Having first emerged as a sister trend to the plethora of post-pandemic workplace behaviors like ‘quiet quitting’ and the Great Resignation, resenteeism is fast becoming a concerning phenomenon for employers.
Having picked up traction at the beginning of this year, resenteeism is the feeling of frustration that plagues employees who are unhappy with their work but are unable to change their circumstances, for fear of becoming unemployed at a time of record high costs of living.
In this way, resenteeism has similarities with classic employee disengagement, but rather than hiding from discontentment, this is openly displayed in some way.
Examples of resenteeism behavior can include employees showing up to work, but being disengaged and disconnected with their work as they struggle with working in an environment that they don’t want to be in.
The experience of resenteeism can be as unsettling for employers as it is for employees. A workplace that evokes feelings of resentment and frustration is also bound to have a high turnover rate and negatively affect company culture.
With competition for talent especially tight for many industries right now, this is something which leadership and HR teams are keen to avoid.
But to solve the curious case of resenteeism, the root of the issue needs to be tackled.
The causes of resenteeism
Undoubtedly, resenteeism can feel like a bleak start to 2023, but the underlying causes shine a light on how to address it. There can be several reasons for feelings of resentment taking root in employees.
While a general sense of dissatisfaction when a role starts to feel repetitive or no longer challenging is absolutely one of them, there are others too.
The fear of losing your job in a recession can be incapacitating and hinder an individual’s ability to take risks – even if it means seeking better opportunities.
Post-holiday blues combined with worries about rising costs and expenses weigh heavily on employees who otherwise would have attempted to look for greener pastures.
Moreover, the uncertain job market offers little recourse to struggling employees. If someone is worried by the cost of living and myriad other non-work issues, the ability to manage pressure at work without feeling stressed is reduced.
An obvious response might be to check out from the one thing within our control – work.
In the same vein, poor work-life balance and toxic work culture can exacerbate this frustration as employees are not able to cope with the mounting pressures of a job they do not enjoy.
When employees don’t have time to themselves to recuperate and feel their personal life encroached upon by work, mild dissatisfaction with their job can transform into a more pressing issue of resentment.
How does ‘resenteeism’ show up?
As consecutive storms of geo-political tension, inflationary pressures, and skyrocketing costs of living hit the workforce, dissatisfactions will likely arise.
This can be related to anxieties around maintaining financial stability amidst inflationary pressures and wages which aren’t keeping up, dealing with a general sense of doom brought on by political events, or a lack of excitement in their job as growth opportunities are put on pause.
Employee dissatisfaction has a spiralling effect. When employees are unable to cope with their work environment and feel disconnected or disinterested in it, the smallest of tasks start to become a source of stress.
Stress is perhaps best understood as being the state of mind we get into when we feel unable to cope – when it is all just feeling too much for us. The inability to cope is followed by burnout as employees become less motivated and productivity suffers a dip.
Additionally, the stress and pressure of showing up to work when not feeling ready can take a toll on employees’ mental health, leading to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.
This lull in enthusiasm and productivity is bound to catch on in the workplace environment and can fundamentally affect the atmosphere of an office.
There is no simple solution to tackle resenteeism. When employees are facing dissatisfaction in their jobs and are weighed down by the looming threat of unemployment, it can be difficult to take decisive action and climb out of the slump.
Especially if the workplace does not recognize these stressors or has no means of addressing them.
So, it’s firstly important to create a safe space for communication in the workplace, that is cushioned with compassion and candor.
Feeling heard, heeded, and understood goes a long way in employees feeling like they are valued and can be a good morale booster for when they are feeling frustrated about things not in their control.
Building this dialogue is a good way to clear the tension about non-work-related stressors that may be adding to the turmoil that employees face.
Since resenteeism is a result of a combination of factors – being unhappy in your job and being unable to cope with uncertainty during hard times – the solution also must be multifaceted.
Some actionable steps can be to have the workplace support more flexible forms of working through hybrid setups.
Studies have shown that this allows employees to have more control over their time without compromising on productivity, as they can build their day around pockets of deep work, developing an optimal and unique workflow.
In conjunction, employers should cultivate a more positive work culture that is built around encouraging employees and positively reinforcing their work to reduce their dissatisfaction.
Ultimately this is about looking for ways to engage and motivate them in the workplace more deeply, beyond using surface tactics like offering free Friday morning bagels.
Conversation goes a long way as well, especially if its quality is valued over its frequency. Through human conversation, both parties – employees and managers or leaders– get the benefit of the other’s perspective.
In this way, employees are able to talk through the noise in their heads and regain some perspective to realize that things are not as bad as they feared.
A lingering effect of resenteeism is also mental health concerns in employees where a sustained feeling of being trapped and dissatisfied in their day-to-day can lead to depressive episodes and anxiety surrounding their work.
Offering mental health resources that provide confidential and comforting aid can assuage some grievances in this case, along with honest and compassionate conversation.
Focus on compassionate two-way communication
Since the pandemic, tectonic shifts in workplace culture have occurred and many workplace trends have emerged.
Of these, resenteeism outlines a struggle not only caused by workplace dissatisfaction but one that is exacerbated by external circumstances. This makes it more crucial for resenteeism to be dealt with sensitively.
Its effects on employees and employers are concerning because it not only affects productivity but also morale and mental health, which have a domino effect on workplace ambience and culture.
It’s important to keep an eye out for employees who are experiencing some form of resenteeism and address the cause of unhappiness straightforwardly and compassionately.
This is why an open and honest channel of communication goes a long way in the workplace and strategies to implement this should be set in place.
It’s virtually impossible to control all circumstances around us – especially non-work-related stressors – but taking control of what we can fix is a good start.
In this case, it is cultivating a positive work culture and opening lines of communication that keep employees engaged and heard; ultimately leading to a more satisfying experience at work.
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