Is your team “quiet quitting?” How to handle employee overload
Employee engagement is at an all-time low. According to the latest Gallup research, less than ⅓ of employees say they’re actively engaged in their work. While the percentage of people actively disengaged from work (i.e., doing the bare minimum or worse) has spiked to 18%.
The pandemic, cultural shifts, and remote communication have led to the perfect storm of “quiet quitting” — where employees do the bare minimum to keep their jobs and stay under the radar.
But it’s unfair to put all of the blame on outside influence.
Employee overload is the norm at many companies, with management setting loftier goals with fewer resources. Rather than try to fix the problem, organizations squeeze their teams to the limit, which isn’t good for long-term business growth.
In this guide, we’ll explain how to handle “quiet quitting” the right way by focusing on spotting, understanding, and preventing employee overload and re-balancing your team’s workload.
What is “quiet quitting”? Why is it so bad for teams and companies?
Quiet quitting is where an employee does the bare minimum in their job, putting in no extra time, effort, or enthusiasm than required to avoid raising suspicion or risk getting fired.
It’s important to note that when an employee is quiet quitting, they aren’t actually working against you, they’re just doing the minimum they can.
Quiet Quitting: “Doing the minimum requirements of ones job and putting in no more time, effort or enthusiasm than absolutely necessary.”
While you may think this is better than the employee leaving their position, a drop in productivity, a negative atmosphere, and a lack of new, innovative ideas will put you at a competitive disadvantage.
Here are some examples of what can happen if your team members begin to ‘quiet quit’:
- You could start falling behind on projects. If you’ve created a project schedule based on past performance (e.g., your burndown chart), a dip in productivity could put you behind in hitting your goals. Team members who “quiet quit” will not put in any extra effort to finish on time or even early.
- Your team will lose motivation. If team members check out, that negative mood quickly spreads to those around them. High-performing teams rely on momentum and positive energy to continually deliver great results. Without that, it can feel like you’re pushing your project through sand.
- Your teammates could face stress and burnout. Burnout is a major issue in project management. If team members begin quietly quitting, others have to pick up the load. Put stress on those team members for too long, and they’ll quickly approach burnout.
- It can have a long-term reputational impact. If quiet quitting snowballs, it won’t be long until news starts to leave your organization. If it becomes public knowledge that your employees aren’t engaged, it reduces your chances of winning new business or building value-adding partnerships.
- Competitors could steal away your top talent. To compound all of the above, if your quiet quitting situation gets too bad, it won’t be long until competitors tempt your best people away. Not only will you lose the talent, but your competitors get great new employees as well.
Above all else, quiet quitting is a symptom of a much larger disease that, if left unchecked, can hit your bottom line or even put your entire business in a chokehold. So, how did your team become so overloaded and disengaged in the first place?
Why is your team so overloaded?
The good news is that your team won’t just start quietly quitting for no reason. There are several underlying factors that lead to employees checking out - many of which stem from them being overloaded.
Here are some of the main issues that cause teams to become overworked to the point of quiet quitting.
What is it? Job creep is when the scope of someone’s role expands or changes over time without any formal review process.
Why does it happen? Typically, as organizations get bigger and busier, they take on new work to meet customer demands. If additional resources aren’t recruited to support this growth, current employees and teams get pushed past their limits.
Further reading: This article from the BBC sums up job creep perfectly, and how, if left unmanaged, it can lead to employees becoming overworked.
What is it? Hustle culture — or burnout culture — is the idea that working long hours and overloading yourself with work is the only way to really succeed.
Why does it happen? There are many cultural reasons that hustle culture has come to exist — for example, influencers on social media or feeling pressured to live beyond your means. Organizations have a responsibility to dispel the myth of hustle culture, instead creating a culture that rewards quality of work rather than quantity.
How bad is it? Hustle culture will lead to overwork. According to a study by Deloitte, 77% of people have experienced burnout at their job.
Isolation from management
What is it? If managers don’t adequately support their team, they’ll become isolated without the direction and assistance they need to progress their work.
Why does it happen? There are many reasons managers can’t support their teams, from being overworked themselves to poor management skills or focusing too much on managing up (rather than down).
How bad is it? A 2022 study by Harvard Business Review found that the least effective managers had 3x more “quiet quitters” than their more effective counterparts.
What is it? Unreal expectations are when managers and leaders set goals that employees feel are unachievable. While it’s always good to set stretch targets, take it too far, and you’ll simply overload teams with more work than they can handle.
