Updated: Sep 30, 2022
With soaring workplace burnout and turnover, might the simple quiet quitting approach to work be the answer? Or will this I'm-not-going-to-go-extra mindset put an organization’s bottom line further in the red?
People are finally taking it upon themselves to reclaim agency over their wellbeing - which may be a positive thing. But this quiet quitting movement also reflects a silent uprising against unreasonable corporate demands. And managers need to evaluate why people are resorting to it in the first place before it escalates into full-blown disengagement.
What is Quiet Quitting and Why is It Happening?
The term ‘quiet quitting’ was popularized by Zaid Khan, a 24-year-old engineer in New York. His TikTok video, which rejects the corporate grind, racked up 3 million views in two weeks (1).
“You’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond. You’re no longer subscribing to the hustle-culture mentality that work has to be your life,” Khan explains.
This 17-second video sparked a rebellion against the corporate hustle. It echoes the practice of doing the bare minimum, working just enough to not get fired, while rejecting discretionary effort.
Now, people are braver in advocating for their life outside of work. Refusing to answer emails outside work hours, resisting new responsibilities, and avoiding extra effort beyond the job description.
Common Causes of Quiet Quitting
People are being more proactive with their wellness - which is a good thing. But at the same time, quiet quitting signals a mismatch regarding employer-employee expectations. Here are some common reasons as to why workers today don’t trust their managers with their wellbeing:
Lack of boundaries
Insufficient support from managers
Unclear or mismatched expectations
Unsafe work environments
If these issues go on, they can erode worker-manager relationships, increase dissatisfaction, and disrupt workflows. Research from McKinsey & Company already predicts that 40% of the global workforce are looking to quit their jobs in the next three to six months (2). And the 2022 State of the Global Workplace report from Gallup shows only 1 out of 4 employees are engaged at work (3).
Five Things Employers Can Do to Manage Quiet Quitting
There is absolutely nothing wrong with an employee setting boundaries that preserve their work-life balance. Rather, it turns into a concern when employees become disengaged at work as well. So, what can leaders do to restore engagement and keep employees fulfilled both in and out of the office?
1) Monitor changes in behavior
Quiet quitters are rarely your underperformers. In fact, most of them could be your office superstars. You might notice their sudden drop in engagement during meetings, initiative to propose new ideas, or participation in work socials.
These changes may simply indicate an employee might be facing personal challenges or might just need a break. And it’s totally okay that they’re putting their mental and physical health ahead of work. Still, it’s important to be aware of these signals in the event their disengagement starts to impact their wellbeing and performance at work. Only then can management propose solutions and provide the necessary support.
2) Have open conversations
Take the “quiet” out of “quiet quitting” by laying the issues out in the open. Schedule in regular two-way conversations about your employees’ performance and career goals. This helps nurture healthy working partnerships and put issues upfront as they arise. Obviously, managers also need to provide a safe and non-condemning environment for employees to be honest.
To bring up concerning behavior changes empathetically, you may frame your conversation as such:
“I noticed that you’ve been a little quiet/down at work lately. And I understand that you may be going through personal challenges or taking some downtime. Just wanted to let you know that if there are parts of work you’re dissatisfied with, I’m happy to address them to ensure there are no issues I’m overlooking. Whenever you’re ready to share your concerns, we’re here to find a solution together.”
3) Moderate employees’ workload
Overtime should be the exception instead of the norm. A leader’s job is to ensure that your employees aren't constantly burning the midnight oil. That may indicate they’re being tasked more than their hours allow. Or perhaps they need support to manage the project better.
But of course, business is dynamic and sometimes those extra hours are necessary. In these cases, set the expectation that the increase is short-term and ideally optional. Any indefinite extra responsibility should be compensated accordingly or made an official promotion.
4) Address pays discrepancies
Making sure that your employees’ salaries are on par with market rates, cost of living, and current workloads are vital. Compensation should be reviewed at least annually, and managers can also provide non-monetary recognition, perks, and benefits.
When you maintain a constant fair exchange of compensation for work, you also maintain employer integrity. Thoughtlessly racking up the to-do-list despite employees’ comfort levels, current workloads, or feedback conveys that employer only value output, not employee wellbeing. Your employee will likely feel unappreciated and go further down the quiet quitting route if they’re not appropriately rewarded.
5) Respect their career decisions
Not everyone wants to climb the career ladder or take on more projects. So rather than assuming every employee has the same career goals, discuss early and regularly how they feel about expanding their roles. This allows you to manage expectations and ensure that people are comfortable with the change.
And if an employee wishes to remain where they are due to other responsibilities outside of work, respect their decision. You may also suggest alternative arrangements in situations where the business is in urgent need of someone to fulfill the extra responsibilities.
Quiet quitting is merely a symptom of longstanding unhealthy corporate cultures. People are simply taking it upon themselves to silently retreat from overbearing demands. That’s why leaders need to take visible action to restore employees’ autonomy and control. Only then can we prevent complete disengagement, and ultimately help people feel psychologically safe at work.
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