Quiet please! Now there’s ‘quiet constraint’ to deal with

It’s been ‘quiet’ a year.

Most of it has been dominated column inch after column inch devoted to 2022’s latest HR buzz-phrase – ‘quiet quitting’.

This, as we know, is the practice of employees only doing the bare minimum (what some might simply call the outcome of ‘disengagement’).

Just recently, TLNT also revealed the parallel occurrence of ‘quiet firing’. That’s when disengagement (or laziness) from leaders to properly performance manage their teams leaves staff forced to take their own action (normally quitting), to improve their prospects.

But as we all know, trends tend to come in threes, which is why the latest ‘quiet’ observation is now also being coined: ‘quiet constraint’.

‘Quiet constraint’ is what commentators are calling the practice of employees deliberately withholding information from their colleagues – information that would typically help them do their jobs better.

Evidence suggests this isn’t just commentators attempting to try and create something out of nothing.

A recent US Workplace Culture report found that 58% of employees admitted to deliberately holding onto knowledge or information that could benefit co-workers. This trend was most prevalent in Generation Z, at 77%.

Experts suggest rising ‘quiet constraint’ is proportionately linked to the rise of remote working, causing a disconnection between co-workers and making them feel less inclined to help one another.

“Despite us all being in danger of adding a new term to the ever-growing glossary of employee behaviors, ‘quiet constraint’ has the potential to cause real issues in the workplace if not managed carefully,” suggests Connor Campbell, business finance expert at American personal finance company, NerdWallet.

He adds: “Hybrid working may have, for some businesses, exacerbated a workplace disconnect that emerged during the Covid-19 lockdowns. Businesses took on new staff whilst offices remained closed, leaving employees unfamiliar with one another and therefore less likely to share helpful information.

“We’ve seen a trend towards being more self-focused that started with ‘quiet quitting’, encouraging employees to focus more on their personal needs. This seems to have continued to escalate, with ‘quiet constraint’ further encouraging individualism.”

Lack of sharing can break organizations

Lack of knowledge sharing can literally make or break organizations. According to global market intelligence firm, IDC, Fortune 500 companies lose at least $31.5 billion a year by failing to share knowledge.

Studies also suggest that not only does knowledge-sharing help companies avoid repeating mistakes, but it can increase productivity by 10-40%.

It signals cultural problems too

But as well as the direct financial cost it causes, ‘quiet constraint’ could also reveal serious problems with an organization’s culture – insecurity amongst staff around helping each other to reach team goals; staff wanting to protect their own locus of influence [‘knowledge is power’]; disconnection from the company’s long-term mission, and not wanting to be a team player. Campbell argues that it can create competitiveness amongst employees that simply cause “team dynamics to fall apart.”

So how can HRDs combat ‘quiet constraint’?

TLNT asked Campbell to give us his top tips:

Introduce employees to one another, including remote-workers

“This point is relevant, whether you’ve taken on new staff during lockdown periods or not, as even longer-serving employees may benefit from a refresher course on colleagues they may not have physically seen in-person in a long time.

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The importance of introducing new employees to their new colleagues is not something to think lightly about. Employees should be briefed about new-arrivals ahead of time, and should be given a run-down of their strengths and what they’ll be bringing to the already-existing team. This makes the new member of staff less of a rival, and more of a team-member.

Alongside briefing staff about newer employees, one-to-one meetings or calls (if working remotely), should be set up to allow employees to get to know one another better. Ensuring that colleagues build a good working relationship is key to encouraging them to be willing to share information with each other.”

Encourage group working and team projects

“One of the most understated ways business owners can curb selfish-thinking in the workplace is by introducing more group work rather than individual projects. If employees are working towards a shared goal, they may be more likely to share information amongst themselves, since they’ll all be set to benefit from the project doing well.

Group projects can also help to fully utilize all employees’ strengths and specialities, leading to better respect amongst colleagues and generally helping staff feel that they are more valued in the workplace. Teamwork has been shown to improve efficiency and productivity within project management, compared to working alone.

If co-workers respect and trust one another, this will make information sharing more likely as people will want to see those around them and the wider business succeed.”

Encourage employees to share knowledge in morning meetings

“Starting the day with a group meeting can help set the tone for the rest of the day, along with setting expectations and tasks for the entire team. These meetings can also be utilized to encourage information sharing across the team, but business owners should remember that if they want to foster an information-sharing culture, this also applies to them.

Allow each employee to have the opportunity to speak about any information they have gathered that they think would be useful to the team, and ensure that employees that share are praised for their contributions. Business owners should also be willing to share any knowledge or tips that they have gathered with the team, alongside remaining transparent about other company issues.

To support these morning meetings managers might want to think about removing cubicles separating workstations to establish communal brainstorming areas. The key idea is to help employees feel comfortable sharing information and to make them feel that their contributions are valued. However, before making radical changes, it’s important to ensure all personalities feel comfortable in their working environment.”

Set up an employee notice board

“This can be achieved in-office or online, depending on the work style that your business operates in. Business owners can set up physical notice boards, along with pens and sticky-notes for employees to jot down important information on, or they can make use of shared software online that works in the same way.

One way that businesses can help to implement the shared knowledge boards into their employees’ routines is to pick out pieces of information from the board to be shared in meetings, which helps boost pride in employees that choose to share information. It also helps to make the notice board a slightly more formal part of the office environment.”

Make use of team-building activities to strengthen relationships

“Team-building activities seem to have developed a bit of a stigma for being an excuse for staff to get out of work, but their foundation is in encouraging better communication amongst employees. The secret to a successful team-building activity is to correctly identify what is causing communication breakdowns in your business in the first place and to select an appropriate activity to target this specifically.

When selecting an activity, business owners should ensure they include staff in their decision making process to make sure nobody is left feeling pressured into an activity that they don’t want to do.”

Peter Crush is the interim editor of TLNT. He’s an award-winning journalist based in London, and he writes exclusively about the ever-changing world of work.

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