Resenteeism: what is it and what to do about it?

Clea Grady

Feb 2023 ⋅ 4 min read

Annoyed-looking man in a shirt leaning against a wall, lifting his glasses off his face.

If someone in your team appears downcast or disengaged at work, then it could be more than just the winter blues — they may be suffering from ‘resenteeism’.

What is resenteeism?

Resenteeism is a new workplace term that describes the feeling of staying in a job despite being fundamentally unhappy. Concerns around the cost of living, job security, or a lack of preferable alternatives means that many people are choosing to stay where they are, but actively resenting it.

This resentment can extend to their workplace, the organisation as a whole, and even the people they work with. In short, resenteeism is a bitter pill for all concerned and a worrying new workplace trend.

Is resenteeism the same as presenteeism?

Presenteeism is the idea of people being in work — i.e. they’re ‘present’ — but being unproductive while they’re there.

Whether it’s due to mental or physical ill health, or a matter outside of work that distracts, presenteeism refers to when an employee is physically on the job but does very little work during their scheduled hours.

Conversely, those suffering from resenteeism may maintain good or satisfactory levels of productivity. They’re also unlikely to make their feelings known to their line manager, and probably more likely to express them in various ways to colleagues and peers. This makes resenteeism difficult to spot, but damaging to staff morale and workplace culture.

‘Resenteeiers’ will typically feel frustrated and trapped at work, where ‘presenteeiers’ are just ‘going through the motions’ and turning up when they shouldn’t.

While presenteeism is performative and passive, resenteeism is active by its very definition and can therefore be particularly destructive.

Annoyed-looking woman staring at the camera, against a plain grey background.
Resenteeism can spread negative feelings through a workplace

What has caused resenteeism?

A lot of factors may have contributed to growing resenteeism in the workplace, including:

  1. Fears over another recession and the ever-increasing cost of living are likely culprits. Stepping into the unknown is even scarier when you’re unsure whether you’ll be able to pay the bills.
  2. Winter in the UK is a difficult time for many, as people struggle with the post-Christmas/back-to-work blues.
  3. Then there’s ‘the great resignation’ and ‘quiet quitting’, which will no doubt have exacerbated feelings of dissatisfaction. Workers who’ve stayed in roles, when many others were leaving theirs, report feeling undervalued, unfairly treated, or forgotten by their employers. It’s possible that this has fueled a growing sense of resentment.
  4. And, of course, all of this on the back of several years of Covid.

How to spot resenteeism in your staff

When resenteeism sets in, employees don’t just mentally step back from their work — de-prioritising their job and how it contributes to their identity — they actively resent it.

This means they’re likely to disengage from what they do, and become increasingly unhappy.

But if they don’t talk about it, how do you know it’s happening? Here are a few signs to look out for:

  • A change in attitude or behaviour
  • A lack of enthusiasm
  • No longer emotionally invested in the job
  • An obvious decline in the quality of work

As with most things in work and life, communication is essential for dealing with instances of resenteeism. And acting early on any signs you spot will be beneficial for the individual in question, your wider staff team, and your business.

Asking open questions during one-to-ones is a good habit regardless of resenteeism, but if someone is feeling unmotivated and unhappy then these sort of review meetings are the best place for this conversation. Don’t expect to get an honest answer during a staff meeting or when customers are around.

If you do suspect that someone on your team is feeling resentful, the best thing you can do is to be genuine in your concern and show them you care. Because how you react in this situation will likely determine how they respond.

Hands and coffee cups on a table as two people engage in conversation.
Open communication can help to prevent resenteeism.

What can employers do to prevent resenteeism?

Although external factors like the cost of living are outside of employers’ control, there are things that all managers and business owners can do to reduce the chances of resenteeism becoming a problem in their own teams.

  1. Nurture an environment where open communication feels natural and normal, so that your staff feel comfortable talking to you and each other.
  2. Encourage holidays. We all need regular breaks away from work to recharge and reset. Talk to your team about the importance of leave, and make sure they know how to request time off from work.
  3. Support your staff with information and resources relating to their mental health, and normalise talking about it at work.
  4. Provide opportunities for professional development. From training courses to job shadowing and one-to-one mentoring, create and communicate avenues for learning and professional growth within your business. Your team will value and appreciate this.
  5. Improve employee experience at your business. Talk to your staff about what matters to them at work, and make changes where you can to show that you take their feedback onboard.
  6. Show appreciation. Reward your staff for their efforts and celebrate team success to create a culture of positivity.

The rise in resenteeism isn’t wholly surprising, but it is concerning. If you suspect that someone in your team is increasingly unhappy at work, talk to them and try to find out what the problem is.

And if you want proactively counter resenteeism by boosting employee experience at your business, then we have a growing bank of articles that you can refer to whenever you need.

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