We love it when a definition that truly resonates with us enters popular culture.
“Quiet quitting” is a catchy phrase that many of us will embrace at one point or another during our careers. The moment the thought of leaving our job enters our head, it is hard to dislodge. Thoughts of walking out the door after a bad day at work are tempting indeed, even for the most dedicated of employees.
With a recent Gallup poll showing that 50 percent of us are entertaining such moments, is quiet quitting really such a new phenomenon, or is it simply a reflection of just how much people are now openly sharing their intimate thoughts?
In this blog, we consider the truth about “quiet quitting,” how it might impact the new hybrid workplace, and how the psychology of the phenomenon might affect employee loyalty. With it being such a buzzword, are employers more wary of the warning signs? Is it a dangerous trap for someone who is simply just having a tough time at work? We consider:
- What is causing the quiet quitting trend
- Signs that someone might be quiet quitting
- What to do if your boss is exhibiting the signs
- What are the solutions to quiet quitting
What is causing the quiet quitting trend?
There is currently a perfect storm fueling “quiet quitting.” It is true to say that most employers suffer from an undercurrent of dissatisfaction when times get tougher, but the combination of demotivating factors is hard to resist for any disgruntled employee.
Employees are disengaged
Both the disruption caused by the pandemic and the seismic shifts in work practices have meant that previously comfortable employees have been jolted out of their daily routines into an unstable existence that may prompt many to question what they are doing. When the geographical barriers to finding another role crumble, it is natural to be curious as to what else is out there. Remote work also makes it harder for bosses to engage with their people. Quiet quitting is born of insecurity.
U.S. employee engagement took another step backward during the second quarter of 2022, with the proportion of engaged workers remaining at 32 percent but the proportion of actively disengaged increasing to 18 percent. The ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is now 1.8 to 1, the lowest in almost a decade. Absenteeism can lead to productivity loss and has been estimated to cost the US economy $225.8 billion annually.
Well-being taking a back seat
When employee well-being is compromised, people can feel undervalued and overworked. The resultant stress can lead to mental health challenges and job satisfaction nosedives. In tougher economic times, employers step back from well-being initiatives as their effectiveness is less easy to measure. This, in turn, can lead to quiet quitting as it is a visible sign that employers are choosing not to invest in their people.
A study by Towers Watson found that organizations with effective health and productivity programs have 11% higher revenue per employee, 1.8 fewer days absent per employee per year, and 28% greater shareholder returns.
Organizations are in disarray
After the pandemic, organizational structures have shifted to mean that certain people are taking on more responsibility than ever before. Business models have changed, digital (and other) tech is transforming working practices, and employers are finding efficiencies previously out of reach. This “do more with less” attitude can mean that individuals are overloaded and teams are overstretched.
Disruption comes at the cost of people realizing that they are expendable pawns in the game of business. It may not be their time yet, but why should they give everything they have just to receive their marching orders at some future point? When organizational structures and processes change around you, it is not such a leap of the imagination.
Inflation is biting
If your salary does not go as far as it did due to rampant inflation and your employer is not in a position to increase your compensation in line with the cost of living. A recent Monster poll showed that 60 percent of workers are considering quiet quitting for being underpaid for what they are asked to do.
When real wages are impacted by inflation, there is a disconnect between effort and reward. This is not truly visible for an employer as they do not experience the living costs of each individual employee, but it is not hard to feel undervalued when your salary no longer allows you the same standard of living as previously. Some employers are seeking to track inflation with their salary increases, but this is merely feeding the beast. It is a genuine problem that is causing more motivational issues than employers would like to admit.
Signs that someone may be quiet quitting
While you are likely perfectly aware of your feelings, if you do not want others to see that you are losing the will to live at work, you should be aware of the outward signs that you are quiet quitting. You can be sure that your boss will have done plenty of research on the subject, so make sure that you are able to play the part proficiently enough.
Equally, if you are a boss and you sense that an employee is not quite with you anymore, here are some telltale signs. Of course, they may have other reasons for their lack of engagement, so be careful not to label them as a quiet quitter too early. If you take an interest in the reasons behind these behaviors, you will likely build a stronger relationship (or you will push them out of the door). Either way, you will benefit in the long run.
- Diminished productivity. This one is not so hard to measure. If deadlines are constantly whooshing by without a hint of concern from the employee, it may be that they are testing the boundaries of their apathy. When you don’t care about workplace boundaries anymore it is a slippery slope for a quiet quitter. True quiet quitters manage to stay under the radar.
- Lack of initiative. When someone who was previously keen as mustard no longer volunteers for additional projects, you can tell that their motivation has waned. You show initiative when you are living and breathing the role. There is no compulsion to go the extra mile when you are quiet quitting.
