What does ‘quiet quitting’ look like at hospitals?


The trend of “quiet quitting” has recently gained traction on social media, referring to a phenomenon in which workers to reduce their enthusiasm at work and stick to the minimum expectations of their role. Some professionals, including Generation Z workers, have embraced the concept as an increased form of work-life balance, and others see it as a lesser-version of actually quitting. Regardless of how an individual interprets the idea, the concept is not new among the U.S. workforce or in healthcare, according to Jeremy Sadlier, executive director of the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration.

“Before the term quiet quitting was in vogue, we were talking about employees who would ‘quit and stay,'” said Mr. Sadlier, who previously served as a market director of human resources and provided operational support at Advocate Aurora Health, an organization with dual headquarters in Downers Grove, Ill., and Milwaukee. “In essence, it’s the same concept with a nearly identical motivation. No matter the term used, many disengaged employees will stick around long after they’re finding motivation and stimulation in their work.”

In healthcare, this phenomenon has only grown. An April Gallup poll found that 34 percent of U.S. employees were actively engaged at work in 2021, compared to only 32 percent this year. Healthcare professionals saw the largest dip in engagement, with their engagement scores dropping nine points year over year.

Mr. Sadlier noted that this trend can have significant effects in the industry.

“Any lack of engagement on the part of staff ultimately impacts patient care, teamwork, safety and throughput, all of which impact the financial health of an organization and the patient experience. It’s incredibly important for leaders to focus on engagement, growth opportunities, and to recognize and reward hard work. These are a few ways to focus on your employees to help them feel engaged with their work,” he said.

Still, quiet quitting doesn’t look significantly different in healthcare than it does in other industries, according to Mr. Sadlier. “Colleagues in other industries like hospitality and retail, for example, all talk about a lack of willingness among workers to pick up extra shifts, or work beyond the bare minimum requirements. That’s a sign of growing disengagement and may be quiet quitting,” he said. It is greatly concerning that, while the motivation may not be largely different than in other industries, the effects of quiet quitting in healthcare have a direct connection to patient care, quality and safety, according to Mr. Sadlier.

He also said lower patient experience scores may indicate that a hospital is experiencing decreased employee engagement, which can spread among all its staff.

“There’s an absolute hierarchy [in healthcare], and it doesn’t require somebody to work in healthcare to recognize that when physician engagement falters, that impacts nurses, and when nurses don’t feel engaged, that impacts the rest of the staff, whether it’s ancillary staff, support services,” he said. “There’s a trickledown effect to a lack of engagement at any part of the organization. Inevitably that impacts every position and is ultimately felt by those we serve.”

Additionally, he pointed to financial struggles at U.S. hospitals as a contributing factor for workloads increasing. On Aug. 29, Kaufman Hall released a new report that showed hospitals are experiencing some of the worst margins since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This means some organizations have had to implement layoffs and other cost-cutting measures.

“Cost-cutting measures are becoming harder to accomplish without having a direct effect on the care patients receive. When [full-time equivalents] are affected, in many cases the responsibilities are shifted to other members of the team. The additional responsibilities can lead to frustration and burnout and negatively impact employee engagement. These factors are what then lead to quiet quitting,” Mr. Sadlier said.

To avoid quiet quitting or disengagement, he recommends that hospitals provide open and honest communication, set and maintain realistic work expectations, closely monitor employee engagement, recognize and reward high performance through options that extend beyond pay, and provide opportunities for career growth.

At the same time, he acknowledged there’s no absolute formula to identify disengagement at the individual level.

“The more you round, the more that you spend time with your staff, the more likely you are to recognize changes in demeanor and perspective,” Mr. Sadlier said. “The sooner you recognize it, the sooner you’re able to have an influence on it. So that’s where the regular engagement for leaders and supervisors has the biggest benefit — recognizing [disengagement] early and trying to find a way to reenergize and reengage staff.”

During an interview with Fortune, Katarina Berg, Spotify’s chief human resources officer, said her company is working to avoid quiet quitting by encouraging a culture of trust where workers feel psychologically safe.

Her advice for leaders is to talk about “the part of quiet quitting that has to do with people not [being] trusted, and they also don’t trust their management team. Therefore, they don’t find any other resolution other than doing this type of very silent activism. So, I think with culture you always have to be proactive … and you have to be very deliberate and intentional.”

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