Has quiet quitting hurt healthcare leadership? 4 execs weigh in

At health systems around the country, talent development is top of mind. But workers' ambitions aren't as clear-cut as they once were, which can complicate succession planning. 

It's been about two years since "quiet quitting" went viral on social media, and associated movements, like "lazy girl jobs" and #ActYourWage, began to unfold. But the sentiments these trends introduced still hold weight for employees. Workforce disengagement cost U.S. employers $1.9 trillion in 2023, according to a January Gallup report

Quiet quitting extends beyond the front lines. In fact, a March Press Ganey report found that employee engagement is on the rise nationwide — but leader engagement, particularly among people leaders, has been dropping for three consecutive years. 

Amid widespread executive burnout and a national push for shorter workweeks, it's clear that Americans are seeking (and needing) greater work-life balance. But as employees grow increasingly conscious of how leadership roles can impede their energy, and their career ambitions quiet, health systems might feel leadership pipelines drying up; the industry's middle management tier is currently one of the toughest to fill, as responsibilities and pay tend to grow disproportionately. 

Becker's recently explored this issue with human resources and talent executives as part of a conversation on strengthening the leadership pipeline. We asked industry leaders: "Have you seen any evidence of quiet quitting as you build out your leadership pipeline? And how do you encourage skeptical employees to explore their leadership potential, even though it does mean added responsibility?" 

Here's how they responded. 

Editor's note: Some responses were lightly edited for brevity and clarity. 

Terri Feely. Chief People Officer at Inova Health (Falls Church, Va.): I'm sure that we have people quietly quitting in our organization, but largely, we have a population of really engaged team members. Having said that, we're okay with not everyone wanting to be leaders. Actually, it's a good thing. We can't have an entire organization of leaders, but when we are focusing on encouraging those who show potential and show interest — one of the things that we really spend a lot of time on — it's about our culture, it's about role modeling, it's about having our leaders demonstrate that they can be a leader and they can have a full rich life. It doesn't have to be mutually exclusive. 

And some of the ways that we encourage our leaders to demonstrate that is in the little things. It's not sending emails on the weekends. It's taking time off, and really taking time off: not being "available" and "text me if you need me," but really disconnecting. And those are some of the things that we really encourage in our leaders to ensure that they are setting the example. From a cultural standpoint, we recognize that a whole person comes to work and therefore work is just one component of a very full life. In the old days, it used to be work-life balance, and then it was work-life integration, and today, it's just life.

Manda Scott. Chief Human Resources Officer at Kittitas Valley Healthcare (Ellensburg, Wash.): I think people go through different stages in life. There's a difference between somebody being fully satisfied and content in their current job, who is highly engaged but doesn't necessarily want to take on a different role or new opportunities, and somebody who's disengaged with their work. We've been talking about engagement in this field for quite some time. So while there are new terms out there, "quiet quitting," or I've also heard "act your wage," it's really just a matter of where people are at in their employment experience, what they are looking for in their life. And where they're at today may change 10 years from now. It's really about understanding people as a whole life cycle. 

If you really want to be seen as a leader, I've also told people that starts today. It doesn't start when you get a new job or when you apply for a leadership role. And so again, I think there's a huge difference between active disengagement with where people are at and contentment with where people are at in their life. And it's not really up to us to judge what they're looking for, what they're wanting at this stage and [assuming] that everyone should be wanting to apply for the next vertical opportunity. 

Jyoti Rai. Senior Vice President and Chief Talent Officer at NewYork-Presbyterian (New York City): Quiet quitting is a new term that has come up in the last few years, but there is enough research, which we had for many years, that people are in different [places on a] spectrum: engaged or highly engaged, to not engaged or highly disengaged. Now because of burnout, that percentage has wavered across the industry. 

The research sometimes is alarming. The research tells us that 50% of the U.S. workforce is disengaged. Now when we look at our own organizations, I think the real number is telling us different, which is why we are investing so much in leadership. Leadership continues to be at a premium, leadership is where it'll change that experience for every one of our team members. So how do we help understand our own data? How do we help understand where are those pockets of people who are disengaged — but then create a helpful environment for them and create a supportive network for them to be able to change and to be able to be much more engaged?

Let's lean on our culture, and as we look at the strength of our culture, how do we celebrate people who are thriving and engaged and how do we help them become the champions and ambassadors to bring along other people who may be disengaged? Let's understand, what are those life situations that they may be going through?

Mamoon Syed. Chief People Officer at Children's Hospital Los Angeles: Look, I think it's a sizable challenge, especially for organizations that have a highly engaged workforce, because the point of engagement is that people give discretionary effort because that's what you're looking for. The more discretionary effort you give, the more you're imposing on that balance and resilience and well-being. At the Children's Hospital Los Angeles, people give incredible amounts of discretionary effort, which means that there is an incredible amount of burnout and awareness that people have. One of the things that we've discovered as a mechanism to help support that are actually the systems and the processes, and what people have to go through to get things done that become a little bit more administratively burdensome; if we are able to become more efficient, get those pebbles out of those shoes, that's received incredibly well. 

There are just enterprisewide systems and policies that we need to improve and enhance technology. How can we make EMRs more efficient for our clinicians? How can we make the [human resource information system] more efficient for our leaders? All those sorts of things are really supportive in helping with people's burnout, resilience and quiet quitting. 

What are we doing to kind of challenge those skeptical employees that are worried about that work-life balance? I think it ultimately comes down to building trust with a caring, supportive leader — leader as coach, leader as a sponsor leader, as a mentor leader, as somebody who really cares — is at the foundation of what's going to really help mitigate that skepticism that people will appropriately have. Because again, healthcare is under a lot of pressure. Our workforce is under a lot of pressure and there's just a higher calling for everybody and our leaders to lead in these very complicated, challenging times.

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