“Quiet quitting” is just one of many corporate buzzwords (i.e., The Great Resignation, The Great Reshuffle, and more recently, “Quiet Hiring”) that seem to pop up each time we refresh our social media pages.

However, the concept of quiet quitting — which Bill Schaninger, a senior partner at McKinsey, says is “aligned with not showing up physically or emotionally” — isn’t new. We just used different names to describe it in the past, says Scott Himes, CPTM, principal at Medallion Partners. For instance, managers may have described employees who quiet quit as being “disengaged, burnt out, checked out, only showing up for a paycheck, doing the minimum, or their heart’s not in it.”

While not new, disengagement continues to be a pressing concern for businesses — and rightly so. A Gallup report found that employees “who are not engaged or who are actively disengaged” cost businesses worldwide $7.8 trillion in lost productivity.

Employers are also more likely to see higher turnover rates when employees aren’t engaged. Another Gallup survey found that 74% of employees who are currently looking for a different job are “actively disengaged” and 55% are “not engaged.” Alternatively, the percentage of employees who are engaged but are still looking for a new job is 30%.

Fortunately, learning and development (L&D) can help tackle disengagement by providing coaching and mentoring opportunities, so that employees have the development they need to remain fulfilled, supported and healthily challenged in their roles. Before we dive in to actionable tips and best practices, let’s first explore the underlying causes of disengagement.

Root Causes

Sharlee Lyons, a speaker, coach, instructor and author of “Average to All-Star: Equipping Young Leaders to Start Strong and Faster,” says that ineffective management is a key cause of disengagement. Poor communication and a lack of employee planning and engagement on the manager’s part can make employees feel “unseen” and can cause them to disengage, she explains.

Other reasons for disengagement include burnout and a lack of learning and growth opportunities. In addition, Neha Trivedi, CPTM, human resources director, enterprise learning and development at Alight Solutions, says that disconnectedness with the company’s purpose and values, and disappointment with salary, benefits and opportunities for career advancement, can all decrease engagement. In short, employees who feel undervalued and underappreciated are more likely to be disengaged.

For example, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, “Not only were health workers overworked, underpaid and overly exposed to illness, they also faced tremendous mental strain from experiencing high volumes of death, illness and had demanding patient families,” Trivedi says. Many health workers felt underappreciated and devalued, and many quit as a result. “While the pandemic was clearly a very unusual situation, it still demonstrates that when conditions prevail where an employee is not happy, and also feels undervalued, we shouldn’t be surprised if they ‘quiet quit’ as they set themselves up for other opportunities.’”

Helping Employees Feel Valued

Professional development is an investment in the business — it equips learners with the skills they need to improve their performance and business outcomes as a result. But it’s also an investment in the individual employee.

“Coaching your team shows that you care deeply about their personal and professional growth,” Himes says. It leads to high-trust cultures where employees know that their manager cares about them as a person and wants what is best for them.

In many ways, providing coaching and mentoring opportunities tells employees, “You’re valued.” And when employees feel cared for and supported by their organization, they’re not only more likely to stay (and remain engaged) long term, but also are more likely to “raise their hands” and become mentors or coaches themselves, when they are able to, Trivedi says.

Best Practices To Consider

If you’re ready to leverage coaching and/or mentoring to improve employee engagement in your organization, consider the following best practices to help you get started:

Know the Difference — and When To Use Which Approach

Training Industry defines coaching as “a development or training technique typically used for executives or new managers/leaders,” and often involves a professional coach or external consultant.

Mentoring, on the other hand, is defined as “a type of training in which a more experienced employee (the mentor) provides expertise, support and guidance to a less experienced employee (the mentee), in effort to advance their career growth.”

Coaching and mentoring are related, but they’re different in their approach and outcomes. Lyons refers to them as “first cousins,” and says that leaders must know when to use which approach throughout an employee’s career journey.

According to an article by Kent State University’s Center for Corporate and Professional Development, examples of when to use a coach include (but are not limited to):

  • To develop raw talent with specific skills.
  • When working one on one with leaders who prefer working with a coach rather than attending “public” training programs.
  • To help individuals who are not meeting expectations or goals.
  • To prepare an individual for advancement in the organization.

Examples of when to use a mentor include (but are not limited to):

  • To motivate skilled professionals to focus on their career development.
  • To inspire individuals to “see what is possible” in their career.
  • To enhance an individual’s leadership development.
  • To transfer knowledge from senior- to junior-level professionals.

Employees will likely need both coaching and mentoring at different points in their careers. Learning leaders should work closely with an employee’s manager to determine which approach is best, given the learner’s current needs and goals.

Train Your Coaches and Mentors

Coaching and mentoring can take many forms. If your organization doesn’t have the bandwidth or resources to pair employees with internal coaches or mentors, you might consider partnering with a third-party provider (of which there are many).

If you have the resources to roll out your program(s) in house, then you’ll need to train your coaches and mentors on the skills they’ll need to be effective. Both coaches and mentors need strong soft (i.e., “power”) skills, such as empathy, self-awareness, active listening and communication.

It’s also a good idea to provide “refresher” training on any industry-specific skills or processes that will be taught during coaching or mentoring sessions. For example, a senior data analyst who is mentoring a junior data analyst might want to brush up on their skills using certain programming languages that they may not have used in awhile.

Make the Time

For busy leaders, and employees, finding the time to coach or mentor someone can be challenging. However, Trivedi says that coaching and mentoring can happen any time, anywhere. “With looming deadlines and heavy workloads [to consider], coaching and mentoring do not need to take up hour long sessions,” although some topics may take more time to cover than others. Leaders that genuinely make time to support their employees’ career development will see higher levels of well-being and performance on their teams. “It’s definitely worth it,” she says.

Lyons agrees that making the time for coaching and mentoring is worthwhile. It can help to “bring out a leader’s superpowers” and improve organizational health which, she says, is one of the biggest contributors to organizational success and personal fulfillment. “Talk about an antidote to burnout, lack of engagement and quiet quitting — that’s powerful!”

Parting Thoughts

Business challenges like disengagement and retention aren’t new, but they continue to impact organizations of all kinds.

So, whether your organization is already grappling with disengagement or is looking to stop it in its tracks, coaching and mentoring offers employees the support they need to feel valued and cared for — which is perhaps the most powerful antidote to disengagement of all.