Quiet quitting: what it is and how to prevent it

"Quiet quitting" is one of the buzz phrases of 2022. But why is it such a concern for organisations, and what can employers do to nip it in the bud?

Quiet Quitting - Workplace from Meta

Working late, checking emails out of hours and volunteering to organise extracurricular activities have long been the workplace norm. But that mindset is changing. Employees are rejecting and setting boundaries for always-on work culture – and posting about it on social media.

Here we help you understand the reasons behind this growing phenomenon and offer practical tips on how to prevent it.

What is quiet quitting?

What is quiet quitting?

Despite the name, quiet quitting doesn't actually involve leaving a job. It means doing the bare minimum to keep a job. In other words, just doing the job duties you're contractually obliged to and "quitting" doing anything extra. Employees still show up, but never go above and beyond what's expected of them. It's a bit like an informal work to rule.

Quiet quitting is a form of employee disengagement and can present itself in a number of ways, including:

  • Clocking off exactly on time every day

  • Refusing to answer work messages out of hours

  • Turning down projects that aren't part of your job description

  • Not volunteering for tasks

  • Only taking on easy assignments

  • Feeling less emotionally invested in your job

  • Unwillingness to put in extra effort on tasks

Quiet quitting can be seen as a by-product of another post-pandemic trend, the Great Resignation, where "loud quitters" sent the message loud and clear that they weren't feeling valued and simply quit outright to find new opportunities elsewhere. Quiet quitters, on the other hand, are mentally checking out of their current organisations, silently dialling down their work effort at a time when productivity rates are raising concerns. Like silent assassins, they can be more lethal than loud quitters, quietly chipping away at your bottom line without you really noticing.

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How widespread is quiet quitting?

How widespread is quiet quitting?

Quiet quitting is gaining traction as a way of dealing with stress and burnout caused by working long hours and never switching off. According to a Gallup poll, quiet quitters make up at least 50% of the US workforce. While all generations have reassessed their work-life balance since the pandemic, it's gen-Zers who are taking the lead in re-evaluating their career choices, with 82% saying that doing the bare minimum to keep their job is "pretty or extremely appealing".

This mantra is highlighted in some of the thousands of comments posted online under the hashtag #quietquitting. For example: "I do just enough to not get fired or noticed"; "I've changed my work motto to 'strive to be mediocre'"; and "my above and beyond requires an above and beyond salary".

Globally, Europe has the lowest regional percentage of engaged employees. In the UK, only 9% of workers are engaged or enthusiastic about their work, ranking 33rd out of 38 European countries, Gallup's global workplace report for 2022 shows. This should set alarm bells ringing that quiet quitting needs to be taken seriously by employers.

Gen Z workers aged under 25 most value flexibility and meaningful work, but since the pandemic there's been a decline in younger workers feeling cared about and having opportunities to develop. This highlights the importance of making sure that managers are well trained in nurturing the needs of fledgling talent.

The effects of quiet quitting

The effects of quiet quitting

On the surface, quiet quitting might not seem like a massive deal. After all, these employees are still carrying out their key tasks. But a workforce that is willing to go the extra mile gives many companies a competitive edge.

A disengaged workforce is bad for the bottom line. Studies show that some organisations are suffering financial losses equal to 20% of the quietly quitting employees' annual salary, while the yearly cost to the wider UK economy amounts to £340 billion.

One of the most obvious consequences of quiet quitting is lower productivity. While the employee will go through the motions, they might not contribute to office culture, collaboration, brainstorming and meetings.

Quiet quitters tend to be once-enthusiastic employees who have become overworked, undervalued and disillusioned. Low morale causes them to become less team-spirited than they once were. This can spark conflict with coworkers and lead to a toxic work environment overall.

The Great Resignation and skills shortages in the labour market aren't helping matters either. When an employee leaves, other team members may be expected to step up until a replacement is found, rather than the manager scaling back the workload. Employees can become exhausted and frustrated when there is high turnover or a long wait to train a new recruit.

Why are employees quiet quitting?

Why are employees quiet quitting?

