Is it…or isn’t it? Quiet quitting continues to enter the conversation (and the workplace)

Passive aggressive underperforming? Refusing to go over and above? “Quiet quitting” connotes different things to different people. Here’s what the phenomenon could mean to your business, and, more importantly, what you can do about it.

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Let’s begin by calling out a misnomer. Quiet quitting isn’t actually quitting. No notice is given. HR doesn’t become directly involved. The phenomenon is more subtle than that. Depending on who you ask, quiet quitting could be described as either “working to the contract” or “shirking on the job.” Depending on one’s individual perspective, possibly one’s place in the office hierarchy, it’s either the idea of going through the motions or the idea of refusing to take on additional duties without proper compensation.

Byproduct of burnout? Proof of a society’s gradually declining work ethic? Overhyped term that means nothing much at all? It seems that the only sure thing about quiet quitting is that people continue to talk about it and that it may well have implications related to the way we work today. 

“The concept of quiet quitting emerged last year as companies struggled to hire enough people to take on their rapidly increasing workloads. Existing employees went above and beyond to meet the needs of their organizations, and burnout ensued,” said Gallup’s CEO, Jon Clifton. “For months, economists have debated the kind of recession the U.S. would slide into after the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates. But what they missed is that the country is already in a recession -- not an economic recession, but an emotional one.”


“Executives may want to bury the term, but a recession won’t kill quiet quitting. That’s because the phenomenon isn’t new, even if the term is. In fact, almost four-fifths of the global workforce has either quietly or loudly quit, which costs the world’s economy almost $9 trillion per year.”



The daily grind, reexamined 

Content producers love a good buzzword and quiet quitting certainly fits the bill. In reality, debates about work-life balance are nothing new, though many agree that today’s discussion about whether going above and beyond the call of duty risks getting taken advantage of feels different. It comes amid post-pandemic unhappiness, global unrest, economic setbacks and, not least, record levels of actual quitting.

Above all, it also comes in response to perceptions of the daily grind, and amid a surge in worker empowerment that’s inspiring workers to rethink their relationship to both their job and their employer. Quality-of-life disruptions caused by the pandemic led to the reshuffling of priorities, prompting an unusual number of workers to quit in search of employment that afforded greater work-life balance. Until recently, a tighter than normal labor market emboldened them still further to look for opportunities that were more aligned with their family responsibilities, personal interests, or that simply gave them more time for themselves.

“Coinciding with the rise of quiet quitting was a four-percentage-point decline in Gallup’s measure of U.S. employee engagement,” said Clifton. “Four points might not seem significant, but imagine if unemployment increased four points -- it would make more headlines than inflation. And declining engagement will have financial consequences. Organizations with declining engagement see decreases in productivity, customer loyalty and profitability; they also see higher absenteeism, turnover and shrinkage.”


Where workplace conditions fit in

Quiet quitting can be motivated by any number of causes – dispassionate leadership or management, draconian work policies, shortage of ambition on the part of the employee themselves. But there’s little question that workplace rules, policies and conditions all can play a part. The good news is that this further suggests that the right leadership approach can quietly render quiet quitting a non-issue relative to your company’s productivity and performance.

To begin with, there’s the people-first factor. An engaged employee who feels appreciated by his or her employer is unlikely to become a candidate for quiet quitting. What does it take in the pandemic’s aftermath to make employees feel appreciated? It takes the same thing it took before the disruption. Compassion remains the core of any successful employment management solution. More one-to-one’s, clearly defined career goals, expressing an interest in life outside of work – these are all proven ways to foster employee satisfaction and loyalty.

Then there are the workplace conditions themselves. The fact that more employees these days are attributing their own sky-high levels of anxiety and depression to the physical workplace is both an indictment and an opportunity. It’s an indictment of an outdated mindset that believes passion punches a clock and the clock is located deep within the inner recesses of some uninspired corporate workplace. It’s an opportunity to improve workplace conditions by revisiting the workplace model itself. Embracing workplace flexibility and choice, giving team members more and better workplace options to choose from, are ways more employers are creating and supporting conditions that boost morale, inspire confidence and, not least, discourage quiet quitting. 


Quiet quitting & hybrid work

As the conversation rattles on regarding hybrid work, there’s some concern that affording individuals the freedom to work from anywhere could lessen an employee's sense of belonging. But that somewhat misses the point. 

Working from where it works doesn’t mean working in splendid isolation at home. It means some days at the office, some days at home, and some days collaborating with colleagues in coworking spaces, the frequency of each to be determined as appropriate. 

Creating regular opportunities for workers to collaborate with their peers and interact with their supervisors energizes everyone involved. Engagement is itself a galvanizing force, and collaboration fosters engagement. 

Mixing and matching spaces is another way to invigorate the team. It acknowledges the fact that different types of work require different types of environments (e.g. concentration vs. collaboration). But it also reflects a heightened level of engagement on the part of the employer, a proactive willingness to think about what’s in the employee’s best interest. And that goes a long way to motivating employees to not mail it in when it comes to their own individual performance. 

There are plenty of other ways to discourage quiet quitting. These include helping to establish healthy work/life boundaries, finding opportunities to volunteer, and investing in employee fitness.

Of course, higher pay always helps, too. 


Will the quiet quitting phenomenon continue? As with virtually every aspect of our new workplace lives, it’s impossible to say because our workplace lives remain fluid, a work in progress. It’s certainly possible that against the backdrop of companies like Meta and Amazon laying off tens of thousands of employees, layoff fears will yet again upend the labor market, sending workers scurrying back to their hamster wheels, eager to put in an extra shift.

But it’s also possible that this newly placed emphasis on work-life balance is here to stay. For one, it’s a healthier approach to one’s work. It’s even true that a solid work-life balance and a go-above-and-beyond work ethic aren’t mutually exclusive. Going above and beyond where it’s warranted and backing off a bit when it’s possible can and should in harmony,  balancing each other out. 

Preventing an outbreak of quiet quitting at your workplace starts by taking the time to hire perfect fit talent and then treating those new hires with respect. Each of us has the same 168 hours every week. It should be up to each of us how that time is spent, but the right workplace model can be powerfully influential, a rising tide that raises worker happiness, workplace productivity, even the real gross domestic product. 

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