The term ‘quiet quitting’ started as a whisper in the corporate corridors, yet as a trend it has quickly become too loud to ignore. What started out as an idea on TikTok, has sparked a larger discussion about employee wellbeing, burnout and work-life balance. Is this a fad retreading old work frustrations, or is there change in the air?
Employees coasting in office jobs isn’t a new concept. Ever since humans first began working at a desk, there have been those that are dissatisfied with it for one reason or another. Depending on the setting, there can be a number of reasons why an unhappy employee decides to ‘quiet quit’ instead of quitting outright. Is there a difference between coasting and ‘quiet quitting,’ or is this simply a new term for the same dissatisfaction and absence of passion we are already familiar with?
What is ‘quiet quitting’?
Despite its name, ‘quiet quitting’ doesn’t actually involve quitting at all. Instead, it’s an active decision to stick to strictly fulfilling your work duties as described in your job description and contract – while otherwise disengaging from any extra tasks outside of it, and the associated overtime. The idea behind it, in short and simplified terms, is to fly under the radar as much as possible, while still showing up to work to perform your duties in a normal fashion. Beyond this, the quiet quitter has no interest in going above and beyond in pursuit of growth, promotions or bonuses.
To understand ‘quiet quitting’ in our current setting, we first need to go back to the pandemic. With everyone having their lives forcibly slowed down by lockdowns, it naturally gave people a lot more time to think and reflect. With work being such a big part of our lives, and with many people feeling burnt out even before the pandemic hit, it comes as no surprise that people spent time thinking long and hard about work and how it affect’s their lives.
The Great Resignation
All this contemplation resulted in what has since been coined ‘The Great Resignation,’ with unhappy and overworked employees quitting their jobs in droves. Some quit in favour of following their dreams and completely new career paths, while others found similar jobs with companies that offered better conditions, salaries and company culture. Already we have answered one of the burning questions around ‘quiet quitting’; ‘why don’t they simply quit their jobs outright?’ The answer is they did, or at least a large portion of the ones that had the option did.
The ones who don’t see quitting as an option may stick around due to being bound by contract, their financial situation may be too uncertain to quit at the current time, or they believe that the situation would be the same with a different company. In some cases people may choose to stay because the salary is good, but they are ‘quiet quitting’ in response to a work environment or culture that is otherwise demotivating or toxic.
What drives employees into ‘quiet quitting?’
As humans, we have a natural drive to desire and pursue happiness. Finding this happiness is a long journey with a number of factors and measurements, that for most of us involves a certain measure of fulfilment through work. One of the main factors for how fulfilled we feel in our job positions is salary. However, individual differences will influence much weight it carries for us among the other factors of our work life. Simply put, some people value a good salary more, while others think it’s more important to find real meaning in the work itself.
The part where this gets complicated is when we introduce the employer, work environment and expectations. It’s only natural that an employer has expectations for the people who work for them, but it’s just as natural that the employee has some for their employer as well. This is why we have contracts – so that they are clearly set both ways. In theory this should make it all very clear-cut, but the waters are quickly muddied by hustle culture, crunch time and chasing bonuses and promotions.
Work-life balance and clear boundaries
While most countries have labour laws that stipulate the number of hours you’re allowed to work in a week, hustle culture – the idea that if you’re not always giving 110% at work, you are underperforming – is still prevalent in many countries and companies around the world, and it will often run contrary to these laws.
There’s nothing wrong with putting in extra effort here and there if it can make a difference, and your hard work is justly rewarded. A bonus or a promotion has to be earned fairly. It should be said, however, that when working overtime and taking on extra tasks outside your job description becomes a regular occurrence and the new norm, the path to burnout becomes short.
As recently as April 2022, 51% or workers in the US surveyed by The Harris Poll said they continued to feel burned out after the pandemic. In addition, while many Americans who have worked at home during COVID prefer the set-up, it can also make burnout worse by coaxing them to do tasks or answer emails or calls at all hours, and make it harder to switch off outside working hours. On the other side of the Atlantic, the annual 2022 Pulse of talent report by Ceridian found that as many as 79% of UK staff have gone through burnout, with the top three causes cited being increased workloads (49%), mental health challenges (34%) and pressure to meet deadlines (32%).
While there can be more factors that can influence employees into ‘quiet quitting’, there’s a clear indication that burnout and a lack of appreciation and reward for hard work is a major contributor to the dissatisfaction that leads to quiet quitting. This isn’t just about being passed over for a promotion or a bonus, but also having good ideas shot down in favour of sticking to things as they have always been. Being constantly stressed and never getting ahead of the workload due to understaffing or impossible expectations will also have a major impact on an employee’s decision to disengage.
Numbers from a Zenger Folkman analysis – highlighted in this Harvard Business Review article – point a heavy finger at bad managers as being another major cause, dismissing the notion that ‘quiet quitting’ is a matter of insubordination, laziness or revenge for overwork.
Work life will never be without its fair share of stress, frustrations and challenges – you need look no further than the funny pages in your local newspaper to find cases of humans joking about and laughing off common work life frustrations to cope with them. But there is a line somewhere between cracking jokes, heaving a sigh and saying “it is what it is”, and the formation of online communities like the infamous Anti-Work subreddit, and physical movements like the Lie Flat movement in China.
From these scathing numbers highlighting burnout and poor management, it seems that ‘quiet quitting’ may be a justified, silent rebellion to regain control of one’s work-life balance and the rejection of a long-standing, unhealthy and counterproductive hustle culture. Having seen how it causes unhappiness and burnout in the generations before them, younger generations like millennials and Gen Z are sending a message – that they refuse to follow the same road, and expect a more balanced work culture and professional life.
