Determine the Root Cause of Quiet Quitting Through People Analytics
Workspan Daily
November 09, 2022
Key Takeaways

  • Recalibrate expectations. As employees increasingly set work-life boundaries, the onus is on employers — leadership in particular — to recalibrate their productivity expectations amid a tight labor market that’s yielded a clear shift in the employer-employee power dynamic.  
  • Lean on data. Employers suspicious of “quiet quitting” in their organizations need to first identify through tangible metrics whether there in fact has been a loss of productivity compared to pre-COVID output, as comparing current metrics to outputs in the throes of the pandemic is folly. 
  • How to determine if there’s an engagement problem. Organizations should build exit data models that identify why employees are leaving and find trends on not only why people are leaving the organization but at what rate. Using sentiment analysis through metrics such as exit interviews and PTO reasoning can help connect the dots.   
  • Bring the data to key stakeholders. Quiet quitting speaks more to the company culture than any problem that can be solved by rewards. Thus, the real power of utilizing people analytics is to provide evidence of a real engagement issue to leadership. 

Amid the volatile economic conditions of the past three years, several buzzwords have emerged in the workplace vernacular. “Quiet quitting” is the latest term that gained notoriety over the summer, as media outlets across the United States took a crack at explaining the new phenomenon of employees — particularly younger employees — seemingly doing the bare minimum to stay employed.  

Many HR professionals have pegged quiet quitting as a workforce engagement issue, and the data supports this hypothesis. Gallup research found that U.S. employee engagement is falling across generations, but Gen Z and younger Millennials (born in 1989 and after) reported the lowest engagement of all during the first quarter of 2022 at 31%. 

Jim Harter, chief scientist for Gallup’s workplace and well-being research, said workers’ descriptions of “quiet quitting” align with a large group of survey respondents that he classifies as “not engaged” — those who will show up to work and do the minimum required but not much else. More than half of workers surveyed by Gallup who were born after 1989 — 54% — fall into this category. 

Now, employers and economists alike are noticing a dip in productivity and assigning blame to those less engaged workers. However, that doesn’t seem to tell the full story. The prevailing sentiment is that quiet quitting is simply workers setting proper boundaries between work and their personal life in a post-COVID environment after a couple years where the lines seemed inexorably blurred.  

Thus, workplace experts argue that the onus is on employers — leadership in particular — to recalibrate their productivity expectations amid a tight labor market that’s yielded a clear shift in the employer-employee power dynamic 

“Employees are exercising their voice and their agency,” Dr. Solange Charas, CEO of HCMoneyball, a human capital insights and analytics platform. “There isn’t the same panic and vigilance around working and keeping your paycheck as there was a couple years ago.”  

Using People Analytics to Identify the Root Cause  

To snuff out low performers, some companies have reportedly opted to or considered implementing software that tracks employee activity. This, however, is likely to create further distrust among employees and exacerbate existing workforce engagement issues. 

Charas said organizations need to first identify through tangible metrics whether there in fact has been a loss of productivity compared to pre-COVID output, noting that comparing current metrics to outputs in the throes of the pandemic is folly.  

A few reliable metrics to determine this, Charas said, are by calculating an organization’s human capital return on investment (HCROI), human capital value add, revenue factor, income factor and profitability factor, and then determine whether those metrics have shifted pre- and post-COVID.  

This, however, might be where a pain point exists for some HR departments. WorldatWork’s “People Analytics Study” from March 2021 found that most organizations lack analytic proficiency to prescribe specific actions to change outcomes for business challenges and HR functions. Additionally, the survey found that people analytics is most often unstructured in organizations and typically performed informally by HR employees.  

Real data analysis is required to pinpoint and solve the problem, Charas said.  

“You can’t base your assessment based on subjective evaluation — you have to crunch the numbers,” she explained. “You might find that someone you believe isn’t working as many hours is still producing expected results.” 

If an organization does find that it has a productivity issue at the end of the analysis, there are ways to determine the root cause. Related to quiet quitting, if engagement is believed to be the culprit, Michael Piker, global DE&I and reward director at Flutter Entertainment, Plc, which operates sports betting, gaming and entertainment brands, said organizations should evaluate a couple specific areas of data to confirm.  

Piker said organizations should first build exit data models that identify why employees are leaving. Second is finding trends on not only why people are leaving the organization but at what rate.  

Then, organizations must do a sentiment analysis to determine if there is an engagement problem that needs solving. Piker said a common inquiry is finding out whether employees are working more than they had expected to be and if there are higher levels of PTO being taken related to stress or burnout.  

He also said perceived quiet quitting in an organization could be the result of micromanagement in addition to being overworked. Thus, it is in fact employees setting boundaries. This too can be captured with continuous feedback data, which is why the annual review approach is viewed as outdated.  

“I have the ability to see that info and can tell the people who make decisions to do something differently,” Piker said.  

Paving the Path to a Solution  

Finding the root cause of disengagement or quiet quitting is obviously critical, but ultimately unfruitful if correct solutions aren’t put into place to improve the situation.  

On quiet quitting specifically, Piker said that is a charge for leadership, as it speaks more to the company culture than any problem that can be solved by rewards. Thus, the real power of utilizing people analytics is to provide evidence of a real engagement issue to leadership.  

“People have the choice to check out their sentiment of expression versus fact,” Piker said. “If you’ve analytically proven through evidence predictively that you do have a higher propensity of quiet quitting, bring that evidence to fruition and have stakeholders adjudicate a decision around that on a meta basis.” 

Charas added that HR should be able to model how much attrition is costing the company and where specifically the most turnover is taking place.  

“If you’re smart enough to listen to the signals in your organization generated by the data analytics, you can diagnose what the problem is and then solve that problem,” she said. “If you don’t know what the problem is how can you solve it?  

“Quiet quitting is a signal. Now you have to unpack the data to find what the root cause of it is.” 

The value of doing so is immense,  Charas said. Research from Moneyball HCM and the Conference Board found that organizations that use human capital analytics to make human capital more efficient and effective had an HCROI three times higher than organizations that don’t. Additionally, the former companies have 25% higher profitability than their competitors.  

“Not only are you helping your employees,” Charas said, “but you’re more profitable because your employees stay longer, they perform better — you invest in them, they provide for you.” 

Editor’s Note: Additional Content 

For more information and resources related to this article see the pages below, which offer quick access to all WorldatWork content on these topics: 

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