What is quiet quitting, really?

Written by Ali Shalfrooshan, Head of International Assessment R&D

Future of work. The Great Resignation. Hybrid workplace. Quiet quitting. All terms that have huge implications for businesses, which were relatively unheard of until recently. All come with a level of open discussion about what they truly mean, with many unanswered questions on how to address them. Much of the genesis of these terms tie directly to both the pandemic and the wide global adoption of remote or hybrid working.

Quiet quitting in particular has recently burst into the spotlight, reflecting a perception that many employees are choosing not to leave the organization, but are adopting a much more transactional relationship with their work.

No matter how you view this potential phenomenon, employee engagement can have significant implications on both organizations and employees. Many products, innovations, organizations, and institutions have benefitted for years from the creativity, teamwork, inspiration, and culture facilitated by employees who identify and have a meaningful attachment with their organization. If this association is reduced or disappears altogether, it can have dire consequences for an organization’s potential and an employee’s personal development.

What is quiet quitting?

Gallup defines quiet quitting as an employee simply meeting their job description requirements – not going above and beyond in any capacity of their role. Personio shares some examples of what this looks like in reality which includes not speaking up in meetings, not taking on extra tasks, or opting out of any overtime opportunities. It’s a disruptive phenomenon that can impact employee morale and eventually your bottom line if not addressed.

The rise of quiet quitting

The topic of quiet quitting is causing much debate, with a range of views being shared. Some say it is just a rebranding of employee disengagement, while others believe it is a symptom of burnout and depleted well-being. Some commentators believe it is the outcome of employees rewriting the psychological contract, while others see it as people shuffling priorities to put more of a focus on themselves and their families rather than a job and their employer.

Whatever people’s views are, most agree that quiet quitting appears to stem from the soul searching many of us have been doing over the last few years and feeling burned out after the tsunami of challenge and change we have experienced.

Learn more: How to counter employee burnout through resilience

Every aspect of how we define, perceive, and feel about the workplace has gone through a significant change over time. One of the positive outcomes of this is a growing acknowledgement and appreciation of the fact we are all individual human beings. We all have unique circumstances outside of work that demand our attention and impact our lives. With that in mind, are organizations using the right strategies to create an engaging environment and reduce the chances of quiet quitting impacting employees?

Employee engagement and quiet quitting

Fundamentally, the challenge is the same as it has always been: engaging and retaining talent. This is reflected in the Gallup State of the Global Workplace 2023, which reports that stress is up and engagement down since 2019, halting a 10 -year improvement.

While metrics for measuring employee engagement, such as higher productivity and revenue, might be useful for board reports, they have lost the more human aspect of what true engagement is.

Real employee engagement is a psychological state that is pervasive and persistent. When employees experience a sense of meaningfulness and purpose from their work – drawing enthusiasm and energy from their job – they feel emotionally attached to the organization. When this phenomenon is in motion, employees feel a genuine connection to their work and their employer – quite the opposite of quiet quitting.

How to prevent quiet quitting

The human element of being an employee – and an individual human being – is important and needs to be acknowledged. To learn how to prevent quiet quitting, organizations need to ask themselves the following questions:

  • Are we providing an environment that gives our people meaning?
  • Are we creating an identity they can be proud of?
  • Do we provide jobs that energize our team?
  • Do we help provide our employees with the right opportunities for development?

If you’ve answered “no” to any of these questions, then it’s time for your organization to take the necessary steps to ensure your employees know that you value both them and their contributions. Here are five steps you can take to help prevent quiet quitting:

  1. Ensure that there are open lines of communication at all levels of the organization.
    Have a way for employees to share feedback or concerns 24/7 – not just when you undertake an initiative and proactively solicit it.
  2. Embed your values and purpose in everyday literature and communication.
    You can incorporate work values into the company website, newsletters, employee                acknowledgments or accolades, when discussing projects or initiatives, and also in day-to-day conversations when possible. It’s important to make sure that your employees understand the ‘why’ behind the work that they’re doing.
  3. Revisit job descriptions, compare current workloads, and review existing processes and procedures.
    This will ensure that the shift to hybrid or remote working has not created significant gaps in operations and the work employees are performing is reasonable and within original employee expectations.
  4. Implement a development program that is readily available to all employees
    From individual contributors to executives, everyone has room for growth. Finding employee development solutions and making them available to the entire company will benefit not only the individuals, but the organization as a whole.
  5. Focus on employee well-being
    Employee well-being can only be facilitated by proactive action from leaders, managers, and employees. Everything worth doing requires resources, so make sure well-being is not something you just verbally advocate for, but something you do.

Your organization is only as good as the employees that carry out your mission day in and day out. By focusing on more fundamental human needs you will find your employees will contribute so much more. And these basic recommendations like having open communication and providing applicable developmental opportunities will go a long way in not only retaining employees, but retaining engaged employees.

Overcoming the quiet quitting phenomenon

Quiet quitting could very well be a fancy term coined by a social media frenzy. But as the saying “where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire” goes, there is clearly some level of truth to the fact that employees are reprioritizing how work intersects with their personal lives. In many instances this takes on the form of disengagement and doing the minimum amount of work to get by.
In theory there is nothing wrong with an employee simply fulfilling the obligations of the job description for which they signed up. By taking a few tangible and easy steps as an organization, you can create an environment where employees feel empowered to contribute at a higher level and prevent quiet quitting in the first place.

Building resilient organizations

As a result of both the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the recent pandemic, change is now constant and relentless.

Despite the vast opportunities that change enables, issues like increased stress, burnout, and lower well-being are on the rise – highlighting the undeniable importance of organizational resilience.

To survive and thrive now, it is essential for leaders to build their resilience to be able to respond to change well and recover from setbacks. As they learn this, they then directly impact the resilience of their teams since the most critical ingredient for a resilient organization is its resilient people.

It has been shown that highly resilient employees are 43% more productive, 47% more engaged at work, and twice as likely to stay at their current organization.

Download our whitepaper now to find out:

  • What is resilience?
  • How does resilience impact organizations?
  • The eight key resilience development strategies
  • How to connect individual resilience to organizational resilience
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