There’s a reason “quiet quitting” has taken a front-and-center role in professional discourse.
The reason, in a word: uncertainty. Whether or not you call this a recession, the first prolonged market shakiness in more than a decade has people concerned about their financial futures. Couched in this are more specific uncertainties about the future of tech. As tech giants watch their share prices fall, employees see their peers get laid off, and their confidence in their professional future wanes.
Uncertainty adds a fundamental layer of stress to every hour of the day. To deal with the stress, people take more time for themselves—which has lately been termed “quiet quitting.”
It’s why, in times of uncertainty, it’s even more important to prioritize your and your employees’ wellness.
Leaders won’t be able to address everything driving the “quiet quitting” trend. But the leaders who most proactively prioritize their employees’ wellness will stand the best chance of retaining their A-players.
The dangers of deprioritizing wellness
In times of uncertainty, it may seem like working harder is the only way through. Indeed, conventional wisdom suggests that pulling 14-hour days and outworking the rest of the company is the mark of an ideal leader. But there are some very steep risks associated with the work-as-hard-as-possible paradigm.
- Health issues. Uncertainty brings a base layer of stress, and overwork fills it in with exhaustion. High stress has been tied to a disturbing number of severe health issues, and overwork has been linked to coronary artery disease and stroke.
Not to say that everyone who puts in a few more hours in trying times is taking a fatal risk. But getting in the habit of meeting stress with harder work can easily turn into a vicious cycle.
- Lower effectiveness. Working more hours doesn’t necessarily correlate with being more productive. One of the perils of overwork is that, past a certain point, we physically run out of fuel. Working on empty does to the mind what exercising on empty does to the body. Not only does your quality of work diminish, but you start doing damage that may not be easy to recover from.
- Sets a dubious example. Teams naturally follow the standards their leaders set. If you, as a leader, adopt a work-at-all-costs philosophy, your team will follow you as far as they can until they burn out. Consider the example you’re setting for your employees; do you want to burn your human reserves, or do you want the best of both wellness and productivity?
How leaders can help their teams prioritize wellness during uncertain times:
- One-on-ones. In group meetings, it’s hard for any single person to be vulnerable and speak their mind. One-on-ones are much better settings to get authentic feedback about how an employee is doing.
Moreover, if you want vulnerability from your employees, you need to lead with vulnerability. Give them a window into how you’re doing, talk about the stress you’re experiencing. An authentic leader is easier to follow than someone who hides the truth.
- Make wellness a cultural goal. Incorporate wellness activities into your day-to-day activities. Maybe it’s a guided meditation during an all-hands meeting, maybe it’s meeting-free Fridays, maybe it’s a Slack channel dedicated to wellness goals. However you do it, make it clear that wellness is as much an organizational priority as productivity.
Some stress falls beyond your influence as a leader. Sometimes, people are going through personal issues that demand their full attention. If a key player leaves, don’t take it personally—not every event is a direct reflection of your leadership quality.
But in general, I believe modern leaders should lead with wellness. We should aspire to a professional world where wellness and productivity are twin objectives—and there’s no better time to lay the groundwork than when dealing with uncertainty.