- Less engagement. Few workplaces set expectations in terms of contributions to meetings, so it is easy to let your enthusiasm slide during brainstorming sessions and team-building activities. Letting other people take up the slack is the hallmark of a quiet quitter - an unwillingness to make contributions can quickly become contagious.
- Avoiding social interactions. If the employee starts to isolate themselves from colleagues, skip office social events, or avoid casual interactions, they might be disengaging from their role. This is harder to spot in a hybrid work environment that has enabled the rise of quiet quitting (and maybe why increasingly more employers are pushing for a return to the office).
- Increased absenteeism. When the fear of losing your job fades into the apathetic background, calling in sick is no longer such a big deal. One day turns into three, and, all of a sudden, you become best friends with your doctor. Reliability goes out of the window when quiet quitting takes hold – you just don’t care about what people think of you.
- Lack of enthusiasm. Any change in enthusiasm levels will be noted. While many things may influence the gusto with which you approach your work, quiet quitters will not see any reason to manufacture enthusiasm when indifference reigns supreme. They think that as long as they do their work, then their job is safe.
- Negative attitude. A shift towards negativity, criticism, or complaints about the job or the organization can also be a signal that you have mentally checked out. There are so many opportunities to be negative about any job that only a true dedication to the role can keep your mouth shut and your attitude positive. Quiet quitters can’t help themselves.
- Not doing the job properly. If the quality of work significantly drops, it may mean that you have stopped investing effort into your tasks and don’t always make the grade in terms of what is expected. Quiet quitters pride themselves on their ability to do just about enough, but it is all too easy to slip into slacking.
What to do if your boss is quiet quitting?
Quiet quitting is not just for employees. You have a problem if your boss is the one who is mentally going through the motions. When the person that is responsible for your growth and development doesn’t want to be there, what can you do about it?
While you should never make assumptions about someone’s apparent lack of motivation (all sorts of things might be going on in their lives), there are several things that an employee can do if they feel that their boss is not motivated anymore. Use your judgment in such a situation – if they feel under threat, it will have implications for your relationship. Approach it from a place of concern for their well-being rather than criticism. Here are a few options:
- Talk to them about it. If you get on with your boss, they will appreciate your concern. Approach any conversation delicately as they may not want to talk about it and ask how you can help them rather than demand that they change their attitude. They may not see themselves from an external perspective. If you are seeing this shift then it is likely that others will see it too – it is better to help an existing boss than have to deal with a new one.
- Take the initiative and step up. If your boss is slacking for whatever reason, it is an excellent opportunity for you to step up and take responsibility for projects that will help you to develop. This will increase your visibility in the business and prove your worth to senior management. A boss quiet quitting can be an opportunity rather than a threat. Your wider team will appreciate your initiative and the breathing space may even help your boss get back on track.
- Seek support. If your bosses’ lack of interest in the role is having a material effect on your daily work, chat with colleagues to see if they have had the same issues. There is a certain point where you may need to approach HR or upper management and it is best to do this when there is a consensus about such behavior. Do not go on a one-person crusade against your boss as this will rarely end well. Only take this path if their negligence is obvious to all.
Is there a solution to quiet quitting?
The solution to quiet quitting has not changed over the years – employers need to ensure that employees are motivated and engaged at work. The shift to remote work and the increase in alternative employment options has not helped, but people who are happy in their jobs will not be tempted to look elsewhere.
Firstly, manager engagement needs to be addressed. According to recent evidence, only one in three managers are engaged at work. Senior leadership needs to reskill managers to win in the new hybrid environment, finding new ways to connect with their people when they are not sitting next to them.
Managers must also learn how to have conversations to help employees reduce disengagement and burnout. Only managers know employees as individuals -- their life situation will inevitably affect them at work. Arranging a regular slot for a personal “how is everything going” conversation is the best way to make sure that this happens. Managers who know how to listen will get to the bottom of most issues.
Thirdly, it should be clear that accountability for performance remains with the employee. If people are no longer aligned with the company’s direction, their lack of effort should result in action. If too many people are allowed to get away with quiet quitting it can quickly become an epidemic that can overwhelm an organization.
- Quiet quitting isn’t such a new thing, but its elevation to the public discourse is normalizing it to an extent that people are feeling validated in their discontent.
- Its high-profile presence in the current workplace may mean it’s not the right path for those seeking an easier life.
- Managers are now on the lookout for the signs of those who may be doing it, seeing a lack of engagement through a negative lens rather than initially choosing empathy and investigating what else might be going on.
- Quiet quitting has the potential to be a productivity time bomb, just as employers start to demand more of their people after a couple of years of disruption.