People Management

Resenteeism in the Workplace and How to Fix It

With trends like quiet quitting and coffee badging rising, a new term has emerged: resenteeism. It describes employees who feel trapped in their jobs, unhappy and resentful, without seeing any better alternatives. Recognizing the signs of resenteeism and knowing how to address them is key to re-engaging impacted teams and boosting employee retention.

So, What’s Resenteeism All About?

Resenteeism occurs when employees are disgruntled or frustrated with their jobs, managers, or employers. They may feel underappreciated, unfairly treated, or disappointed about their work situation. However, they don’t believe they can easily quit and find a better job, so they stay put while disengaging mentally and emotionally.

Several factors have contributed to the rise of resenteeism. Concerns about a tight labor market and economic uncertainty have made employees reluctant to leave their jobs, even if they are unhappy.

Additionally, widespread layoffs across industries have eroded trust between employers and employees, weakening company loyalty. Many workers also feel frustrated with employers who did not continue the flexibility and work-life balance that became common during the pandemic.

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Are Resentful Employees Quiet Quitters?    

Resenteeism is sometimes confused with quiet quitting in the workplace, but despite sharing similarities, both terms mean very different things.

Quiet quitters tend to silently withdraw effort and stop going above and beyond, sticking to the minimum in their job descriptions. In contrast, resentful employees may be more vocal about their discontent. They often actively dislike their jobs and can negatively impact company culture rather than simply being passively disengaged.

Examples of resenteeism include:

  • complaining to coworkers about managers, pay, or company decisions
  • appearing to lose interest in company goals or contributing less to team projects
  • making uncharacteristic mistakes, missing deadlines, or letting the quality of work slip

Like quiet quitters, resentful employees mentally check out and stop caring about excelling in their roles. They feel trapped and stick around in jobs they dislike out of necessity rather than loyalty. Over time, their frustration can boil into toxicity and even open hostility.

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What Causes Resentment?

Many believe that resenteeism is the latest evolution of the post-pandemic pushback against hustle culture.

It can often reflect workers prioritizing their well-being and wanting more autonomy over how, when, and where they work. When employers aren’t keeping up with these changing needs and attitudes, resentment grows.

It’s important to recognize that the problem isn’t the resentment itself. Resentment is a natural human response when employees feel their needs aren’t being met, their opinions aren’t valued, or their contributions aren’t recognized.

The real issue is the deeper disengagement driving the behavior. The solution lies in understanding and addressing the root causes.

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How to Reduce Resenteeism

Here are some tips to help your company spot, prevent, and address resenteeism.

Watch for Warning Signs

Managers should be alert for changes in attitude, lack of enthusiasm, emotional distance, and declining work quality. An employee who previously engaged and now avoids optional meetings or turns down growth opportunities may be resentful.

Talk With Employees Frequently

Don’t wait for annual reviews. Have consistent one-on-one check-ins bi-weekly to discuss workloads, roadblocks, support needs, and career goals. Use these conversations to gauge employee satisfaction.

Ask for Feedback and Input

Proactively seek employees’ opinions on policies, projects, and decisions that impact them. Collaborative cultures where workers feel heard and valued tend to see less resentment.

Prioritize Flexibility and Autonomy

Embrace hybrid and remote arrangements and flexible schedules where possible. Empower employees to have more control over their work. Flexibility is also now a key priority for many job seekers.

Invest in Employee Growth

Provide coaching, training, and clear advancement pathways so employees feel they have room to grow. Stagnation can breed resentment in many instances.

Lead With Empathy and Transparency

Train managers to tune into their team’s stress levels and support their well-being. Communicate openly and honestly about company decisions and changes. 

Address Issues Directly

If an employee shows resentment, initiate a caring conversation to identify the reasons and collaborate on potential solutions. Ignoring resentment allows it to spread.

Ultimately, the antidote to resenteeism is making employees feel valued, heard, and empowered with the flexibility and growth they crave in today’s work world. When companies invest in a people-first culture, resentment fades, and engagement rises.

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Utilizing PIPs to Address Employee Resentment

If approached with empathy and a genuine intent to improve the situation, a performance improvement plan (PIP) can rebuild trust and engagement.

When communicated effectively through a PIP, clear expectations can serve as a roadmap for resentful employees, helping them understand their position and the company’s expectations.

If these efforts do not improve the situation, it may be necessary to part ways respectfully.

Wize Words

You can prevent resentment from taking root by proactively nurturing an empathetic culture where employees thrive professionally and personally. At the same time, open communication, growth opportunities, flexibility, and responsive management can transform resentful employees into enthusiastic team members who bring value to your company.

Frequently Asked Questions

Whose responsibility is it to address and prevent resenteeism?

Addressing resenteeism requires effort from both employees and employers. Individuals should communicate their needs and frustrations. However, companies are responsible for fostering a positive employee-centric culture and providing channels for feedback, flexibility, and growth. It takes a collaborative team effort to create productive and healthy workplaces.

Can resentful employees ever be re-engaged?

Yes, resentment can be reversed if caught and addressed early. It requires open communication, willingness to identify issues on both sides and concrete changes to improve the employee experience. Showing empathy and responsiveness to workers’ needs goes a long way. Instead of a one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter approach, focus on addressing the unique concerns of each employee.

What happens if resenteeism is left unaddressed?

Unresolved resentment tends to intensify and spread to other team members, damaging productivity, collaboration, and retention. It can also lead to absenteeism, errors, conflicts, and turnover. That’s why addressing potential problems sooner rather than later is important to protect your company culture and promote a healthier, happier work environment for everyone.

Author

  • Ryan Lawrence

    Ryan Lawrence is a highly experienced HR writer who’s spent two decades covering diverse workplace topics for small- and mid-size businesses. With a keen eye for detail, he delves into the complexities of human resources, focusing on the trends impacting the workplace and giving HR professionals actionable solutions.

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The article was reviewed by Deirdre Sullivan

Ryan Lawrence

Ryan Lawrence is a highly experienced HR writer who’s spent two decades covering diverse workplace topics for small- and mid-size businesses. With a keen eye for detail, he delves into the complexities of human resources, focusing on the trends impacting the workplace and giving HR professionals actionable solutions.

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