While the concept of "working to live" rather than "living to work" is certainly not new, it has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Spending lockdowns at home caused many people to re-evaluate the impact of their daily commute, working hours and lack of personal time. Reasons for quiet quitting include:

Organisations operating in crisis

In recent years, the world has lurched from one crisis to another, with the Covid outbreak, war in Ukraine and ongoing economic turmoil. All these global events have had a massive impact on businesses and affected everyone's stability and mental health. Working in continually stressful environments can take its toll on even the most positive of employees.

Poor leadership and management

Team members are more likely to check out mentally when they feel their managers don't have their best interests at heart or don't communicate effectively. All too often employees raise concerns and feel that managers fail to respond adequately.

When people are under the impression their leaders won't support them, they help themselves by putting up barriers.

Greater job security

Thanks to skills shortages and high recruitment costs, power has shifted to employees since the pandemic. Workers no longer feel grateful just to have a job – they want meaningful work and are prepared to make higher demands to get it. If these demands aren't met, they may be less inclined to make an effort to do extra work.

Employees re-evaluating the importance of work post-Covid

The pandemic has made many more people think about their career choices, how they're treated at work and what's really important to them. After all, few of us are likely to look back on our lives and wish we'd spent more time in the office. And that message really hit home during Covid – that work isn't the be-all and end-all. Companies that don't promote a healthy work-life balance aren't an attractive prospect.

Employees feeling undervalued and unrewarded

Most employees are happy to go the extra mile from time to time, but negativity can set in when this willingness is taken for granted and becomes the norm.

People aren't likely to go above and beyond if they feel undervalued, unappreciated and not engaged at work. Low pay, lack of career progression and feeling disrespected are just a few of the reasons that employees check out.

How to prevent quiet quitting

How to prevent quiet quitting

The quiet quitting rebellion is a concern for organisations because it signals a growing disconnect between employers and employees. Here are a few possible fixes for quiet quitting to inspire your people to always give their best effort.

Control workloads

Work overload is one of the biggest drivers of anxiety and burnout. If you ask employees to take on extra duties, make it a short-term agreement or reward their efforts with a promotion.

Less experienced members of staff may like to be told how to prioritise their workload so that they don't feel overwhelmed. Worryingly, fewer than four in ten young remote or hybrid employees know what is expected of them at work. Use clear instructions, such as grading tasks as high, medium or low priority.

Rebuild relationships

Building a rapport with your team is crucial, even more so now that many people work from home. Radio silence can cause worry and discontent, so keep lines of dialogue open. Leaders who come across as human beings rather than authority figures or faceless entities at the other end of a keyboard are more likely to develop better relationships with their staff.

Interestingly, a Harvard Business Review study found that the most effective managers have three or four fewer quiet quitters in their team compared with the least effective leaders.

Recognise and reward people for their efforts

Everyone wants to feel valued. One way to do that is to keep pay competitive with market rates and current living standards. But also bear in mind that recognition can come in non-monetary forms such as public praise, benefits and flexible working.

By acknowledging and rewarding employees for standout work, you're showing that what they do matters. Plus, employees who are visibly recognised for their achievements are less likely to fade into the background and quietly quit.

Give employees a voice

Team members who feel they're not being heard may react by checking out emotionally. Genuinely listening to your employees and validating their feelings can prevent this from happening.

Scheduling regular chats and team meetings is a good place to start, both online and in person. As a leader, you're responsible for creating a safe environment where employees feel comfortable speaking up.

Improve well-being initiatives

When you pay greater attention to employees' mental, physical and emotional health, they're less inclined to take it upon themselves to protect their well-being by pulling back from work.

Examples of positive steps you can take include introducing mindfulness training, remote working at least one day a week and financial management support.

Prevent blurring of boundaries

Hybrid and remote working can blur the boundaries between home and work life. Quiet quitting is sometimes a reaction to a disrespect for professional boundaries. Make a policy of stating that answering after-hours calls or emails is optional, or introduce an on-call system. Allow employees who've worked late to leave early another day.

The more proactive you are about employees' rights to private time, the less likely they'll be to take matters into their own hands.

To summarise, quiet quitting matters because the characteristics associated with it are a drain on productivity, growth and profits. Workers who are coasting aren't contributing as much as they could. But it also serves as a reminder of the importance of maintaining balance and avoiding burnout, whatever generation you're from.

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