Every day in offices around the world, employees quit in their seats. Demoralized and demotivated in their current jobs, they simply give up, taking their feet off the gas and coasting until quitting time.

“Historically, when people are in a job, they’re going to work really hard, and if they don’t like that job, they’ll quit and go some place else,” says Brian Kropp, HR practice leader at business strategy insight and research firm CEB. But increasingly, that’s not the case.

Every quarter, CEB surveys 20,000 employees across the world about their engagement levels. Recently, the organization has found that more and more, workers are “physically showing up, but mentally checking out.”

There are a few reasons why more people keep coming into the office long after they’ve stopped trying, says Kropp. The tepid economic environment makes workers feel like there are fewer job opportunities outside the one they already have, even if they hate it. He also points out that organizations are becoming flatter, making it harder to move up—CEB found that the amount of time between promotions is now 40% longer than it was in 2010. With no clear payoff for working harder, employees withhold their best efforts.

Such employees have hit what Kropp calls the Goldilocks spot: Not too much, not too little, but giving just the right amount of work not to get sacked.

The lost productivity of these workers presents a clear problem for employee. But quit-in-your-seat behaviour is hard to spot—employees have often mastered the art of doing just enough to seem busy. So it’s crucial to prevent workers from checking out in the first place.

Here are a few things Kropp says employers should do to prevent workers from quitting in their seats.

1. Offer them new experiences

“In a lot of organization, employees say they want to be promoted and move up in the company,” says Kropp. “But that’s not always realistic.”

New experiences and varied tasks can boost morale and productivity when a promotion isn’t an option. “Even if they can’t be promoted, be much more aggressive about moving people to different jobs internally,” he counsels. “One thing managers can do is design different experiences for their employees. Give them opportunities on different projects, to play different roles.

2. Reaffirm that they’re building new skills

Employees need to be reminded that they are in fact doing valuable work and growing as an employee. “When people are moving around and developing new skills and capabilities, they often don’t realize it,” says Kropp. “So managers need to be explicit to say, ‘We’re doing this to give you the chance to learn new things,’ and at the end of it say, ‘These are the things you’re better at now.’”

3. Check in with them around their birthday

Bosses need to talk with their employees about their career at times when that conversation will resonate. “We find a lot of managers will have these conversations around their performance review or around the end of the year,” says Kropp. “But employees don’t really think about their career at these times. They think about their career around their birthday, when they go on vacation, when they have that family reunion or class reunion. It’s when they’re away from work and have that time to reflect.”

Kropp suggests discussing career progression with an employee a month or so before their birthday or vacation—times when people consider whether to quit their job or take their performance to the next level. “As a manager, you want to make sure you’re involved in that conversation.”

4. Don’t ignore the problem

If a good employee suddenly becomes less productive, it can be easy to chalk it up to a bad phase they’re working through. But don’t be fooled. Those who fall into the quit-in-your-seat rut rarely escape on their own. “The first thing you need to do is realize it’s not going to get better without you doing something about it,” says Kropp.

5. Discuss career opportunities outside the company

It may seem counterintuitive, but Kropp emphasizes the importance of helping employees build skills for jobs outside the company. “Approach those conversations with the idea of how to help improve someone’s employability,” he says. “The goal is to help you develop better skills to be successful here, or elsewhere.”

CEB found that talking to workers about future career opportunities—within the company or elsewhere—made them less likely to quit. “They think: This employer really cares about my career, they’re making an incredible commitment to me about my development and growth. That makes them more loyal to you, ironically.”


How do you stop your employees from quitting in their seats? Are you seeing a rise in disengagement among your staff? Let us know by commenting below.

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