Why HR Needs to Break the Silence Around “Quiet Constraint”

What if “Quiet Quitting” is not the biggest threat to your organization’s productivity, turnover and employee engagement? If you’re trying to keep employees engaged and get the best contributions from everyone on the team, it’s time to protect your organization against a new challenge: “Quiet Constraint.”

Productivity, creativity, and innovation happen when people collaborate and share ideas. But too often, employees stay silent. They don’t speak up. They hold themselves back from chipping in during meetings. This act of staying silent, even when people have great ideas and insights to share, is known as “Quiet Constraint.”

A new US survey from Kahoot!, the 2022 Workplace Culture Report, found that 58% of U.S. enterprise workers are staying silent about valuable information that could help their colleagues. But this is not being done out of selfishness or personal failings; Quiet Constraint is driven by larger forces within the organization. When people stay silent at work, it’s often because of communication breakdowns or cultural disconnects.

HR leaders have a role to play in breaking the silence around Quiet Constraint. Let’s take a look at how the right support for your employees can help draw out everyone’s best ideas.

People Want to Do Their Best. Quiet Constraint is Tripping Them Up. 

There’s been some recent media buzz about “quiet quitting,” but the truth is that most people really do want to bring their best selves to work and excel at their jobs. The Kahoot! survey found that 76% of employees want to go the extra mile at work, and 71% are “very” or “extremely” interested in their work.

Unfortunately, Quiet Constraint is driving people to stay silent. Our survey found that 87% of employees feel bored at work; when people feel de-energized or under-challenged, they’re less likely to speak up with helpful insights and ideas. 63% of men and 57% of women hold back information. And, Gen Z workers are especially likely to stay silent: 77% of Gen Zers are not speaking up about information that could help their teams.

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Think of what could be accomplished if everyone on your team could feel comfortable and confident enough to share what they know and offer great ideas! This is the underrated damage that Quiet Constraint causes to organizations’ productivity and profitability: your next big cost-savings idea, creative marketing concept, or transformative product improvement might be sitting silently in the minds of your workforce. Quiet Constraint is a silent killer of your organization’s potential.

Causes of Quiet Constraint: Uninspiring Online Training and Virtual Meetings 

With the shift to remote work and the hybrid work environment, organizations are searching for new ways to collaborate and capture people’s best efforts and insights. Quiet Constraint is lurking in the background of virtual and hybrid meetings. If companies’ virtual presentations and online training are not engaging enough to spark conversation, employees will stay silent. Our survey found that 35% of workers feel mentally checked out of online training, 32% lose interest in virtual presentations, and 31% have their attention span suffer during virtual team meetings.

Another driver of Quiet Constraint is the company culture. Our survey asked people why they stay silent about helpful information at work:

  • 74% of employees said that they are never asked to share their input, or feel that their talents are undervalued, or their voices are not heard by the company.
  • 54% said that they have “no channel/means” to share ideas and information, are “not enabled to be my best self” on the job, or feel “intimidated.”
  • 41% said that they don’t want colleagues to get a competitive edge over them, that they have no incentive for sharing helpful information, or they don’t want to “appear smarter” than their co-workers.

Bottom line: make sure your company is helping people feel empowered to share ideas, in an atmosphere of healthy communication and friendly (not destructive) competition.

How HR Can Help Cure Quiet Constraint 

HR leaders can be part of the solution to Quiet Constraint. Here are a few key strategies to help draw out the best ideas and contributions from everyone on the team:

  • Strengthen your organization’s collaborative culture. Try to encourage your employees to see each other not as “competitors,” but as teammates and collaborators. Your team should want to compete against your competitors in the marketplace, not against their colleagues within the organization. Or if you want to get people to speak up and share ideas more proactively, try to make a fun, friendly game of it: 59% of Gen Z workers in our survey said that they would feel more engaged with “a little dose of friendly competition.”
  • Embrace more interactive presentations and virtual communication. Virtual collaboration is the new norm, but many organizations are not leveraging technology in an optimal way to make these experiences engaging by proactively inviting people to share feedback and insights. 38% of employees in our survey said that “more rich and interactive media” would boost their engagement.
  • Make sharing an everyday occasion. Information sharing does not happen in isolation; it should be an ongoing conversation. 51% of employees in our survey said they would be more engaged by brainstorming with co-workers. Look for ways to re-create that office watercooler experience, with revamped meeting formats and more interactive presentation styles.

Speaking up in meetings shouldn’t be intimidating, and sharing ideas shouldn’t just be for senior leaders or “creative” types. HR leaders can help put an end to Quiet Constraint by making collaborative information sharing part of the organization’s everyday culture. Help people feel empowered to share their best ideas, in a safe, supportive atmosphere, and you’ll inspire a new level of productivity and engagement for your organization.

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[To share your insights with us, please write to sghosh@martechseries.com]