HR’s new nightmare: ‘Resenteeism’

HR just got a new buzzword - 'resenteeism': when people literally hate the job they're in, but can't quit either...

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Jun 6, 2023

For those who have an aversion to buzzwords – you may wish to turn away now.

Presenteeism – the widespread notion that employees may be physically at work but are not really there in mind – has long been used as another word for engagement, or do describe the action of the current buzz-phrase du-jour: ‘quiet quitting’.

But now HRDs are facing yet another new and rapidly circulating concept.

This new concept is what one commentator is calling quiet quitting’s “moody successor” – the dissatisfaction-loaded ‘resenteeism’ – people literally resenting the job they’re in.

It must hurt!

Resenteeism must feel particularly hurtful to HRDs, because it represents the very pinnacle of employee misery.

Unlike presenteeism – being either unwell or unproductive – resenteeism is where people drop the facade of being content with their job and describes a much more active response to workplace frustrations.

It describes being in a job, but being fundamentally unhappy about it – but staff are not taking it quietly, but are actively making a noise about it.

Resenteeism involves staff being completely unsubtle about their frustrations.

“Employees that feel undervalued, under appreciated, and worried about their futures are never going to be happy in their jobs,” says Pam Hinds, head of people at RotaCloud, the company that coined the term.

Commentators argue resenteeism is an even more dangerous form of employee ennui, because rather than these people doing what most job haters do – which is to quit for pastures new – these people typically don’t leave. But not only do they stay, they become active malcontents/saboteurs that bring down everyone’s verve.

Why don’t they quit?

Staff showing symptoms of resenteeism typically don’t quit, because it’s the feeling of being ‘trapped’ in their job that is one of the causes of their unhappiness in the first place.

Those displaying resenteeism look at the economic situation, and fear leaving their job for not being able to get another job elsewhere.

And so the resentment they feel becomes a silent killer. These people wallow in a sort of malaise that creates even more disconnection or disinterest.

What else is causing it?

 But it’s not just that staff are unhappy and do not feel like they have anywhere to go that’s the problem, however.

Data suggests it’s also a reaction by staff who simply feel ‘forgotten.’

This has most dramatically been revealed by research out last month by Oracle which shows that a whopping 77% of US employees say they simply feel like a ‘cog in the corporate machine.’

 At the same time, employees say they feel like expectations of them are never-ending and ever-more demanding.

The Oracle research found that 65% of Americans feel like bosses expect more of them now than they did three years ago.

Virtually all staff polled (86%) said they felt it was harder to be successful at work than it was pre-pandemic, while 31% say they have no idea how their performance contributes to business success.

All the while though, staff say they have increasing levels of worry.

Some 84% of employees say they are worried about the impact of the current economy, while 50% are worried about job security.

It’s ‘expectations’ that aren’t being met

Dig even deeper though, and what Oracle ultimately finds is that employee expectations are simple not being fulfilled.

At a time of extra worry, and expectation, nothing is coming back to them that shows they’re appreciated – and (perhaps worryingly), HRDs know they could do better.

A whopping 88% of HR leaders questioned agreed that their organizations could be doing more to improve their employee experience, with the same percentage also saying they need to rethink their people strategy to succeed in today’s economy.

A further 50% also accepted that they are not keeping up with high employee expectations.

So what can HR leaders do?

When asked what would lessen the feeling that staff are just a ‘cog in the corporate machine’, Oracle found that:

  • 48% of staff want an at-work experience where their voices are heard
  • 51% want more clearly defined goals
  • 45% want more support to be able to grow their careers

Of course, whether these interventions are enough to convert true resenter into someone who can be happy and content at work is another thing.

However, it seems like these things are the very minimum HR leaders need to do, to at least stand a chance of bringing their workforce with them.

So the challenge has been set. Will you take resenteeism seriously? Do you want people that really wish they weren’t there, or people who – with a little appropriate support – can be converted from haters to lovers? What are you doing to help your staff?

We’d love to hear your views.

(PS Don’t forget to check out tomorrow’s piece – by Concetta Yates. She reflects specifically about how HRDs can improve employees’ at-work happiness).

‘Resenteeism’: Just another HR buzzword?

What do people really think of this word? Here’s what some are saying about it:

Curtis P, regional HR director, Carrier Enterprise, and former regional HR manager, HD Supply

“A new word today to sound trendy: ‘Resenteeism’. I’m not sure what marketing team comes up with these words but it is just a fancy way to say you don’t like your job but can’t afford to leave. We know this represents a certain percentage of the workforce but there is hope. Fostering an open communication with employees; insisting everyone take time off; and offering opportunities for professional development, wherever possible, could be the solution. Know your team.”

Trevor Churchley, founder, Talentology AU

“I think it’s perfectly natural to suffer from resenteeism from time to time. But is it really possible to love every single minute of your working life? We all have our ups and downs, but there are some things that both employers and employees can do, and open communication without judgement is one. Encouraging people to talk about the way they feel in an open forum can be an effective way to draw out the problems. Work without regular breaks can also be a grinding, exhausting experience that can lead to negativity.”

Professor Gary Martin chief executive, Australian Institute of Management

“The emerging trend of resenteeism should come as no surprise. Faced with a cost-of-living crisis that has left many struggling to make ends meet, many workers want to avoid the risks of moving to a new employer. They fear that if they switch jobs the grass on the other side might turn out to be fake lawn and further threaten their financial wellbeing. This just heightens the resentment about their current job and can trigger higher levels of stress, frustration and negative emotions, which in turn impact the individual’s mental and physical health. We should, of course, try to prevent employees from becoming bitter in the first place. Once staff do become resentful, we should try to resolve issues in a constructive way. But where it becomes clear that an individual’s challenges with their workplace are unresolvable, we should not shy away from taking a bigger step to partner with a disgruntled employee to find them a more suitable position with another employer.”

Eva Chye, corporate strategy & engagement executive, PwC

“I don’t know anyone who didn’t turn up to their jobs on the first day filled with hopes and wanting to do their best. Somehow, things change along the way and the cost of recruitment is 2.5x the cost of retention. Culture starts from the top.”