How can employers prevent ‘quiet quitting?’
Knowing that ‘quiet quitting’ is a symptom of a dysfunctional or unbalanced work relationship, and a poor employer brand, there are a number of steps you can take to help your employees stay positively inclined to the work they’re doing, and the company they are working for.
As a manager discovering or suspecting ‘quiet quitting’ in your team, you may be tempted to take a hard stance and crack down on it with disciplinary measures. Keep in mind what we mentioned previously – that in the vast majority of cases, ‘quiet quitting’ is not about laziness or insubordination. Taking the iron fist approach and pulling employees into meetings for stern words is actually likely to make the problem worse and vindicate the ‘quiet quitters’ in their decision to disengage.
Realign and clarify expectations – provide training and reward hard work
With overwork and drifting responsibilities being among the main causes of ‘quiet quitting’, it’s possible you may have to take a step back and reconsider what your expectations are for the individual roles. Make sure that they are clear cut and not vague, so that employees have a clear understanding of where their responsibilities begin and end.
You may not always have the budget to take on new hires to meet expanding needs. If you have to rely on your current employees to handle new responsibilities, make sure you provide them with proper training to set them up for success as much as possible. This includes educating them on your brand identity. You may also want to consider a monetary incentive here in addition, keeping in mind that it’s still less costly than a new hire.
Regardless of the reasons and situation, there’s no way around rewarding hard work if you want to keep your employees engaged and motivated both short term and long term. A bonus scheme may seem like the obvious solution, but you should also consider setting a clear internal mobility strategy. Establishing and maintaining a clear path to climb the ladder internally will go a long way to both keep your employees motivated, and strengthen your employer brand overall.
Empower your people to work smarter, not harder
It’s not unheard of to have a lot of tasks that need doing, and not enough people to do them. It’s the nature of business that keeping up with the market takes hard work, but if your team is constantly trying to catch up and never quite getting there, it’s a clear indication that the current process isn’t working as well as it could.
Hiring new people to handle the extra workload might be the right decision in some cases, but hiring and training new employees is costly, and may be overkill depending on the situation. Before considering the recruitment option, you should look into whether your team could benefit from better technology solutions that help them streamline repetitive tasks and remove bottlenecks that slow everyone down. It even provides better room for your employees to be creative in their roles, and help them feel like an active part of the company.
If you feel that you don’t have the budget to invest in tech right now, keep in mind that reducing your time-to-market and increasing the cost efficiency of your marketing team can make a big difference for your bottom line.
Revisit your Employer Value Proposition
The pandemic has had a significant impact on how we approach and structure our work life, and companies will benefit a lot from showing willingness to adapt and adjust to our new sensibilities. You won’t have to throw out the whole book, as the basic principles of EVP remain mostly the same as before, but it’s well worth the effort to revisit it and see what you can do to adapt it to the new ways.
Flexibility in the workflow
The employees that are the most passionate, productive and motivated, are usually the ones who are given the right amount of freedom, trust and flexibility. They have the room to explore new ideas and apply creativity to solving problems or finding new directions. When employees are given space and trust, they will feel that their expertise and contributions are valued – which helps to give them a sense of ownership of the work they carry out, again leading to a greater sense of fulfilment.
Fulfilment is an important aspect of our mental wellbeing. Not every job can be amazing and fun, as someone has to do the boring stuff – whatever it may be for any given company – but if the work itself is very dry and routine, it’s important to have it contextualised with the value it provides.
Flexibility obviously doesn’t mean an absence of structure. You can and should still have clear deadlines as part of the workflow. Yet adjusting how you measure performance to focus on results instead of hours can make a big difference on the pressure your employees feel.
We must keep in mind however, that trust is a two-way street. Depending on the state of your current company culture, there may be some work involved in building and reinforcing a culture of mutual trust with the right balance of give and take.
Flexibility to accommodate life
Work naturally takes a high priority in our everyday lives, but sometimes life throws us a curveball and other important things have to take priority over it. Whether it’s a family member falling ill or the car breaking down, giving your employees the flexibility they need to tackle untimely problems will make them feel far more safe and at ease both on good days and bad. If your employees feel like they are taken care of and met with empathy when the going gets tough, they are likely to be far more productive in general, and willing to give back.
Support your employees’ mental health
Good mental health is essential for maintaining productivity. While better flexibility will go a long way to help your employees keep a healthy and balanced mind, there are other ways you can support them as well. Rooting out toxic behaviour in the workplace and promoting a positive culture where people help each other instead of stepping on each other makes a world of difference for employee wellbeing. It can also be a great idea to include benefits that directly support the mental health of employees who may be going through rough times.
Provide employee benefits with real value
A ping pong table isn’t a proper employee benefit, or a positive contribution to company culture. Stick to benefits that can actually make a positive difference for your employees. You could consider contributions to bus passes or gym memberships, or other opportunities that your business niche allows for. Maybe your company has a client that deals in sporting goods or electronics and you could negotiate an employee discount?
“Only the rich get richer”
Subvert this demotivational idea with things like LTI programs or stock options that give any employee the option to invest in the company and its success if they want to. Being personally invested is a great source of motivation, and provides lower level employees a reason to smile along with the boss whenever the company experiences success and growth.
Empower your employer branding team with BAM by Papirfly™
Investing in your employer brand may be the smartest decision you can make for keeping your current employees switched on, actively engaged and motivated to stick around. In addition, by becoming a more attractive employer, you’ll see a greater influx of stronger candidates in your long term recruitment.
Some of the world’s most notable employer brand teams make use of BAM to bring their employer brand to life, and keep a firm grasp on their EVP every step of the way. Read about them in our brand stories and hear directly from them how our solutions have made a difference.