If 2021 will be remembered for the Great Resignation, 2022 was the year of “quiet quitting.” And in an industry hard hit by staffing issues, it’s a term that has its own unique implications — and one that’s evolved since its first introduction. So, what does quiet quitting in healthcare mean as we enter 2023? And what can employers do to better understand the concept, and prevent the phenomenon?
Quiet Quitting in Healthcare: What Employers Should Know
“Quiet quitting” describes the attitude of a worker who’s putting in the minimum possible effort in their job, as opposed to just resigning. The term caught on as a buzzword in early 2022, and has been a persistent source of discussion since.
Originally meant to describe the next stage of the ongoing workplace transformation revolution spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic — the first part being the “Great Resignation” of 2021 — quiet quitting was first used to describe worker apathy. It seemed to serve as a catchall to describe those workers who wanted to quit in 2021, but maybe missed their opportunity, and are now stuck where they’re at.
The term almost immediately drew criticism for its perceived glibness towards the challenges facing clinical professionals. Amid alarming rates of burnout and even suicide among doctors and clinicians, was it really helpful to call them out for lack of enthusiasm? A couple of years into the Covid-19 pandemic, how much more above and beyond the call of duty were essential workers expected to go?
Most commentators agreed that “quiet quitting” referred simply to the status quo, and that that was fine. These people “continue to meet the demands of their job but reject the hustle-culture mentality that you must always be available for more work and, most importantly, that your value as person and self-worth are not defined and determined by your work,” as Margaret Calvery, PhD wrote at Medscape.
Quiet Quitting in Healthcare: Why Disengagement Matters
Calvery’s voice was just one that spoke out against the use of the term, while also admitting to the truth behind it. As other industry observers have pointed out, quiet quitting in healthcare is simply another way to describe employee disengagement. In other words, the workers who don’t really like their job, but who are resigned to sticking it out until a better option comes their way — or until it’s time to retire.
And that’s not necessarily new, especially in an industry where burnout and compassion fatigue were at dangerous levels even before the pandemic. But Covid-has only made the situation worse. A widely cited Gallop poll found that, amid the first decline of employee engagement in the U.S. in 10 years, healthcare workers “had the greatest engagement decline (nine points) from early 2021 to early 2022.”
This low engagement could potentially be a problem for healthcare employers, affecting efficiency and outcomes. As researchers have pointed out, decades of observation strongly suggest that worker “attitudes, job satisfaction, and employee health and well-being are related to work performance; productivity; and ultimately, the quality of health care services.”
“Scholars agree that job satisfaction is an important predictor of employee performance, which is a foundation for organizational performance and safety,” write the authors of a 2018 study published in Health Services Research. “Nursing dissatisfaction contributes to turnover and nursing shortages, which, in turn, adversely affect patient outcomes and the financial viability of health care organizations.”
Quiet Quitting in Healthcare: What Employers Can Do About It
Whatever it’s called, the reasons for quiet quitting in healthcare aren’t difficult to understand. Though the term may be a social media buzzword, it does reflect the fact that new economic realities have set into the workplace. And understanding the reasons behind those realities, and the growing sense of disengagement among workers, can help shed light onto potential solutions.
For example, low staffing levels within a facility often means that workers often have to do more work, with no concurrent rise in pay or meaningful show of appreciation. It isn’t difficult to understand why they may not show much enthusiasm at the prospect. As they see it, they’re being asked to sacrifice their work/life balance not for the sake of their patients, but for failures in the chain of operations.
So, whether you call it quiet quitting in healthcare, employee disengagement, or a rational response to unrealistic expectations, the state of today’s clinical workforce isn’t necessarily a healthy one. And the problem isn’t likely to just go away with time. With that in mind, here are a few things that employers can do about it.
Show some appreciation!
People “who feel valued by their organization have almost 60% lower odds of experiencing burnout, self-reported anxiety or depression,” as the AMA points out, while noting that fewer than half % of U.S. healthcare workers feel valued by their employers. In this context, programs to recognize and celebrate workers can be powerful tools for promoting engagement.
Invest in a better culture.
As Calvery points out, quiet quitting doesn’t refer exclusively to low engagement, but also to a confidence that there will be no “negative ramifications for not consistently working beyond the expected requirements.” In other words, quiet quitting in healthcare reflects an expectation among workers that the culture will adapt to their preferences, not vice versa.
> Looking for help with culture? We’ve got a few tips building a better clinical culture
Work to ensure workplace safety.
Researchers have often connected healthcare job satisfaction with workplace safety. And proper safety includes not just an appropriate supply of PPE, but also protections against infections and other common workplace hazards. It’s also important to communicate these precautions to workers, giving them the confidence that comes from working in a safe environment.
Open a dialogue.
What do workers think about their current workplace standards? One of the best ways to find out is to ask them directly. Opening a dialogue with workers about job satisfaction also helps employers better define what’s working and what isn’t in their current workforce strategy. It can also be a good way to establish boundaries and define comfort zones for each individual worker.
“It is incumbent upon the employers to set up clear guidelines regarding expectations, including rewards for performance and expectations for time, both within and outside of the work schedule,” as Calvery notes.
Bolster your staffing capabilities.
The use of contingency workers, including travel nurses and allied clinicians, is now standard operating procedure for filling staffing gaps. Yet they can also help fully staffed facilities build more flexibility into their schedules. With access to per diem nurses, for instance, regular staff members have more options to achieve the work/life balance they’re seeking.
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Prepare for Quiet Quitting in Healthcare & Other Workforce Challenges
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