Quiet quitting is the talk of the boardroom.
So-called quiet quitting, a polarizing term popularized on social media, went viral after trending on TikTok and has sparked an interesting debate about workplace culture. While the concept has nothing to do with actually quitting, it is part of a broader movement to re-establish work-life boundaries. Employee engagement, a key metric used to evaluate involvement and enthusiasm in the workplace, has dropped significantly. Gallup’s 2021 State of the Global Workplace Report1 found that only 15% of employees are engaged with their work, meaning the overwhelming majority of workers are not connected with that environment or their responsibilities.
Engagement is not a negligible problem. While it may be tempting to dismiss it as employees simply having poor attitudes towards work, the practical impact is impossible to ignore. One study found that disengaged employees could cost US employers between $450 and $500 billion2 each year in the form of absenteeism, employee turnover, and lost productivity.
But where did this phenomenon come from, how did it start, and what can be done about it?
What is quiet quitting?
The quiet quitting trend emerged on TikTok, the video-sharing social media platform that became immensely popular during the pandemic. Workers shared videos of doing the bare minimum to complete tasks at work instead of going above and beyond. Their focus is on improving their work-life balance. When the balance is tipped too unevenly, it needs to be addressed.
This follows on the heels of The Great Resignation, the global phenomenon in which millions of employees quit en masse. In the US, over 47 million workers3 quit their jobs of their own volition. Even now, 5.5 million working-age Americans4 are not in full-time employment. To some extent, quiet quitting represents the next evolution of The Great Resignation.
Over the past two years, we’ve seen dramatic changes in how we work and think about work causing seismic shifts in employee attitudes. The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated a work realignment already in progress and transformed employees’ understanding of success, purpose, and value. Rising inflation and calls for commitment and action on environmental social and governance ESG issues a further reshaping a workforce terrane.
The pandemic-fuelled, generational shift in attitudes towards work has led to The Great Resignation, the anti-work movement, and now quiet quitting. A recent Gallup poll found that at least 50% of US workers are currently quiet quitting5, a number that is likely to grow given its sudden popularity.
If 2021 was the year of The Great Resignation, then 2022 is the year of quiet quitting.
Why is quiet quitting a thing?
While not necessarily a new concept, the premise of quiet quitting is a response to unrealistic workloads, inappropriate work-life boundaries, and a lack of consideration for employee mental health and wellbeing.
Three apparent factors are driving this trend right now. The first is the lingering effects of the pandemic and social distancing. It has significantly impacted culture.
While the benefits of remote work are plentiful, employees may lose that same drive they had in the office where they pulled from their co-worker’s energy and vice versa. Even with hybrid working, employees come into the office a few days a week to find empty desks. It’s challenging to achieve the same level of energy and build a company culture without critical mass.
The second critical factor is digital transformation, the acceleration of which has been both a blessing and a curse for employees. While it enabled remote work in record time, it also blurred the lines between home and work, tipping the scales in favor of work. Synchronous apps push messages 24/7 to employee devices, making it difficult for them to switch off. On average, employees receive around 295 messages and use up to 14 apps a day6.
Lastly, and most urgently, is the current state of the economy. Rising inflation, fears of a recession, and other social and economic macro trends are forcing organizations to do more with less. Most have had to cut budgets, while others have cut their workforce and rely on those left standing to pick up the slack. This places employees under immense pressure.
Ways to prevent quiet quitting
1. Listen up
Quiet quitting often does not start quietly. Team members who feel like their managers are apathetic to or ignorant of their problems may decide to take action by taking inaction.
Open dialogue is the key to resolving the issues, and discussions should center on how you can make your employees feel valued ad appreciated in the workplace. Listening to your employees and validating their feelings can go a long way in preventing team members from emotionally checking out. Empathy is the most powerful tool in the fight against quiet quitting.
2. Maintain healthy boundaries
Poor boundaries lead to overwork, poor communication, misunderstanding, and ultimately resentment towards work and colleagues. Quiet quitting allows employees to set boundaries and prevent their work responsibilities from intruding on their home life. Before employees must resort to these extreme measures, you can reinforce these boundaries on employees’ behalf.
Setting up effective boundaries in the workplace benefits employees’ mental health and, in turn, improves their performance while also building better working relationships with co-workers.
When employers prioritize their employees’ health and wellbeing, employees feel less need to protect themselves from potential harm by withdrawing professionally. By emphasizing your commitment to employees’ health, you establish the workplace as a safe space where employees can be fully themselves and tap into their full potential while on the clock.
3. Keep them engaged
All this ongoing talk about quiet quitting boils down to one simple thing: Your employee engagement strategy is probably falling short. Poor employee engagement runs parallel to quiet quitting.
Ensure career progression is a regular topic of employer-employee discourse. Regularly holding career progression workshops, providing upskilling opportunities, and helping employees to define future career goals will keep them engaged.
With regular discussions about future aspirations, employees can become incentivized to work towards a meaningful goal. They will also feel invested in the organization’s mission and overall success.
If executives don’t acknowledge and respond to this shift, quiet quitting will remain a constant threat to businesses, and employees will continue to scrutinize whether their time and effort are worth giving to their current employer. Quiet quitting is a wake-up call to every leader: It’s time to rethink our old ways of working and create an environment where our people can truly be at their best.
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- Dark Matter of Work: The Cost of Work Complexities | Report (wrike.com)