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Studies have shown that almost half of North American workers want to leave their jobs.Getty Images

From quiet quitting to rage applying, 2023 has been full of workplace buzzwords – largely ones that reflect growing resentment in the workplace.

As workers return to offices (albeit reluctantly), they’re starting to demand more of their workplace. Whether that’s the flexibility they were afforded while working from home or higher salaries as inflation makes essentials less affordable, workers are pushing back on jobs that don’t align with the vision they have for their lives outside of work.

“Resenteeism,” a term that describes employees who stay at their job despite being outwardly unhappy because they don’t think there are better opportunities elsewhere, is 2023′s latest buzzword – and it may be one of the most damaging ones to employee/employer relationships.

In the same vein as “loud quitting” or “presenteeism,” resenteeism can lead to employees being actively disengaged at work, undermining their bosses and leaving their jobs. It can also be a sign of burnout and poor mental health in the workplace.

According to a 2023 report from Gallup, a workplace consultancy and research firm, 17 per cent of the workers in Canada and the U.S. are loudly quitting, and 47 per cent of North American workers are looking for a new job.

Of course, hating your job isn’t a new concept. What’s new is that disengaged workers are staying put, says Sima Sajjadiani, an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.

According to Ms. Sajjadiani, there are a few factors behind the rise of resenteeism.

First, the job market is tight: Workers don’t feel like they can quit and find a new job easily.

Second, there have been a number of events in the workplace that have broken down the trust between workers and employers – things like mass layoffs can “really destroy the organizational commitment people have and the sense of safety,” she says.

Finally, and most crucially, Ms. Sajjadiani says that societal shifts, like the pandemic upending the ways we work, are also making workers resent bosses that refuse to adapt to “the new normal.” With the normalization of WFH, workers have come to expect more flexibility and hybrid work models. Bosses that can’t accommodate this desire will see resenteeism in their workplace, Ms. Sajjadiani says.

While resenteeism is popping up in all industries, there’s one group that’s particularly vulnerable: Gen Z employees.

According to Sandra Lavoy, regional director at Robert Half, a recruitment and employment agency, these young workers want their jobs to fit into their lives – not the other way around.

“Boomers and even Millennials would say, okay I need to fit my life into my career,” she says, noting that Gen Zers also tend to question workplace norms (dress codes, for example) because they prioritize their lives outside of work.

Younger workers become prone to resenteeism or job hopping when their lifestyles and their jobs don’t align. In fact, according to a Robert Half study, 64 per cent of Gen Zers are likely to make a career move in 2023.

Resenteeism can be easy to spot. Ms. Sajjadiani says that a lack of organizational commitment and disengagement is the No. 1 sign. This might look like workers finishing their tasks, but not going above and beyond. “Workers do the bare minimum, but they don’t really care,” she explains.

Managers might also find typically high-achieving team members making lots of mistakes because they’re burnt out. Punctual workers might start arriving late, or going home earlier. Another telltale sign is a high voluntary turnover intention, perhaps noted on an engagement survey.

“It’s as hurtful for the organization as voluntary turnover because it means leaving is on the mind of the worker, they are at the door and they want to leave but they haven’t found the right opportunity yet,” says Ms. Sajjadiani.

To nip resenteeism in the bud, Ms. Lavoy says that managers need to be in tune with what’s happening in their team.

Scheduling regular retention interviews every quarter and checking in with employees to “share your vision of what the company is going to do and ask for their input and collaboration reinforces the importance of their work,” she says. Providing a sense of meaning for workers – that their jobs are important – can help eliminate apathy around roles.

Plus, it’ll give managers an opportunity to learn about what matters to their workers so they can institute new policies (be it flexible hours or hybrid work options) to entice workers to stay and remain engaged. Bosses that make their employees’ lives easier are going to find a higher return on investment in their staff and less resentment building up.

While there sometimes are big, shocking events that prompt a wave of resenteeism (think: mass layoffs or controversy in the C-suite), resentment usually builds up over time, Ms. Sajjadiani says. Building trust long-term through regular check-ins to gauge the team’s overall outlook on their roles and tasks are the best way to prevent resenteeism from growing.

“It’s just like a marriage,” Ms. Lavoy says. “You need to have two-way communication if you want to avoid resentment.”

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