By Robert L. Reid


The concept of quiet quitting — in which an employee coasts along at work, doing the bare minimum of what the job requires — is definitely a hot topic in human resources circles, including at civil engineering firms. With all the change in the workplace the past several years (COVID, hybrid work, a hot labor market, etc.), it can be hard to tell if someone is quiet quitting, just struggling, or ready to resign, says Michelle Perry, a senior principal and the chief human resources officer at Walter P Moore.


To help navigate these challenging times for employers and employees, Perry offers the following four observations:


  1. The same behaviors that suggest someone might be quiet quitting could also apply to an employee who’s experiencing burnout, disenchantment with their current job, or even mental health issues.


    Is an employee who used to be a real go-getter no longer participating in meetings or interacting with co-workers? Did he previously volunteer for extra assignments but suddenly stopped? Is she taking off more time or disappearing for long periods? Those are questions to delve into, Perry says. Don’t make assumptions — intervene early and ask questions if you notice changes in behavior.


  2. It can be even harder for managers at civil engineering firms that allow remote work or hybrid work to notice the signs.


    If an employee is thinking of changing jobs, she could interview with another firm virtually from home, so you’d never know it had happened, Perry says. Or he could attend an in-person interview on a day he’s supposed to be working from home, which would be a lot less noticeable than leaving the office for the interview.

    Human resources leaders and other managers or supervisors should keep in touch with employees, especially remote-working staff, more frequently. Try asking open-ended questions about behaviors you’ve noticed or just check in with employees to see if there’s anything they need assistance with. This can help prevent problems and give the employees a forum to address any issues. Often, if they feel their manager cares, employees will be forthcoming about problems they’re experiencing or concerns they have.


  3. The same behaviors can mean different things when they involve new, younger employees versus longstanding, experienced employees.


    Does a new employee seem to be coasting at work? Perhaps he simply doesn’t understand the company’s expectations, Perry notes. Or she might not have been onboarded well enough. Often this may be an employee’s first job after college. Sit down with the employee and review the job and the expectations. Give positive and prescriptive feedback. Ask how the employee thinks things are going. Are the necessary learning, mentoring, and support being provided?

    But if a more experienced employee does the same things, he might be feeling underappreciated. Or she might know colleagues who are making more money and thus feel undercompensated. This is especially true in the current labor market when some people are getting “crazy” salary offers from competitors to switch firms, Perry notes. Managers often don’t take advantage of the power of recognition — and it’s free. Show appreciation and give feedback when an employee has completed a critical project, led a key task force, etc. Lastly, be sure to know the market — do salary benchmarking and ensure you are looking at employees’ salaries from an internal and external equity standpoint. It does not mean you have to match all market offerings, but validate that your base salary structure is competitive and you are offering a compelling total compensation package.


  4. Younger workers also tend to have different expectations as far as how long it should take for them to be promoted and move up in their careers. 

Whereas prior generations of engineers thought of advancement in terms of years, younger employees seem to expect things to happen in just months, Perry says. So when younger workers are told it could take several years or more to reach a certain position, they might feel they’ll have moved on to a different firm long before then.

It may be time to look at and refresh your career paths — do they still make sense? Look at creative ways for lateral enrichment, so employees still feel like they are growing and developing, but it doesn’t always have to involve a title change. Think about things like internal and external training opportunities, getting them involved in initiatives that get them some exposure with senior leaders, or opportunities to become subject matter experts in particular areas.


This article is published by Civil Engineering Online.