Talent Deutsch Advertising Agency

How adland is battling quiet quitting


By Kenneth Hein, US Editor

August 26, 2022 | 13 min read

Quiet quitting is the jargon du jour. No matter what you think about the term, the fact that some talent is clearly feeling disengaged is firmly in the spotlight. Here a dozen top executives explain how adland is fighting to keep employees motivated, connected and creating.

Quiet quitting

It’s time to wake up and re-engage your staff

Don’t make work feel like ‘a pie eating contest where the reward is more pie’

Amy Small, executive director, talent, Team One

Quiet quitting has arisen from a generation that feels companies are always demanding more and will push them, at any cost, to get more productivity out of them, without any additional recognition or compensation. I’ve heard it described as a pie-eating contest where the reward is more pie.

Managers should re-evaluate what productivity and excellence look like for their teams. More is not always more – measure success by impact, creativity or influence, and then allow employees the autonomy and flexibility to focus on other areas of their life that will ultimately refresh and recharge them. And when employees are asked to go above and beyond, recognize and reward them with something truly meaningful – not just more pie.

Barbara Chandler, managing director, account management, Deutsch New York

One surefire way to guard against your team quiet quitting is to respect their downtime. That means no calls or texts during vacations and avoiding after-hours requests and emails. Plus, during work hours, giving your team a shared sense of purpose – even if they are remote – is essential.

If they understand we are in it together, and that their colleagues are depending on them to function as a unit, they are less likely to let balls drop. And spending time getting to know one another, beyond the designated agenda of a Zoom, can help to create comradery.

We might end a meeting with a quick Hot Take, which always generates discussion. It’s a great way to learn how your colleagues think.

Erik Rogstad, managing partner, AKQA

Provide teams with opportunities offering greater purpose. Those on the path to quiet quitting are in search of more meaningful experiences. Ideally, each brief is a chance to be part of improving not just a client’s business, but the world around us. It’s hard to quit a team that is truly making a difference.

Hannah Hickman, senior vice-president, client strategy and head of youth culture practice, Sparks & Honey

Gen Z is questioning a culture that says going above and beyond should be the default at work. Many employers are struggling to provide an answer, especially against a backdrop of debt-ridden and burnt-out millennials. Gen Z is more likely to see employment as a transactional relationship rather than something emblematic of their identity. This pragmatic point of view means that managers need to provide greater transparency around the tangible benefits they can provide in exchange for more work.

While increased salary is a clear benefit, so is having a clearly defined path and timeline for a promotion, or a more flexible WFH policy, or increased decision-making power. Managers can also stem quiet quitting by being intentional about where and why they’re asking for greater engagement, rather than making blanket requests.

Conduct a ‘stay interview’ and amp up individualized communication overall

Stephanie Howley, chief people officer, Stagwell

Stay interviews are the answer. In my experience, they’ve been an invaluable tool to help get ahead of people becoming restless or disengaged.

Creating a safe space for a candid conversation with your talent about how they’re experiencing the company, where they’d like to grow, and how they can be empowered to help transform the organization not only fosters a more inclusive environment, but can galvanize them out of a rut and help them take greater ownership over their role.

Also, people need to understand retention is not a one-size-fits-all approach; some are looking for monetary rewards, and others for recognition, clearly defined career paths or more exposure to executives.

Have an open mind about the avenues you can take to better understand talent needs as they arise, while making them feel like valuable contributors to the organization.

Aimee Pagano, global head of talent acquisition, VMLY&R

Quiet quitting is just a buzzy phrase for a disengaged employee. When employees feel connected to the business mission, purpose, passions and skills, they are more likely to be engaged and committed to excelling. That comes from ensuring better communication takes place all around, employees and managers having those conversations to identify if this is the case, and being aware if they aren’t matched up with the right opportunity.

Paulette Forte, chief people officer, The Brandtech Group

Quitting, quiet or not, is usually about dissatisfaction, which likely accumulated over time, and efforts to address this dissatisfaction have been unsuccessful. Get ahead of quiet quitting by focusing on engagement. Ideally, employees have high levels of engagement with their manager – regularly communicating about how they are doing in their role, as well as within the larger organization.

