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How to Prevent High Performers from Becoming Quiet Quitters

I grew up in a family focused on high performance. Along with my three older siblings, I played competitive sports in high school and then went on to play Division 1 lacrosse at John Hopkins University. As a top player in high school, I always assumed my success would continue in college, but when I found myself riding the bench as a freshman, it completely changed the way I thought about myself. While initially devastated by the lack of playing time, I started focusing on my mental health, shedding the pressure I put on myself to be the perfect player and focusing on the role I could play supporting my team. Later down the line I started seeing a therapist who taught me how to be more present and shift from the perfectionist mindset that led to feelings of inadequacy if I wasn’t constantly achieving.

Every company has high performing team members – the consistent rockstars you can rely on to excel, no matter the circumstances or role. In our latest research conducted by Forrester Consulting, which surveyed over 1,700 executives, HR decision makers, managers and employees about the state of employee mental health in the workplace, we found that high performers, which make up a third of the global workforce, are burnt out. Despite a reported high enthusiasm for their jobs, more than half report feeling burned out in their roles. Even for high performers, burnout is often the lubricant on a slippery slope towards quiet quitting. That is a scary thought for any business leader. 

For those who are unaware, quiet quitting is a new workplace movement that describes workers who aren’t “quitting” their job and still doing what’s required, but aren’t going above and beyond. What started as a viral video on TikTok has become a catch-all phrase to describe employees who have decided to do the bare minimum at work. An extension of the great resignation, quiet quitting became even more pronounced during the pandemic when remote work blurred the line between personal and professional time. According to a recent Gallup poll, these quiet quitters make up at least half of the U.S. workforce, which is why it’s important for leaders to prioritize the needs of their employees before they become part of this statistic. 

Close the Perception Gap

In my opinion, the best thing leaders can do to support their workforce so they don’t end up feeling disengaged is to get honest with themselves about what their employees really want. According to our research, 85 percent of employers say they actively listen to the needs of employees, but only 51 percent of employees agree. This disconnect between employees and employers is detrimental to retention, but the solution requires leaders to shift their mindset from seeing mental health care as a crisis response to a permanent commitment to employee experience.

Make Space and Lead by Example

Another necessity for leaders looking to mitigate quiet quitting is to create space for employees to use their mental health benefits without fear of retribution. One of the most alarming findings in our research is that only 51 percent of employees feel safe in their role if their mental health status were to be revealed. 

To make employees feel comfortable talking about mental health at work, executives need to model the behavior they want to see from employees. We found that a vast majority of leaders feel like they are expressing their own vulnerability when it comes to mental health, but employees do not see, hear, or feel that vulnerability coming through, since only 30 percent of employees agree. In order to come across more authentically, I encourage leaders to embrace radical vulnerability, whether that means sharing personal struggles company-wide, talking openly about experiences with therapy, or simply putting a visible therapy appointment on your calendar.

Get Curious 

If you’re sensing an employee is becoming disconnected, rather than assuming they’re a quiet quitter, leaders should get curious by asking and listening to their needs. Recognize that setting workplace boundaries is healthy, especially in a hybrid work environment where our careers often collide with our personal lives. So rather than resenting employees for setting those boundaries, find ways to enhance their connection to the company and its purpose by engaging with them holistically and authentically. That means prioritizing regular discussions about goals, recognizing good work, and getting to know employees’ work-life situations and preferences. It’s important that employees feel valued and appreciated to avoid them feeling detached from their role. 

Just like in my family, growing up seeing my older siblings excel in sports, high performers often learn through osmosis. To create a work culture that encourages high performers to excel and influence other team members to do the same, it requires leaders to proactively address burnout with wellness benefits and support. It may not be in their nature to say this explicitly, but your high performers are burned out which is why leaders need to step in to meet their needs before they become quiet quitters. 

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The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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