‘Resenteeism’: what is it – and how can HR avoid it?

Latest workplace trend leads to lower productivity and engagement, with experts warning it could be ‘contagious’ if left unaddressed

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As workplaces were forced to reflect on their organisational cultures in the aftermath of the Great Resignation, they won’t be pleased to hear about the latest workplace trend – workers are increasingly reporting ‘resenteeism’ towards their job.

The phrase, first coined by RotaCloud, refers to employees actively disliking their job but staying in it anyway. It emerged in light of the cost of living crisis, with employees becoming less willing to sacrifice the security of their current role for the prospect of greater fulfilment in a new one.

However, unlike ‘presenteeism’, when employees attend work while ill, or ‘quiet quitting’, which refers to subtle disengagement from work, ‘resenteeism’ doesn’t mean employees will noticeably stop fulfilling their duties.

As this concerning workplace trend emerges, People Management spoke to experts about how employers can spot resenteeism, and what they can do to prevent it.

Where has resenteeism come from?

Chloe Angus, leadership coach and trainer, tells People Management: “Although there were a lot of people who changed jobs during the Great Resignation, there were also many who could not make the change [for] a number of reasons; cost of living and uncertainty being top of the list.”

She explains that resenteeism has been triggered in employees because of this inability to leave a role they are unhappy in – but that this isn’t the only cause of the trend. Other factors include general uncertainty and ongoing financial crises leading to greater job insecurity and an “increased interest in values-based living with more stress on work-life balance”, Angus says. 

“Employers also have an impact, with resenteeism being more likely in organisations that do not promote psychological safety, employee wellbeing and talent development,” she adds. 

What is its impact on the workplace and how can employers spot it?

Although businesses may not notice a reduction in performance, Anwen Bottois, founder of Purple Sky Consulting, says: “It might be more challenging to get energy, involvement and higher levels of engagement.

“There’s a risk when a few people feel anything that it can become contagious, and this trend is no different.”

Angus agrees, adding that resenteeism can not only “harm the individual and their performance”, but also team dynamics, company performance and brand and customer satisfaction.

“When resenteeism is present, employees are less engaged, communication and morale suffers and, with resentful team members not putting in as much effort, productivity falls and mistakes happen,” she says.

Although it may not be discernible through an obvious drop in productivity, Stephen Adams, founder and director of Inspirational Coaching, tells People Management that there are some signs of resenteeism that employers should keep an eye out for in their workplace.

“Comments here and there, trying to seek others to agree with how they are feeling (endorsement), withdrawing from meetings and disturbing the atmosphere for other peers” are all potential indicators that an employee is experiencing resenteeism, says Adams.

Angus adds: “It’s not always easy to see resenteeism in the workplace and it’s unlikely an employee would disclose this to their manager, if they are even aware of it themselves. 

“As a manager you may notice that a team member’s habits change – they show less enthusiasm, are reluctant to take on responsibilities, communicate less with colleagues, celebrate less and may have more absence.”

What can businesses do to prevent it?

“Often, our resentment is giving us information on something that is misaligned, whether our values clash with organisational values or we are being pushed into inefficient meetings, micromanaged or treated in ways that provoke resentment and we feel unable to say or do anything about it,” says Petra Velzeboer, CEO and founder of mental health consultancy PVL.

“Employers can help by asking genuine questions discussing how work is done, not just what employees are doing,” she suggests, adding that employees should have a voice and be allowed to internally move to a role that will lead to more of a sense of fulfilment.

Adams says employees experiencing resenteeism “need leaders to speak to them, ask how they are, seek to understand the employee’s concerns and provide a psychological safe space for healthy discussion”, adding that businesses should be aware that “what you permit you promote”. 

“Employers that ignore these behaviours are only creating an issue for themselves and the employee in the long run,” he adds.

Adams also says he has noticed in the past five years that organisations have moved away from regular reviews to half-yearly or even yearly check-ins. “More contact with your colleagues will pick up these issues earlier and [stop them getting] out of control,” he explains.

Bottois says employers should ensure “employees really enjoy their time in work and actually want to be there, even if circumstances mean they feel they have to be”.

She adds: “This looks like giving everyone in the team a purpose and a connection to the team plan and actively celebrating progress.”