Also, employee development and advancement are key – employees are more likely to be motivated and do well when they can see a path forward as well as access the training and experiences that will help them grow.

Finally, measurement – qualitatively and quantitatively – gets the data that identifies what the company is doing well and where it can improve, so employees are engaged and satisfied rather than heading for the exit.

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James Nicholas Kinney, global chief of diversity and talent discovery, Media.Monks

If a manager is invested in their employee’s personal and professional development, quiet quitting is less likely. Burnout culture and toxic culture can be enhanced by a manager, which leads to a lack of engagement. We are in a highly volatile market and this uncertainty adds to the quiet quitting movement. Managers should understand their employees’ intrinsic and extrinsic motivations in order to lead with authenticity.

John Gallegos, founder and chief executive, the United Collective

As a business leader, ask yourself if you and your employees are aligned around your expectations and what your role is in helping employees do their best work. Make sure there is an alignment that reflects a win-win. Don’t assume clarity and alignment are the same. Ensure there is time for personal engagement, because you can’t get a full sense of how your employees are doing over Zoom and email.

Sunday scaries, burnout and more: ask them what’s going on and empathize

Claude Silver, chief heart officer, VaynerX

The goal should be to make your employees happy – in general, but especially if their personality or performance has changed. Organizations and managers have to spend actual time listening, learning and acknowledging that stress, burnout and even the ‘Sunday scaries’ are key factors when it comes to an employee deciding whether or not to quit.

A good first step is to ensure current expectations and workload are reasonable and understood by all parties. Then, ask if they feel their current projects are meaningful, if they know where their efforts fit into the broader organizational structure, and if they feel that they matter. Something we’ve found empowering is requiring managers to set regular 1:1 meetings with their direct reports to discuss goals, their feelings about work and if they are happy in their role, among other more day-to-day items. This establishes a regular cadence of connection, trust and feedback that helps to maintain communication and assuage negativity.

Donna Tobin, global chief marketing and communications officer, DDB Worldwide

Inspiring authentic connectivity, whether virtually or in person, and having mutual empathy for what team members and leaders are experiencing is key, especially with all that is going on in the world today. Individuals have different needs at different levels and varying ways to cope with stress or, on the flip side, how they turn stress into opportunities to learn, grow and thrive. As leaders, it is up to us to be open to listen and unlock what excites our teams about the work they do, what brings them joy, what they feel proud of, and what they are grateful for. There is always something to be grateful for, even if you have to dig a little deeper at times. It starts by asking them what’s on their minds, what they need help with, and helping them remove roadblocks along the way. It’s also important to support and empower them to be part of solutions to help deepen their own levels of happiness, professional engagement, and challenge them to be a positive influence on others on the team to do the same.

Corrine Hendricks, president, Wunderman Thompson California

Managers need to lean in and do a better job of getting to know their people. If you know what someone is passionate about, what they love to do in their free time and what makes them tick, it’s easier to match them to work that truly inspires them. It’s hard to disengage and do the bare minimum if you’re working on a category or client that lights you up.

I don’t think most managers spend enough time getting below the surface with their employees to be able to effectively match them to work that keeps them engaged. And you need to be open to the possibility that what motivates people will change over time. We’ve had plenty of employees who started in one discipline and tried on a few before finding the right fit for them.

You’ve got to create a culture that not only allows this kind of exploration, but encourages it.

Natalie Nymark, president, west, Pereira O‘Dell

Quiet quitting isn’t something that happens all at once. It happens over time; disengagement builds and builds. It results from a lack of connection, camaraderie, purpose in the work and balance. Then, all of a sudden, the person feels it‘s not worth fighting to reconnect any more.

Managing this process of disengagement is a challenge when we don‘t see people every day – when we can‘t see their lack of motivation beyond the face they put up on Zoom. But that‘s still our responsibility.

Remote working may have made it bigger or given it a name. But it is not a totally different phenomenon. At a mid-point in my career (years ago), I realized I was never going to get all the work done at the company where I was working. I stopped trying and aimed to just survive. It was my version of quiet quitting. It did not take long before I left that job. Had my manager back then noticed what was happening and helped me find my way back, maybe I would have stayed.

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