disengagement is not always the problem itself, but rather a symptom of other underlying issues.
Recent mass layoffs in the tech industry have been attributed to poor business performance, but the practice of cutting costs to improve the bottom line has been around for decades. This approach is based on the concept of shareholder value theory, which views employees as assets to be used and discarded as needed.
Called “pernicious nonsense” by Harvard Business School professor Joseph L. Bower when it was introduced by Milton Friedman in 1970, even former GE CEO Jack Welch, who was once its staunchest defender, has since derided shareholder value theory as “the dumbest idea in the world. Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy… your main constituencies are your employees, your customers and your products. Managers and investors should not set share price increases as their overarching goal… Short-term profits should be allied with an increase in the long-term value of a company.””
So how do you increase the long-term value of your company, or the public’s perception of the value of your organization and its programs if you are in the public sector or the third sector? By delivering value to customers (i.e. why the firm exists. By prioritizing the well-being of employees, businesses also increase their long-term resilience and sustainability.
Hence, it starts where Welch suggested it does – with your employees, your customers and your products <and services> — deliver value to customers and the rest takes care of itself. But to do that, you first need to take care of your employees.
Surprise: Happy Employees improve Business Performance!
To reengage employees, it’s important to identify and address the factors that lead to disengagement such as insufficient professional development opportunities, improper or no discernible talent management practices, inadequate leadership and management competencies, and the technology juggernaut of AI and constant technology innovations.
Addressing these factors can lead to higher employee engagement and happiness, leading to positive impacts on business performance such as increased productivity, reduced turnover, increased profitability, enhanced customer satisfaction, and improved innovation. Studies have shown that engaged and happy employees:
- Tend to be more productive
- Stay with their employer longer
- Provide better customer service
- Are more innovative and creative in their work
It also means when employees are finding opportunities to be fully engaged they find it rewarding which in turn leads to feeling happier about what they do.
Happy employees improve business performance.
Let’s not be Quiet
So where does quite hiring fit into this? Well, first, like Andy Pirruccello, we’d suggest stop using the quiet phrasing and take a more positive approach that focuses on the well-being and professional development of your employees.
Here are four things you can do to create a more positive focus on the challenges and opportunities your employees and your organization face:
- Create and openly share internal opportunities with employees that match up with their skills and career interests in order to create wins for the organization and the employee (courtesy of Andy Pirruccello). At The Hive we prefer the more inclusive term competencies over skills. Our handy Understanding Competencies for Professional Development explains the difference.
- Enable employees to enhance existing competencies and to develop new ones that are relevant to your organizations current and future strategies as well as its long-term vision, and make it part of their annual personal and professional development plans. They can get started with our workbook for Selecting a Coach on The Hive.
- Enable employees to identify how they might maximize their contributions to your organization’s growth, innovation and strategy.
- Enable employees to engage external coaches who can provide unbiased advise, help employees identify their strengths and competency development goals, and build and execute a personalized development plan
You can’t undo the past, but you can create a different future, staring now. Not all of these need to be done at once. Yet, any one of them can show employees their leaders are listening, are empathetic to the challenges everyone faces in uncertain times, and are willing to be transparent, honest, and open with them.
If you truly want to reduce employee disengagement, it means you need to focus on employee engagement.
We don’t need to fix our people. We need to enable them.
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Larry Cooper is the Chief Strategy Officer and A/CTO at The Hive Professional Network.
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