What Causes Employee “Resenteeism”?

Quiet quitting was about working on autopilot to reduce stress. Resenteeism is about feeling trapped in your role and doing the bare minimum.

“Resenteeism” is quiet quitting that is combined with another powerful tactic of the disillusioned employee—absenteeism. I never knew there were so many ways to say: “I’m unhappy at work.”

A piece on CNBC by Eric Johnson highlights this trend, especially as it pertains to Generation Z. He describes it as “a growing trend where employees continue working in roles they find dissatisfying because they either can’t find a better-suited job or think they won’t be able to. It’s an evolved version of quiet quitting in the age of mass layoffs; not only are employees disengaged, but they are resentful about it. Quiet quitting was about working on autopilot to reduce stress. Resenteeism is about feeling trapped in your role.”

Sometimes, in the age of the hybrid workplace, resenteeism can take the form of what has been called office “showboating.” The resentful employee comes in just long enough to satisfy the requirement that they come to the office two to three days per week. I have seen this myself. The employee arrives as late as 10:30 a.m. and leaves as early as 4 p.m. No one can say they didn’t show up for in-person work, as required. No one said they had to stay until exactly 5 p.m., after all.

I wondered to myself if I, too, should engage in similar behavior, but then I remembered that even if I had such a lack of integrity, I couldn’t—for the simple reason that my workload is too great.

Sufferers of Resenteeism May Not Have Enough to Do

A key feature of resenteeism is not just that the employee is disengaged in their work, but that they are able to act as they do because they don’t have enough to do. An employee with significant responsibilities could not get away with doing as little work as possible. Their business units and organization are counting on them to meet responsibilities that are necessary to sustain profitability.

The problem, ironically, may be that the resentful employees have not been invested in enough by their employer in terms of responsibilities. They have a baseline of work that enables their manager to focus on more important tasks. It is this feeling of being non-essential to the organization that can lead to resentment. If the employee were given substantive responsibilities, which they knew were critical to the organization, they may not be as checked out, regardless of perceptions of not being paid enough or not having enough fringe benefits.

Assessing Who Needs More Substantive Work

In the age of artificial intelligence (AI), do you need employees who are so disengaged that they barely get any work done? If they can get away with doing so little work without anyone noticing, why keep them at all? Such a low level of work could be completed by a highly performing AI system, couldn’t it?

The great question becomes: Which employees on your payroll are being underutilized? The investigation into determining this begins with an in-person meeting with employees managers suspect are engaging in resenteeism.

“Peter, I wanted to check in with you to see how your day-to-day work is playing out. Could you give me a run down of what you’re currently working on?”

If the employee is honest and shares a workload that is light for the number of work hours that comes with their job role, the manager has an opportunity to make changes that help both the business unit and the employee.

“You know, Peter, I think we’re selling you short. You have so much talent and ability. I have an additional couple of assignments I want to run past you to get your thoughts on. I’d like to get you more involved in our business development. How does that sound to you?”

If the employee is suffering from incurable resenteeism, they will start hemming and hawing at that point about how their light workload is heavier than it sounds and they’re not sure they can take on additional responsibilities.

If the employee is being underutilized and is disengaged partially because they feel no one considers them important, they will be eager to take on the extra assignments.

When considering resenteeism and disengagement, it’s important to make sure the solution isn’t as simple as giving checked-out employees something substantial to sink their teeth into.

Do you work hard to ensure each employee’s skills and talents are being fully optimized? How do you do that?