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What Is Quiet Quitting — and How Companies Can Prevent It

August 22, 2022 Employee Experience
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

Popularized by TikTok, quiet quitting is a new term that refers to young professionals dialing back their work efforts to the minimum required.

Despite the name, quiet quitting does not mean an employee is quitting their job. Rather, quiet quitting is where employees limit their workload to accomplish only the bare minimum to keep their job and fulfill their job descriptions. Typical behaviors can include:

  • Not taking on extra tasks requested by peers/management.
  • Only being at work during contracted hours.
  • Not working through lunch breaks.
  • Not responding to emails outside of working hours.

Setting work-life boundaries is healthy, but the growing amount of chatter around the trend has employers worried.

Why Do Employees Quiet Quit?

There are numerous reasons why employees might start to exhibit the behaviors of quiet quitting, but one of the most common is a feeling that expectations are high of them while support is insufficient.

After two-and-a-half year of working with reduced resources, employees can feel overwhelmed by the demands placed upon them by management and, as a result, withdraw. For others, the pandemic has given them a clear view of the benefits of a better work-life balance, and are reluctant to return to the previous status quo of working to exhaustion.

Stress is, perhaps, the most central factor in this movement, particularly with today's growing focus toward better mental health at work. The combination of heightened stress levels and employers demanding more from employees than they can — or are willing to — offer is pushing some workers to reconsider the amount of effort they are prepared to put into work without just compensation.

“Many [young employees] have not developed the skills or coping strategies needed to deal with stress and manage intense workloads," said Kelly Griffith, global director of coaching services at London, UK-based EZRA Coaching. "If we don’t focus on developing these skills, we will see people becoming overwhelmed and shutting down or checking out.”

Related Article: Upskill and Reskill for a Better Employee Experience

Adapting to a New Reality

The never-ending news cycle of the last few years have been destabilizing for many. Some employees may be unhappy with what their workplace has become, how they're being treated by managers or demands to return to the central office. 

The current economic uncertainty is adding to the pressure. Having limited staff means the roles and responsibilities of remaining employees have expanded, putting an extra (unwelcome) burden on workers. While many expected this to resolve post-pandemic, the current economic environment has meant many employers are pausing their hiring plans, therefore extending the "burden" on existing employees.

Some employees may also quiet quit if they feel mistreated by managers who abuse their position or are discourteous to their staff. The challenge is that with a great deal of workers now working remotely, it can be difficult for employers to determine whether quiet quitting is on the rise within their organization — and even more so understanding the source of the issue.

Related Article: When the Workforce and Jerkforce Collide

Prevention Is Better than Cure

Recent studies have shown that employee engagement has decreased — after an initial bump — since the pandemic. According to the State of the Global Workplace 2022 Report, only 21% of employees are engaged with their work. This means that four out of five employees could be in a position to quiet quit  — that's a staggering statistic.

Acknowledging that stress is a key factor in any quitting scenario — quiet or otherwise — employers must seek ways to prevent it from taking over their workplace. A first step is ensuring that the current workload expected of employees is reasonable. Have employees been handed new and additional responsibilities without shedding previous tasks? Are they working on tasks that they find meaningful? Do they understand where their efforts fit into broader organizational roles?

One way to find out the answers to these questions is by asking managers to organize 1-to-1 meetings with their direct reports to discuss employees' goals and feelings about work. Is the employee happy in their role? 

Employers who may still be reluctant on the idea of a flexible workplace — from full-time remote work to flexible schedules — may want to reconsider their stance. Remote work is known to reduce stress for employees. Even offering the chance of remote work one or two days a week can help reduce adverse mental health problems.

Related Article: The Cure for Burnout Is Not Self Care

Rethinking the Employer-Employee Agreement

Traditional management styles are transactional in nature, meaning the employee is rewarded (i.e., compensated) for a set of behaviors (i.e., tasks). While that serves a crucial purpose in certain roles, transactional leadership styles don’t usually allow for employee initiative and innovation.

Employers who use transactional leadership may be more prone to be impacted by quiet quitting, which, by definition, is an accurate rendition of this agreement: employees are completing the tasks requested of them as per the job description, and not an ounce more.

Instead, a transformational leadership style, where employers and managers consider the professional and personal needs of the employees, can help make employees happy and improve productivity, whether working remotely or in the office.

“Focus on developing a positive workplace culture," said Logan Mallory, vice president of Lehi, Utah-based Motivosity. "When employees are happy and engaged at work, they’re far less likely to be practicing ‘quiet quitting.’"

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