A method called Applied Improvisation can build organizational trust and lead to higher employee engagement, enhancing productivity and ultimately improving profitability.
by Theodore Klein
March 16, 2023
The message being sent to executives around the country is loud and clear: the U.S. workforce has had enough. A recent Gallup poll found that at least half of the workforce is comprised of “quiet quitters” who mentally check out after completing the core requirements of their position. By virtue of the movement gaining traction on social media platforms, Millennials and Gen Zers have emerged as the faces of the movement despite its prevalence among all age groups.
For organizations looking to reverse the trend and reengage professional staff, it’s important to recognize that the motivators behind quiet quitting are consistent—regardless of professional title. Gallup’s 2022 employee engagement survey reveals that employee engagement in the U.S. has fallen to its lowest levels since 2015 while the percentage of employees that are actively disengaged has reached 2013 levels. Managers and their professional staff alike are quietly suffering and eroding productivity.
Symptoms of a serious motivation problem were visible even before a global pandemic necessitated a shift, likely permanent, to hybrid and remote work. Further fracturing the already strained connections that bind us as humans has had a profound impact on morale. Workers feel overworked, underappreciated and lack opportunities to rise through the ranks. They are desperately seeking recognition for their individual contributions. And as Elon Musk and Twitter recently found out, continuing to treat staff as a group instead of individuals and strong-arming them with an “extremely hardcore” ultimatum leads to the departure of talent that may be difficult to replace.
As Studs Terkel wrote in his highly celebrated 1974 book, “Working,” satisfied workers have “a meaning to their work well over and beyond the reward of the paycheck.” Quiet quitters haven’t quit; they’re just yearning for a meaningful work connection and genuine appreciation for their efforts beyond a token raise.
Improvising a path forward
This conclusion is positive for large organizations. Instead of heavily investing in costly incentive packages, which don’t move the needle, the solution begins and ends with authentic engagement. All it takes for organizations to reverse the quiet quitting trend is taking the initiative to reengage professional staff. Applied improvisation (AIM) programs have emerged as an effective tool to do just that. Though improv is often linked to comedic acting or frivolous spontaneity, its cousin, AIM, hones the art of solving problems in real time, enhances staff connections, and can provide a vital professional edge. This all leads to greater engagement, productivity and profitability. AIM provides that edge as an innovative, science-based experiential learning tactic that can improve leadership and organizational competency with precise professional programs.
What exactly is Applied Improvisation?
AIM is about rethinking leadership in a new era for business. The concepts that lead to successful comedic improv – awareness of others, presence in the moment, agreeing instead of rejecting – are repurposed for a business setting. The tactic is typically taught through in-person programs that address key professional skills like leadership, emotional aptitude, team development, collaboration, innovation and communication. Participants are taken through a highly dynamic and interactive program with activities, discussions and self-assessments that both pinpoint opportunities for professional improvement and bring staff together to strengthen personal bonds. Regardless of whether staff work together in an office or rely primarily on virtual communication tools like Zoom and Slack, the lessons learned during a short in-person session can enhance professional cooperation in any setting.
How does Applied Improvisation reengage professional staff?
As an antidote to the quiet quitting movement, AIM’s dual prioritization of professional improvement and the human connection is an invaluable combination. Organizations that employ AIM programs send a clear message to their staff that every one of them is valuable to the success of the enterprise. Instead of replacing staff members, giving them a prime opportunity to improve their business skills provides the lubrication they have been not-so-silently squeaking about. They learn how to respond to challenges in the moment and resolve conflicts that make them not only better employees, but better professionals.
As Ron Friedman clearly points out in the Harvard Business Review:
“When it comes to building extraordinary workplaces and high-performing teams, researchers have long appreciated that three psychological needs are essential: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Decades of research demonstrate that when people feel psychologically fulfilled, they tend to be healthier, happier, and more productive.”
AIM is a powerful tool to increase relatedness. It highlights the fact that proficient communicators have a firm grip on emotional awareness. They express authenticity and embrace empathy to effectively convey their message. They’re present in conversations and aware of themselves and those that they’re communicating with. Emotional aptitude is a core component of AIM, and its benefits are clear to overall work productivity and the strengthening of teams. AIM is not just for extroverts. In the hands of a competent facilitator, shy, disconnected and reserved staff members become comfortable in expressing themselves, challenging others and engaging effectively.
The opportunity to reconnect with coworkers and learn strategies for enhancing communication is just as important to boosting workplace morale. AIM teaches techniques for speaking in the moment, handling difficult conversations and methods for engaging in civil discourse. These are essential skills for doing a job well and forming lasting bonds with colleagues, both of which ingrain a person within an organization. For those working in hybrid or remote settings, AIM also offers skills for mastering non-verbal communication; an indispensable tool for effectively collaborating over Zoom and other digital communication platforms.
Seizing the opportunity to improve
Corporate America’s reaction to the quiet quitting movement has only further illuminated the sentiments that birthed it. Organizations want to root out the so-called underachievers within their ranks instead of addressing the internal factors that led to the disengagement in the first place. Professional staff that are burned out and feel adrift need to be shown how their role is vital to the success of the organization. By instilling accountability within individuals for their performance and uniting staff under a common goal, organizations can effectively flip the quiet quitting script.