The "quiet quitting" trends is gaining popularity throughout the U.S. workforce—including in health care. Writing for Becker's Hospital Review, Kelly Gooch explains how and why "quiet quitting" is manifesting in the industry, and how the trend is directly connected to patient care, quality, and safety.
Infographic: Don't fall for these myths of staff engagement
Many young workers are "quiet quitting," meaning they don't leave their jobs, but instead reject the idea of "going above and beyond" in the workplace so they can focus on life outside of the office.
In just two weeks, a viral TikTok posted by Zaid Khan, a 24-year-old engineer in New York, gained 3 million views. In the TikTok, Khan explained a concept called "quiet quitting," which encourages workers to rethink their approaches to their careers.
"You're quitting the idea of going above and beyond," Khan explained. "You're no longer subscribing to the hustle-culture mentality that work has to be your life."
When employees are "quiet quitting," they are not actually quitting their jobs. Instead, they shift their focus to life outside the office.
Another TikTok user, 41-year-old Clayton Farris, said when he heard the term, he realized he had already been "quiet quitting" by refusing to let work stress dominate his life any longer.
"The most interesting part about it is nothing's changed," he said in his TikTok video. "I still work just as hard. I still get just as much accomplished. I just don't stress and internally rip myself to shreds."
While some professionals "have embraced the concept as an increased form of work-life balance," others view "quiet quitting" as a "lesser-version of actually quitting," Gooch writes.
According to Jeremy Sadlier, executive director of the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration (ASHHRA), the concept of "quiet quitting" is not new to the health care industry.
"Before the term quiet quitting was in vogue, we were talking about employees who would 'quit and stay,'" said Sadlier, who previously served as a market director of human resources at Advocate Aurora Health. "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 the health care industry, the prevalence of "quiet quitting" has increased. For instance, a Gallup poll in April found that just 32% of U.S. employees were actively engaged at work in 2022, compared with 34% in 2021. According to the poll, the largest decline in engagement was found among health care professionals, with a nine-point drop in engagement scores year over year.
Ultimately, this trend has the potential to make a significant impact in the industry, Sadlier noted.
"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.
Notably, "quiet quitting" in the health care industry closely resembles other industries, according to 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.
While the motivation for "quiet quitting" may not differ much between industries, the effects in health care are directly connected to patient care, quality, and safety, Sadlier added. He also noted that lower patient experience scores could signal decreased employee engagement at a hospital—and that disengagement often spreads among 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," Sadlier 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."
Sadlier also cited U.S. hospitals' financial struggles as a contributing factor for increased workloads. For instance, Kaufman Hall on Monday released a new report highlighting how hospitals in July experienced "some of the worst margins" since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, which resulted in layoffs and cost-cutting measures at some organizations.
"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," Sadlier said.
To avoid "quiet quitting," Sadlier recommended having open and honest communication, establishing and maintaining realistic expectations, monitoring employee engagement, recognizing and rewarding high performance, and providing growth opportunities.
Ultimately, Sadlier acknowledged that there is no foolproof way to identify disengagement at an 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," 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." (Gooch, Becker's Hospital Review, 8/30)
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