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A new global report paints a grim picture of the workplace: a majority of the world’s workers are quiet quitting and daily stress levels are rising.

The report by analytics and consulting firm Gallup found that in 2022, when workers around the world were asked if they were engaged in their work, quiet quitting or loud quitting, 59 per cent chose quiet quitting. Gallup defines the trend as when employees “put in the minimum effort required” and are “psychologically disconnected from their employer.” Eighteen per cent were loud quitting — taking “actions that directly harm the organization, undercutting its goals and opposing its leader” and 23 per cent said they were engaged in their work.

Canadian numbers are worse. Two thirds of workers were quiet quitting and 13 per cent were loud quitting.

Jim Harter, chief scientist in Gallup’s workplace management and wellbeing practices, says these numbers are concerning but not surprising. Quiet quitting is a new term but not a new phenomenon, he says.

Gallup’s been studying workers’ engagement since 2009, when the number of engaged workers globally was 12 per cent - 11 per cent lower than it is now. 2022 was a record for engagement, but much of this can be attributed to a 7-per-cent-gain in South Asia, according to the report.

“I think [quiet quitting is] resonating more right now because, economically, workers have had more choice the last few years,” Dr. Harter says. “They’ve had a chance to reflect and think about their work and life situation and how that works best for them. They’ve learned some autonomy through the pandemic, for those who could work remotely.”

Ultimately, there’s been a “changed relationship between employee and employer,” he says.

Gallup’s number of Canadian workers quiet quitting is much higher than one other study found. A 2022 study by human resources consulting firm Robert Half Canada found 5 per cent of Canadian workers were quiet quitting — while 59 per cent were going above and beyond their job descriptions.

Mike Shekhtman, a senior regional director for Robert Half Canada, says engagement “has shifted a little bit as we entered 2023, just based on some other factors, such as the burnout rates that have increased year over year.” Indeed, in a May 2023 survey by Robert Half Canada, 36 per cent of workers reported being more burned out now than a year ago.

While the Gallup report didn’t measure burnout, it did say rising stress levels and low rates of engagement in work are connected (and studies show chronic stress can lead to burnout). Though one isn’t necessarily causing the other: “Work itself can be a source of stress, and low engagement is related to higher stress. But external factors, like inflation or family health issues, can also be sources of daily stress,” the report reads.

The Gallup report also looked at daily stress and levels of engagement in work among remote, hybrid and in-person workers. It found hybrid workers — those who spend some time working from home and some time at an office or other worksite — globally had the highest levels of daily stress (45 per cent), followed by fully remote workers (43 per cent) and on-site workers (38 per cent). Hybrid workers were also most likely to be loud quitting, or actively disengaged in their work.

This could have to do with unclear expectations. “There has to be a plan,” Dr. Harter says. “Remote and hybrid work can’t work without a plan about how you’re going to work, so people know what’s expected of them, so people know if they make an investment in commuting that they’ll see other people when that happens … When there’s a lack of predictability, that causes stress and burnout.”

Hybrid workers were most likely to say they were looking for another job, too.

Canadians are optimistic about the job market, with 60 per cent of workers saying they felt it was a good time to look for a new job. Mr. Shekhtman sees similar trends: “Walking into 2023, the job optimism was at an all-time high.”

This may sound discouraging to employers, but it’s actually good news for engagement, Dr. Harter says. “What happens when you have a good job market is, if you feel disengaged in your work, you’re much more likely to be able to leave and find something else.” In other words, it’s better to have an employee flat-out quit (and to find a more engaged replacement) than quiet quit.

“What we’ve seen in the past is that when there’s higher unemployment, active disengagement goes up by a little bit, because people just have less choice,” Dr. Harter says. And Canada’s unemployment rate is near a record low.

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