Why does it happen? In most instances, managers and leaders get pressure from above or from customers, leading them to set high targets. Managers also need to remember that everyone is different, and one person’s output level is different from the other. Therefore, setting a common standard can quickly lead to overload.
Further reading: This article dives into the effects of unreal expectations in all walks of life, showing a 30% rise in perfectionism in millennials that leads to increased stress.
What is it? When organizations and teams put too much emphasis on communication (and status updates), employees become overwhelmed, causing them to enter a state of productivity paralysis.
Why does it happen? Communication overload doesn’t come from a bad place. In a bid to build great cultures and boost productivity, many organizations look for ways to stay connected with their staff. But some push it too far and end up in over-communication territory, leading to employees feeling overwhelmed, confused, and stressed.
Further reading: This LinkedIn article provides great insight into the dangers of overcommunication and why it’s important to get the balance right.
How to tell if an employee is overloaded: 7 warning signs
In a culture of overwork, even managers can feel the pressure and stress of a busy workload. If this is you, it may lead you to miss the signs that your team is suffering, leaving you unable to stop quiet quitting in its tracks.
Here are some warning signs to look out for in your team members:
- Decreased energy. We all love team members who bring energy, fun, and laughter to everything they do. But, if that sparkle starts to disappear, it’s a pretty good indicator that they might be overworked.
- Becoming easily distracted. If team members consistently get distracted by other things, they may be overloaded. When your brain has too much to think about, it can be hard to concentrate, leading to a lack of productivity.
- Missing work or being constantly late. Overworked teammates can become sluggish and slow. If those people who normally hit deadlines start slipping or taking longer than usual to complete tasks, it might be time to reassess their workload.
- Not engaging in meetings or on team chat. Many people react to stress by becoming insular and reclusive as they try to focus all their energy on fixing the problems ahead of them. If your chatty team members start becoming quiet, it’s time to check in on them.
- Changes in mood (especially anger and sadness). Another common reaction to overload is developing mood swings. If you sense team members become more angry, upset, or generally low, there’s a good chance they’re overworked.
- Increase in sick days. Increased stress directly leads to a reduction in mental and physical health. If you notice team members taking more sick days than usual, it may point to an overload issue that you need to address.
- A drop in confidence. One of the most upsetting symptoms of stress and burnout is that people lose faith in their abilities. If your most confident team members start to doubt themselves more regularly, they may be experiencing the early signs of overload.
How to fix the employee overload problem in your team
To avoid quiet quitting in your team, you need to get a grip on any overload. While employees have some responsibility to raise their hand, the onus is on you as a manager to solve the problem and help them find a healthy balance.
If you’ve identified an overload problem in your team, here are some actionable steps you can take to fix it:
1. Start by taking the time to listen
If you sense someone may be feeling the strains of overwork, schedule a dedicated opportunity to listen to them. Having an opportunity to vent may help team members reduce their stress levels. Beyond that, it can help you understand what problems need to be addressed on your entire team.
How to do this:
- These conversations are always best in person. Start by offering the opportunity to discuss issues one-on-one.
- If the team members work closely together, you could also host a team Start, Stop, Continue workshop. This is where you all discuss what you would like to stop doing, what you should continue doing, and any new things to start doing.
- If you feel like hustle culture may block an honest conversation, you could also create a survey to get anonymous feedback from your team.
Quiet quitting is a symptom of a much larger disease that can hit your bottom line or even put your entire business in a chokehold.
2. Revisit each team member’s core job tasks.
Once you’ve understood the team’s mood and the problems they’re facing, try revisiting and assessing their workload (vs their role’s core tasks). This can help you identify any job creep or resource gaps within the team.
How to do this:
- Start by asking employees to list the tasks they’re working on, including how much time they’re spending on them daily/weekly/monthly.
- Assess these tasks against their job description or role specification. Identify any tasks that are low value, low consequence, or don’t align with the spec.
- For these tasks, consider a treatment strategy for each one, either stopping the work or moving it to another resource.
- If all the tasks the employee is completing align with their role specification, you may want to consider re-defining the specification or even hiring a second resource to pick up the strain.
Note: A project management tool like Planio can help give you visibility into all of the tasks a team member is responsible for. Simply filter by team member to see how many tasks are currently assigned to them - and if it’s too much.
3. Track and prioritize work with a resource management tool
As a manager, the key to beating overload is having visibility of what everyone is working on. Proper workload management is essential for busy teams, so it’s worth investing in a tool to help everyone prioritize their work.
