Is Agile Working the Answer to Employee Unhappiness?

Journalists and industry pundits love a buzzword. And, triggered by Covid-19 and the turmoil that hit businesses, the world of work has recently attracted its lion’s share. Throughout the pandemic-era and beyond, new workplace trends have been pinpointed, tracked and analysed by experts in the field. And then captured through a series of media-friendly phrases such as: the Great Resignation, the Great Regret, and Quit Quitting. These phrases have quickly gained traction. And created a buzz across social channels and beyond.

But beneath the buzz, there’s a serious and potentially damaging trend emerging. High numbers of employees are either leaving their jobs or stealthily edging their way towards an exit by tuning out from them. And it’ll take more than a catchphrase to stop them.

Here we look at employee unhappiness and agile working. Could a revolutionary New Ways of Working (NWoW) ward off the threat posed by growing numbers of restless and disengaged workers? Let’s have a closer look!


What is Quiet Quitting?

Ask most people who invented Quiet Quitting and chances are they’ll reference American TikToker @zaidlepplin and his "Work is NOT your life" video. But the phrase itself isn’t new. It’s said to have been first used at an economics symposium in 2009 to describe a general malaise among workers in Venezuela. Picked up by writers and economists at the time, the term has been around ever since. But it hasn’t resonated wider until now.

The concept behind Quiet Quitting isn’t new either.

To a greater or lesser extent, employee unhappiness has always existed in the workplace. Formally known as ‘coasting, it's been referenced in popular culture in films such as ‘Office Space’ and songs such as ‘9 to 5’ by Dolly Parton. And embodied in protests such as the tang ping ("lying flat") movement that was adopted by a generation of exhausted workers in China last year. 

In short, there have always been people who have rebelled against an ‘all or nothing’ workplace culture. But until now the sentiment behind the rebellion hasn’t been formalised. Or resonated quite so powerfully with quite so many. 

Fast-forward to the present and, according to a Gallup poll, over 50% of the US workforce would describe themselves as “quiet quitters''. That’s quite a percentage of discontented workers! (And one the UK is likely to mirror.) But why has it attracted such a following now? And is it actually a worry for employers? Quiet quitters may not go the extra mile, but they’re still working. Or are they?


Where Does the Great Resignation Fit in?

In 2021 over 47 million Americans voluntarily quit their jobs. The unprecedented level of resignations was initially attributed to a post-pandemic zeitgeist. But the trend hasn’t subsided. Quite the opposite.

According to the  Bureau of Labor Statistics,  the number of resignations in the US has reached a steady 4 million every month for 11 months up to April this year.

In its Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey, PwC revealed that 1 in 5 respondents plans to leave their job within a year. And for IT workers, the figure’s even higher with 72% of them mapping out a  job move  in the next 12 months.

These figures, combined with the trend for quiet quitting, paint a clear picture. The sentiments that sparked the landmark shift in the employment market during the pandemic are still strongly felt by employees today. Many workers are dissatisfied enough to hand in their notice (often without another job lined up). And of those still with their employer, 50% are quietly disengaging and likely to leave at some point in the near future.

Unless employers persuade them to stay. But how?


An Agile Solution for an Agile Workforce

Since Covid-19, the expectations and aspirations of employees have changed permanently. Living through a pandemic heightened emotions and fuelled burnout. It shone a spotlight on people’s personal and professional lives. It questioned models and practices that, until then, had continued without question. And it also opened the door to a non-linear, more flexible working approach.

Given this backdrop, it’s no surprise that workers are taking a stance. And this stance puts employers at risk. Engagement levels, turnover rates and hiring pipelines are all taking a hit. But there’s an opportunity here too. Insights gathered from the Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting have produced a clear picture of a new employee mindset. One where flexibility, fairness, work-life balance and control take precedence over mismanagement and unreasonable expectations. This information is gold to businesses and HR professionals because it means they can craft an engagement and retention strategy that directly targets this specific challenge.

Cue agile working.

Built around trust and flexibility, agile working puts the individual first, whilst also helping companies work more effectively and productively. The flexible working model is based around the four of the main aspects of work – time (when do people work), location (where do people work), role (what do people do) and source (who carries out work).

The premise is that employees are empowered to work where and when they like, and in a way that best suits them. Emphasising a culture of transparency and openness, with agile working the focus is on outcomes and goals rather than rigid processes that may not fit everyone’s style of work.

Agile working is so much more than just a “work from anywhere” or “remote working” model. By providing collaborative, agile working technology and the right blend of workspaces, it supports hybrid and Activity Based Working too.

>>>To help understand Agile Working, continue reading our blog What is Agile Working? 

Agile working benefits both employers and employees. Wellbeing, morale, engagement, work-life balance and creativity levels are all boosted by agile working. And this employee-centric approach goes on to raise levels of retention and productivity. Employer brand gets a shoulder-up too, which helps recruitment of future talent.


Time for a New Strategy

As we’ve seen from the stats, the need for a new strategy to tackle employee unhappiness couldn’t be more obvious or more urgent. Let’s be clear, agile working isn’t the answer to everything. Professional development opportunities, wellbeing initiatives, a good benefits package, strong employer brand values and meaningful interactions are other key drivers of engagement and retention. But, with the right buy-in, particularly from managers, agile working can create a more positive and contented workforce and a provide a more flexible model for the future.

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