By James Micklethwait
As Gen Z becomes a bigger part of the workforce, employers around the world are dealing with the question: “How can I help young employees succeed so they can help our organization succeed?” Recently,
“quiet quitting” has been the buzzword in conversations about engaging young workers, but new research shows that another Gen Z-led trend is coming to the fore in workplaces: “quiet constraint.”
What is “quiet constraint”?
According to a recent survey of U.S. workers for
Kahoot!’s 2022 Workplace Culture Report, 58% of workers say they hold knowledge that could benefit their coworkers, but they haven’t shared it. This trend is highest among Gen Z workers, with 77% of employees in this group reporting holding unshared knowledge.
It’s easy to see how this could potentially harm efficiency and productivity, as well as limit creativity and problem-solving, as teams experiencing quiet constraint aren’t contributing all they can or fully working together.
When asked why they are holding in knowledge, Gen Z workers pointed to company culture. Among their top three answers, 28% percent say they don’t feel valued at work and that their employer underestimates their knowledge and capabilities; 26% say they have never been asked; and 24% feel their talent and self-expression are stifled at work.
All of these reasons speak to the need to create a work environment where employees are recognized for the knowledge, ideas, and skills they have to offer, and where they have the opportunity to easily share their talent with others.
Why is Gen Z leading the trend?
There are likely a variety of factors that affect why more Gen Z workers report holding in knowledge than their older counterparts. First, in entry-level or junior-level positions, many employees simply don’t have an opportunity to show what they know beyond their limited job description, let alone share it with others.
Also, many Gen Zers have started their careers in hybrid or remote work settings. If their companies haven’t yet optimized their virtual employee experience (and many haven’t—online employee training, virtual team meetings, and virtual presentations are where employees say they most often disengage), then those young employees haven’t had a chance to build strong connections with their colleagues and see the value of collaboration.
How can employers unlock unshared knowledge in the workplace?
While the quiet restraint trend may seem like a big obstacle, savvy employers should actually see it as an opportunity. More than 75% of workers say they would highly value an easy and engaging way to share their knowledge with coworkers. In other words, most employees want to show up as their best selves at work and offer that to their team—they just need the invitation. Here are a few tips for getting started.
1. Recognize workplace heroes who share knowledge
Behind nearly every successful new employee are coworkers who show the new staff member how things work at a company. However, helping new employees, or even informally training them, can be a thankless job. Employees are busy and leading training sessions is not in most workers’ job descriptions.
That means if you want employees to prioritize sharing knowledge with their peers, make sure they are recognized and rewarded for their actions. According to
Gallup, 78% of younger workers say they want more frequent recognition from their managers, and implementing recognition for knowledge sharing is a great place to start.
2. Harness friendly competition—work hard, play hard
Many Gen Zers grew up with game-based learning, so they’re used to a more fluid line between work and play. This is perhaps why friendly competition is Gen Z’s top choice for making virtual meetings more engaging. To encourage collaborative learning in your company, look for opportunities to add an element of friendly competition throughout the workday—in meetings, presentations, and training, both live and on-demand.
You can even scale it up to larger events. Host company-wide product knowledge contests, or upskilling and reskilling relays, where every department team is challenged to teach their colleagues something new and compete for top ranking as star presenter.
3. Give your employees opportunities to surprise you
While many employees say they don’t feel their talents are seen or valued at work, if an employer is underestimating a team’s capabilities, likely it’s not on purpose. Any decent employer would want to know what their employees can do and what they have to offer. What they are often missing, however, is a venue to discover that talent.
In practical terms, this can take many forms—from peer learning sessions to open creative brainstorms to full-fledged hackathons. Invite everyone in the company to take part, and make it as easy as possible to participate; give options to join virtually, share anonymously, etc. This will allow you to uncover fresh new ideas, perspectives, and solutions from places you may have never expected, such as seemingly-unrelated departments or from the most junior members of your team.
Convincing young employees they are valuable is a win-win for any company
Ultimately, a company is only as strong as its workforce. Helping your employees—especially your younger employees—succeed, and convincing them to share their knowledge, will ultimately benefit your overall organization. The businesses that will be the most successful tomorrow are the ones that invest in their employees today and every day.