Quiet Quitting in Hospitality: Separating the Symptom from the Cause

What began as a viral video has become one of the most talked about (and written about) topics this year. The workplace phenomenon either sparks fiery debate, or is brushed off as “all in our heads” and nothing more than clickbait. To a certain degree, the arguments for or against quiet-quitting in hospitality do not matter. The symptoms indicate that something has shifted; the cause of that shift deserves a discussion.

So, what changed? In the video – which has over 3.5 million views – 24-year-old TikToker Zaid Khan (@zaidlepplin) states that “work is not your life.” This is not a new concept. But assuming that work is a requisite part of life, to view the act of employment simply as a means to an end overlooks the opportunity that purposeful, gratifying, challenging work has always provided. And although the need for professional fulfillment is nothing new, the external factors have changed:

  • The pandemic shifted people’s attitudes toward working in hospitality, creating a time of reflection during which some reassessed the importance of things in their lives beyond work.
  • Constant retention battle places extra work on remaining employees, creating a lack of boundaries within work structures.
  • Hospitality organizations using antiquated technologies create extra busy work that has been eliminated in many other industries.
  • Lack of organizational focus/attention necessary to keep employees aligned, motivated, and moving forward in their organizations and their careers. “Out of sight, out of mind” is not an effective formula for employee engagement and retention.

Ask yourself and your employees why they chose the role they are in. Once you find their “why”, you can address the cause behind quiet quitting. Treatment options are:

Rebuild the psychological contract with employees


The 20th Century psychological contract was transactional: Employees showed up for their shift and in return were rewarded with a paycheck. The 21st Century contract is relational. Employees want a paycheck, but they want a challenge, career growth, support, and meaningful relationships. More than ever, leaders must build (rebuild) trusting relationships with their employees. When people feel valued, they are more likely to naturally engage or reengage in their work.

Commit to High-Quality Work


High-quality work means having varied and meaningful tasks, clear goals, and a positive team climate. Particularly relevant today, high-quality work also means having reasonable demands and expectations of workers. When short-staffed, leaders need to be especially careful about not overwhelming people with excessive demands, long work hours, or unreasonable pressures.

Acknowledge and Respect that Employees Have Changed


Quiet quitting is an identity shift. See employees as they are now vs. who they were pre-pandemic. Employees want autonomy over their work, not just in how they carry out their tasks, but also — as much as possible — influence over where and when they work. The hospitality industry isn’t quite as flexible as others, but employers can collaborate with employees to find shifts and working conditions that meet them where they are.

Address leadership issues


In his book Extreme Ownership, former Navy Seal Jocko Willink writes: “On any team, in any organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. The leader is truly and ultimately responsible for everything.” Leadership must address manager engagement first, then re-skill them to successfully engage their teams.

At Horizon Hospitality, we do more than just executive search for the hospitality industry. Our extensive talent toolkit can reveal what motivates your employees and how to keep teams moving forward as one. Contact us to learn how.

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