Resenteeism. Destructive, contagious and in your workplace right now

Don’t ignore it the phenomenon of resenteeism. It can destroy new initiatives, progression and development in a heartbeat. You measure absenteeism. You are aware of presenteeism. But what are you doing about the new kid on the block – resenteeism? This occurs when employees stay in a job despite being fundamentally unhappy. They don’t want to be at work and when they are there, they actively resent it. Increasingly employees are fed up, across varying sectors, and showing some common threads or ‘symptoms’ of resenteeism. One of the most noticeable, and frustrating for employers, is employees resenting being asked to do their job.

Meet my colleague Adrian. Adrian’s role within his organisation is to source cover for staff who are away from work unexpectedly, due to sudden illness or a cancelled flight for example. Adrian started our meeting by telling me, in a tone full of incredulity and indignation, that he’d been asked to source cover for a colleague who was stuck abroad. He concluded his tale by asking ‘Can you believe they asked me to do that?’. Errrrm…Yes. Because that is literally his job. He was cross because someone had asked him, with absolute professionalism and politeness, to do the job he is paid to do. Adrian has resenteeism, and he’s not alone.

Employees tell me that they used to consider themselves professional and hardworking but now, they simply don’t care. We saw the impact of ‘quiet quitting’, where people committed to doing the job they are paid to do, and nothing more. However, there is nothing quiet about resenteeism. People are not planning to leave their role, they don’t feel professionally or financially motivated to seek a new role, yet they are not happy and they are not afraid to say it (I refer you to Adrian).


Why are we so resentful?

Although companies have tried to plaster over the cracks caused by the tumultuous events of the last few years, there is a lasting impact on employees caused by company behaviours during the pandemic. In case we’ve forgotten, 11.7million jobs, from 1.3 million employers, were furloughed. There was a significant level of stress associated with furlough, with over 61% of furloughed employees revealing fears over job security.

Whilst furlough ended in September 2021, 1 in 10 employees admits to feeling resentful for furloughed colleagues time off, and with 45% of those furloughed admitting they had enjoyed their period of furloughed leave, we can see why. 1 in 5 of those who remained at work claimed they has to take on extra work and responsibilities and suffered undue stress as a direct result of those individuals on furlough. Those who remained in work throughout now feel it is their turn to have a period of extended leave, whilst someone else carries the burden for a while. These feelings of resentment were added to by the Great Resignation phenomenon, which again saw those left behind feeling burdened and unsupported carrying the extra workload of those who were no longer in role.

Our collective resentment is yet further compounded by increasingly common return-to-the-workplace mandates. For those who turned their homes upside down to make working remotely work for the company, the idea that they are now being forced to return to the office seems to invalidate all the effort and support that they offered their companies. Instead of being rewarded, employees feel they are being punished with expensive commutes and loss of time in already packed schedules.

It is not only employees feeling powerful and destructive resentment, employers are feeling it too. Increasingly frustrated CEOs and senior leaders tell me ‘I’m only asking them to come back to the office, they did it before, what’s their problem?’. Employers resent the reticence, and the employees resent the lack of acknowledgement of the effort they have made. The result? Stalemate. The resentment is strong and everyone is digging their heels in.


Does it really matter if we are all a little grumpy?

By nature, resenteeism is toxic and destructive. Resenteeism is showing up in bad attitudes and poor productivity and is undermining company efforts to engage in new initiatives. A resentful employee is not a disengaged employee. Far from it. They are engaged with every step of the process, and are loudly denigrating it along the way. Dissatisfaction at work can spread like wildfire and it doesn’t take long for the negative shouts to drown out the optimistic whispers.

For every project that is met with resentment and cynicism, I see senior leaders experience resentment about the lack of passion and enthusiasm and therefore be more inclined to ignore or disregard the employees’ views. You only have to look at the recent Trade Union disputes that have cost the UK an estimated 2.5 million working days lost in the second half of 2022, to see the impact of employee and employer clashes when neither side is in a mindset to compromise.

There are some tell-tale signs of resenteeism which include a change in attitude or displaying an out-of-character lack of motivation or enthusiasm. Additionally, resenteeism can be seen in someone lowering their standards, their output, or both.

There are some key steps you can take to overcome resenteeism. If you have noticed feelings of resentment bubbling up, either in yourself or in others, then have an open conversation about what you are noticing. Ensure that vacation days are being used, talk to your team about the importance of regular rest and seek out opportunities for growth and development. If employees feel stretched and developed at work, they are far more likely to feel satisfied as they are gaining skills and getting something additional out of work, rather than ‘just’ the salary.

Above all, don’t ignore it. Resenteeism can destroy new initiatives, progression and development in a heartbeat. Don’t lose positive improvements in a sea of negativity. You’ll resent it if you do.