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Does Making Up Words Like Resenteeism Undermine HR's Credibility?

Explore the concept of 'resenteeism' among employees, the challenges it presents, and why creating new buzzwords may not be the solution. Discover the underlying issues in the workplace and the importance of addressing them with concrete actions.


A black and white photo of a group of people sitting on a couch.

There's a new buzzword floating around for describing unhappy employees: Resenteeism. It describes the state of disliking your job but not quitting over fears about job security. If that sounds like a phenomenon that is decades (if not centuries) old, that's because it is.

There's absolutely nothing new about workers disliking their work but staying in their jobs because of difficulty finding a better situation. For instance, a Leadership IQ study on employee engagement revealed that in 42% of companies, high performers are actually less engaged than low performers. Why? Because those high performers do more work with little or no extra recognition or appreciation. Another study discovered that 26% of employees are Motivated But Unhappy; they dislike their company but are still motivated to give 100% effort at work. A survey of 2,500 employees found that the frustrations they face at work are so severe that around 60% want to look for other jobs.

The issue is not whether there are unhappy or disengaged employees in our workplaces. They exist, and they often have incredibly legitimate reasons for being annoyed, disengaged or even outright miserable. But every time an HR consultant coins another term, like resenteeism, to explain this phenomenon, three bad things happen.

First, while that new term generates a short-term buzz, the discussion is so fleeting and insubstantial that little, if any, serious research or evidence is provided to understand, let alone solve, the issue. Most CEOs aren't going to suddenly transform their HR operations and people strategies because they read an article with a catchy new term.

Second, what are the solutions to something like resenteeism? Depending on the advice you read, the solutions could include giving people a greater sense of purpose in their work, more meaningful recognition, deeper employee communication, and solving the roadblocks that can make work demoralizing.

All of those sound like perfectly fine solutions, but those are also the same exact solutions that would improve quiet quitting, disengaged employees, or whatever other term we happen to be discussing this week. The more we keep making up words, the more we distract from the underlying actions that need to be taken to meaningfully improve the workplace.

Finally, there are deep issues that should be fixed in the modern workplace. But who controls the financial and attentional resources necessary to make the necessary changes? Overwhelmingly, the decision-makers will be the CEO or CFO.

Now, here's what every HR executive needs to understand. We know from the one million takers of the test What's Your Communication Style that leaders in Finance are likely to have an analytical communication style. Analytical communicators like hard data, real numbers, and tend to be suspicious of people who aren't in command of the facts and data. They also generally like very specific language and dislike vague language. By contrast, personal communication is the top style for those in HR; they value emotional language, connection and feelings.

Making up terms like resenteeism is hardly an example of communicating with hard data, real numbers, and specific language. I fully support tackling the serious issues plaguing employees. There's no doubt that burnout is a real problem, many return-to-the-office policies are ill-conceived, a lot of workplace communication is atrocious, and the list goes on. But far too many CEOs and CFOs roll their eyes every time there's a new trendy word, and that hurts everyone who's trying to fix real problems.

This article was written by Mark Murphy from Forbes and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive Content Marketplace. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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