How to do this:
- Identify a workload or project management tool to help you and your team visualize tasks. For example, Planio can help you visualize tasks clearly and effectively (either on Gantt Charts, Kanban Boards, or calendars).
- Regularly review what each team member is working on (either in a one-on-one or team meeting) and prioritize tasks accordingly. If tasks are low value or low consequence, they can be deprioritized and addressed in the future.
- As a manager, ensure you create regular reporting from your project management tool to see the work people have on and the rate at which they deliver. If things are slowing down, it may indicate that the individual is overloaded.
4. Make sure your team has the right resources
Next, focus on enabling your team to deliver faster by providing them with the right resources to do their roles. This might be training, software tools, process guidance, or simply networking with the right people.
How to do this:
- Training: Complete a project management skills gap analysis with your teams to identify the core skills or competencies they need to do their role. If they feel weak in any area, look for ways to upskill them.
- Software tools: Outside of a resource management tool, check that team members have all the right tools they need to do their jobs. Consider communication tools, development tools, word-processing tools, and access to mailboxes and document drives.
- Policies and processes: Ensure that each team member knows how things should be done in your company. Usually, these come in policy or process documents, so ensure they have access to the right guidance.
- Networking: Do your team members have contacts and relationships with stakeholders that can help them? If not, facilitate introductions and make sure they understand who to work with, for what, and when.
5. Reset your communication practices
According to studies, 86% of teams attribute company failures to poor communication.
To avoid communication overload, agree between the team on how, when, and what you want to communicate about. This will help ensure people can access the information they need without feeling overwhelmed by emails, chats, and video calls.
How to do this:
- Discuss how you want to work as a team regarding communication. Agree on which channels will be used for what and how often you’d like to catch up in team meetings or project updates.
- Create a Project or team charter that creates a record of what you’ve agreed and ask everyone to sign or approve it to show a collective understanding.
- As a manager, you have the responsibility to keep the team disciplined. Call out instances where employees deviate from the agreement, and set an example with your communications.
- Review and adapt as you go, making sure you make and agree to changes as a team.
Putting it into action: Planio gives you options to find the perfect balance between asynchronous and real-time communication. Task comments and wikis allow you to collect and share important information, while team text and video chats help you work together in real-time.
6. Become a buffer for your team
Lastly, if you feel your team is overloaded, don’t be afraid to use yourself as a buffer from outside influences. The key here is to ensure you don’t accidentally overload yourself, but by putting yourself into a servant leadership role, you protect the team while building a culture of trust and collaboration.
How to do this:
- Start by engaging with your team’s stakeholders, asking them to route particular queries or requests to you in the first instance.
- As requests come in, act as a filter for non-important questions or tasks that you can deal with quickly and easily.
- On the flip side, when valuable information comes your way, communicate it to the team quickly and effectively to keep things moving.
Self-care: What to do if you’re feeling overwhelmed
While quiet quitting is becoming a serious problem for many companies, dealing with it can often feel like you’re putting yourself at risk. But remember that you also need to look after yourself. At the end of the day, anyone can succumb to quiet quitting if they’re feeling stressed, overworked, and unsupported.
Here are some quick tactics to employ if you feel overwhelmed in your role:
- Set boundaries during the workday. Hustle culture isn’t the path to success. Instead, it’s more important to set boundaries in your work day, including not exceeding your working hours, taking time for breaks, and prioritizing self-development.
- Use “office hours” for communication time. Don’t communicate with your teams or your boss outside of core office hours. Not only does it set a bad precedent, but it also creates pressure and anxiety for those around you. That, in turn, may lead you to become more overworked as the stress of those around you increases.
- Use one-on-ones to discuss workload and expectations. In the same way you want to discuss workload with your team, make sure you review workload and expectations with your own manager. If your manager isn’t doing it right now, don’t be afraid to request it outright in your one-on-one meetings.
Loud criticism is better than quiet quitting
Quiet quitting is bad for business, leading to a dip in productivity, low team morale, and even reductions in your bottom line. But quiet quitting isn’t without its root causes — overwork, stress, and a lack of support.
The good news is that, as a manager, there are things you can do to prevent quiet quitting. Alongside better communication and a review of job specifications, the best way to reduce overload is to get better visibility of your team’s workload.
That’s where Planio comes in. With Planio, you get more visibility into your team’s workloads so you can identify bottlenecks and keep track of tasks.
Whether through task management, resource management, chat, or time tracking features, Planio has all the capability you need to keep your team ticking over nicely while fending off the symptoms of quiet quitting!
Try Planio for free for 30 days – no credit card required.