What does it take to engage today’s younger workers?

By: Bill Zolis

Is “quiet quitting” really a new thing, more fallout from the big shake-up of the working world as a result of Covid, or is it just a case of putting a new name to an age-old phenomenon?

From where I sit, what I’ve read and what I’ve heard, I’d say that it was most likely a little bit of both. But, either way, the fact that social media has turned quiet quitting into a “meme” – basically a shorthand term for a complex idea that everyone then instantly recognizes – has now put it out there for discussion.

Quiet quitting is usually defined as giving up on one’s job but, rather than actually resigning and looking for a more fulfilling job, continuing to show up for work, going through the motions, doing only the bare minimum required to stay out of trouble, and refusing – or quietly stonewalling – any calls to put in more time, extra effort or any creativity and enthusiasm.

A recent Gallup poll in the United States reported that 50 percent of workers consider themselves to be “not engaged” in their jobs.

The poll also found that 32 percent of people consider themselves “engaged” in their jobs.

As well, the poll reported that 18 percent of workers are what it calls “actively disengaged.” Those workers, who have now been called “loud quitters,” actually do quit and look for other work elsewhere – either a different employer or going out on their own.

That leaves us with the unengaged 50 percent, and the part that is ringing alarm bells is that it’s workers under the age of 35 that are most likely to say they are unengaged. And their numbers are growing.

The poll found some very disquieting trends among the under-35 workers.

– The percentage who described themselves as “engaged” dropped by six percentage points from 2019 to 2022.

– The percentage who strongly agreed that “someone cares about them, encourages their development and gives them opportunities for growth” dropped by 10 percentage points.

– This trend was strongest among young workers who worked from home, with a jump of 12 percentage points in workers reporting that they do not feel that anyone in the workplace encourages their growth.

If the problem is that many workers are unengaged  — and presumably unhappy and less productive – then the solution is a bit of a no-brainer: engage them, or re-engage them, in the job, in the mission, in the workplace community.

Easier said than done? Not necessarily. There are a great many ideas out there for keeping employees engaged, but a few key points keep coming up.

Workplace culture: The key factor in employee engagement is, and always was, workplace culture. Do people dread Sunday evening, knowing that it is followed by Monday morning? We need to build a positive culture – one in which employees feel that they are doing something useful and valued, where they are recognized for their efforts, and where they have the support they need to succeed and grow.

Leaders, not bosses: Bosses tell you what to do and call you on the carpet when you don’t succeed. Leaders show you the way forward, create the conditions for success, and give you the tools you need to do the job. Leaders, by definition, engage their employees.

Clarity of role: If we can clarify each person’s role in the big picture – both to that person and to his or her co-workers – we’ve gone a long way in engaging them. But it goes further than that. We want to be able to say, This is what’s expected of you, we are all relying on you for your contribution, and we will recognize your vital role and your success in carrying it out.

Decision making: It’s much easier to be engaged in your work if you have both a clear responsibility for the end result – you know that people are counting on you – and the ability to make decisions about how to achieve it. It’s basically the opposite of micro-managing – ask people to figure it out for themselves, and they usually will. And feel much happier and engaged in the process.

Connection to co-workers: It’s important to maintain and foster one-on-one connections between co-workers. Rather than giving detailed instructions to each team member, it’s a good idea to, first, clearly define the objective and, second, to ask team members to connect one-on-one to make it happen.

Credit where credit is due: The old rule of “critique in private, praise in public” has never been more relevant. No supervisor should miss the opportunity to update everyone on current status, highlight progress and successes, and thank individuals for specific contributions.

Give feedback: Part of the discussion should be “Here’s where you’re doing really well,” and part can be “Here is an area I would like you to grow.” But it cuts both ways. We also need to ask, What can I do, as the person who organizes the work and leads the team, to put you in a better position to achieve success?

Compensation and benefits: The biggest negative reported by the “unengaged” workers in the Gallup survey was that “no one cares about me.” That’s why we need to look at compensation and benefits – particularly benefits – as take-it-to-the-bank evidence that the workplace does care about the well-being of its people. As I’ve discussed in previous blogs, it’s important that benefits, particularly retirement plans and things like Life and LTD not be taken for granted. We need to educate employees about their benefits – more than just the annual one-page summary.

From what I’ve learned, and what I’m hearing from clients I talk to, our workplaces have come a long way in the last three years of Covid-driven upheaval. Most are now adjusting to the changes we were all forced to make, and responding to new challenges – such as keeping people engaged in a rapidly evolving workplace.


I’ve been asked to speak at an Employee Compensation Seminar in Ajax on March 21. Learn how to recruit and retain talent by taking a look at employee compensation. Our three panelists will cover the topics of compensation packages, different forms of compensation, how they should be laid our in an agreement or policy, and company perk suggestions. Breakfast is included.


I really appreciate comments, ideas, suggestions or just observations about the blog or any other topics in benefits management. I always look forward to hearing from readers. If there’s anything you want to share, please email me at bill@penmorebenefits.com.

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