First it was the Great Resignation, then quiet quitting. Now, it seems that ‘resenteeism’ is the latest trend that has piqued HR’s attention.

It follows hot on the heels of the aforementioned ‘quiet quitting’ – a term coined for when employees have become disengaged from their employer, and will only be prepared to meet their contractual obligations – no more, no less. With resenteeism however, employees have gone beyond just doing the bare minimum – they actively dislike their jobs, feel frustrated with their work or employer, and trapped in their role.

Is resenteeism the next big worry for HR? Cezanne HR blog

What makes this new form of disengagement a potential worry for HR, though, is the fact that job ‘resenters’ won’t leave their job – even if they’re fundamentally unhappy. So, what’s going on?

The driving forces behind resenteeism

Although people being unhappy in their jobs is – sadly – nothing new, choosing to stay put instead of actively look for another role might sound baffling. After all, if you’re continually frustrated in your role or simply hate it, it doesn’t make sense to stick around, does it?

The problem, though, is that there are several contributing factors at play: including the after-effects of the Great Resignation, a stalling economy and fear of starting a new job. Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice-president of research and total wellbeing at TELUS Health has summed it up very well, saying “Many companies are still understaffed, and employers are struggling to fill positions, leaving those who remain in their jobs with a greater workload, increased pressure to perform and feelings of inadequacy and underappreciation.”

“Undoubtedly, frustration builds in employees that are under increased pressure but feel they’re being underappreciated in their workplace. Employees need to have a sense of accomplishment, and the sense of accomplishment supports mental wellbeing. Layered with a cost-of-living crisis leaving some employees struggling to make ends meet and too worried to move jobs, the rise in resenteeism shouldn’t come as a surprise.”

How widespread is resenteeism?

It’s impossible to say for absolute certain just how widespread feelings of resentment are within the workforce. However, there are some worrying clues.

For example, a recent Gallup survey revealed that only 32% of workers are actively engaged by their work, down from 36% in 2020. In addition, Indeed’s Work Happiness Score study, which surveyed more than 1,800 organisations in the UK across 25 different industries, found that one third of workers report being unhappy with their work. The term has even been identified as one of the top workplace buzzwords for 2023 – so, is it something HR should be worrying about?

What are the resenteeism warning signs?

Although the two are closely linked, it’s important to separate someone who’s ‘quietly quit’ compared to an employee displaying the signs of resenteeism.

A quiet quitter will have likely mentally stepped back from their work and is happy just to coast along doing virtually the bare minimum their job requires. A ‘resenter’, however, will actively resent their work, and perhaps be very vocal about their dissatisfaction with their role, their employer or their working environment.

Some warning signs for line managers to look out for include:

  • An evident negative outlook on work – If an employee who once seemed happy in their role begins to show more pessimistic behaviours or attitudes to their work, they may have become resentful of their role. Of course, we can all experience the odd ‘bad day at work’; but if negativity and frustration are an everyday occurrence, there may be something more to it.
  • An obvious decline in work quality – A more obvious sign of an employee resenting their work is a drop in the quality of their output. Those who resent their work are unlikely to maintain the high standards of someone who’s happy and engaged in their role.
  • No enthusiasm – An employee who’s resentful of their role will unlikely feel enthused about new projects or new opportunities within the business. If someone constantly turns down chances to develop their career or take on new challenges with a business, it could be because they resent being there.
  • No emotional attachment to their work – Along with not feeling motivated, an employee who is showing signs of resenteesim may stop caring about their work, their role or their responsibilities.

All those characteristics are, understandably, hugely damaging when it comes to maintaining positive company cultures. With the ongoing cost-of-living crisis putting both people and businesses under immense pressure, HR cannot afford to ignore the potential cost of having a resentful workforce.

What can HR do about Resenteeism?

As with most effective staff engagement strategies, prevention is the cure. As an HR professional, there are a number of things you can do in order to reduce the chances of staff feeling resentful of being there, and support line managers in the process. These include:

  • Ensuring regular employee check-ins are taking place

Performance check-ins are regular conversations between managers and employees about work, progress and goals throughout the year. These can be vital when it comes to spotting any early signs of resenteeism: so, make sure that your managers have time set aside each month to catch-up with their employees, check in on how they’re doing and have more meaningful conversations.

To learn more about performance check-ins and the questions that should be asked, just follow this link.

  • Encouraging a healthy work-life balance

Resenteeism can be brought on by the pressures of work. It makes sense then, for HR teams to encourage a healthy work-life balance as part of your company’s culture, and for employees to be allowed to regularly ‘switch off’ from their work lives.

Highlighting the importance of taking annual leave is one way to do this: it gives everyone a chance to reset and recharge away from the pressures of the daily grind, plus it can also give your staff something to look forward to.

Of course, encouraging a healthy work-life balance is just a small part of maintaining workforce wellbeing. To learn more about how you can maintain positive mental wellbeing, just follow this link to watch some excellent TED talks on the subject.

  • Monitoring the employee experience in your organisation…

You should take the time to evaluate what the employee experience is truly like in your organisation. For example, do your employees feel they receive recognition for their efforts? Is their working environment helping their own productivity? Do they have everything they need to perform to the best of their ability? If the answer is ‘no’ to any (or all!) of those questions, you may be building a resentful workforce…

Conducting regular pulse surveys is one way to check on levels of workforce engagement and sentiment throughout the year – perfect when it comes to discovering if the employee experience is what it’s cracked up to be. To learn more about them, and the questions you should be asking, just follow this link.

  • … and acting on the feedback you receive

Of course, monitoring the employee experience is only half the job. For your efforts to be genuinely effective, you’ll also need to act on the information and feedback you receive. If you don’t, you could discourage your employees from sharing their thoughts on what it’s really like to work in your organisation – sowing the seeds of resentment.

  • Encouraging appreciation and recognition

Hard work not being recognised or even acknowledged can seed more harmful toxic cultures. If your employees feel as if their hard work and efforts are ignored, they’ll likely become resentful of both the working environment and their employer – bad news when it comes to creating a positive working culture.

Encouraging a culture of appreciation and celebrating the achievements of your employees is one way to prevent your workforce being undervalued. If you don’t have one already, setting up a peer-to-peer recognition scheme is a simple – yet extremely effective – way of ensuring your employees feel their contributions are valued and appreciated. You can read more about peer-to-peer recognition schemes here.

Paul Bauer author image

Paul Bauer

Paul Bauer is the Head of Content at Cezanne HR. Based in the Utopia of Milton Keynes (his words, not ours!) he’s worked within the employee benefits, engagement and HR sectors for over four years. He's also earned multiple industry awards for his work - including a coveted Roses Creative Award.

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