It was the summer of 2022 when a young engineer, Zaid Khan, shared a TikTok explaining a new term called 'quiet quitting'.
“You’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond,” he said in a calm voice over some b-roll footage. Almost immediately, videos started to flood the social networks as people around the world declared that they, too, would be ‘quiet quitters’.
Thus a movement was born.
The idea of unsubscribing from that hustle culture took over as people started to re-evaluate their relationship with work and what was expected of them. What some employers dismissed as a ‘Gen-Z trend’ started to sink in when, later in the year, numbers showed that employee productivity and engagement had dropped in the first quarters of 2022.
But, what is quiet quitting, where did it come from, and more importantly, is it a symptom of something much bigger?
Let’s break down quiet quitting
According to Asana’s 2022 ‘Anatomy of work’ report, 7 out of 10 employees experienced burnout last year, a worryingly high number for a workforce that’s already been shaken after more than two years of the pandemic. Besides the evident overextension we’ve all experienced, wages don’t seem to be able to keep up with the rising costs of living, with the rate of inflation reaching 8-9%, and wages barely increasing by 3.4% in 2022.
This combination led people to a very obvious question: Is this all worth it? As employee perspectives and priorities shifted, people started to question the idea that work should be the most important aspect of their lives. This ever-present grind that was supposed to bring them success suddenly didn’t seem to be as rewarding as they had once believed.
Not only this, but with the shift to remote work, we all had to bring work home with us, making work-life balance a struggle. For some, remote work meant flexibility, convenience. Others, however, were expected to be available 24/7– on Slack, email, by phone or for after-work meetings.
In comes “quiet quitting” – the idea of not going above and beyond at work; of redefining what “doing enough” means; of logging off at 5pm at the end of the workday and calling it for the day; of not being available on weekends.
Suddenly, there’s this option presented to employees to put their lives back in the equation and “quietly quit” – and then often actually quit if things don’t get better.
‘Quiet quitting’ has as many definitions as people who use the term, but it represents a shift in what people are willing to do for their careers, moving away from that hustle culture mentality and trying to bring more harmony into their professional and personal lives.
Defining ‘quiet quitting’:
Very quickly, the discord grew and everyone had an opinion on the quiet quitting trend. From HR managers looking up what the term meant, to various definitions of the word, it very quickly became a game of ‘he said, she said’, with managers saying that this was a sign of employees being lazy, of not paying enough attention to what really mattered; to others blaming it on a generational rift. The name-calling went both ways. Employees throughout the web started calling out bad management as being the cause, and calling out corporations for not caring about them as individuals. A whole lot of “ok boomer” jokes were thrown around, and nobody could really decide where things landed or even if labeling yourself as a “quiet quitter” was a solution or the problem itself.
So, what specifically is “quiet quitting”? It seems like the biggest disagreement in its definition is about how far quiet quitters take their stance.
On one end, there’s a band of people advocating for doing the actual bare minimum, showing up to work, doing the tasks in their work description, but nothing else. No extra meetings, no real interest in the company they work for, either.
This stance has been widely criticized by employers as doing a disservice not only to the companies people work at but to employees themselves. Employers across different industries have claimed that going the extra mile is just “the way it is done”, and that’s what it takes to be successful.
Some detractors of the quiet quitting trend have a more holistic approach to their criticism. Arianna Huffington, founder of health and wellness startup Thrive Global said in a LinkedIn post about quiet quitting: “Quiet quitting isn’t just about quitting on a job, it’s a step toward quitting on life. Yes, we shouldn’t be defined by our work. But at the same time, if work is at least eight hours of our day, are we saying these are hours we’re willing to simply go through the motions, with the inevitable boredom that’s bound to ensue?”
This is not the same definition for another sector of quiet quitters. There is a group of employees who are simply finding a new name for something closer to finding work-life balance. They talk about logging off at 5pm, turning off Slack notifications when offline, or just not checking email during their days off.
A lot of this second band actually reflects the kind of work-life boundaries that are the norm in other parts of the world. In France, for example, it is illegal for employers to email you outside of work hours, something that seems unbelievable in corporate America.
The first time I heard the term, my husband was telling me about this “new thing on TikTok” and, when he described it, I believe my exact words were: “wait, isn’t that just…. doing your job?”. The truth of the matter is that nobody knows what quiet quitting means exactly, and its definition might not be the most important thing about it, its origin is.
The real problem with quiet quitting
Whilst everyone was caught up with defining “Quiet quitting,” many missed the mark on what actually brought this trend about: employees are disenchanted with their jobs, and their managers are often the cause, or at least making it worse.
Gallup finds that quiet quitters made up 50% of the U.S. workforce in 2022, probably even more if different levels of disengagement are taken into account. They rated employees into three categories: engaged, not engaged, and actively disengaged.
An engaged employee is actively participating in their job, they care about their role and want to help in growing their company. A not engaged employee is someone who does the bare minimum and is psychologically detached from their work. An actively disengaged employee is one who is loud about their dissatisfaction and is probably already on the hunt for another job.
In 2022, US workers that are engaged were at 32%, actively disengaged were at 18%, and the remaining 50% were not engaged. By these numbers, up to 82% of the working population is disengaged with their work and could potentially be quietly (or soon to be loudly) quitting.
This disillusionment has exploded over the last couple of years, even developing into a sub-culture on TikTok and Instagram where younger workers come to share grievances, make fun of corporate culture, and offer advice to their peers.
In short, it’s changing how people think about their jobs and the role they should play in their lives. For the first time in over 100 years, we're seeing a big shift in worker mentality.
The top 6 secrets to prevent quiet quitting
Poor management leads to low engagement. In a TED After Hours podcast, Bloomberg’s Sarah Green Carmichael walked through this relationship: basically, good employers can have less than a 1% disengaged workforce, whereas bad managers? Well, the number rises quickly.
Employees are disengaged for a multitude of reasons, but the top three causes are that younger workers don’t feel their leaders care about them and don’t feel listened to, respected, or empowered to collaborate. People who once were eager to join a company and make a difference eventually found barriers that prevented them from growing and simply stopped trying.
So, how can leaders show up for their employees? Here are some things to put into work:
- Be realistic about expectations: gone are the days of expecting employees to show up at a desk, work for 12 hours, rinse and repeat. Determine what the expectations are for a role from the get-go; measure how long a project or deadline actually needs to be in order to be done properly; and set clear guidelines for what growth looks like for an individual in your organization. Disturbingly, Gallup found that less than four in 10 young remote or hybrid employees clearly know what is expected of them at work. Make sure to be clear about what will be expected and open to adjust priorities to manage workflow, ensuring both the company and the employee grow and the established goals can be met.
- Determine what is “good enough”: ‘good enough’ doesn’t have to be bad, but all projects have to be left alone at some point. Determine what that threshold looks like for your company and what parameters are to be met, understanding what the limitations are in your company and in a specific role. Be as specific as you can be and provide examples so there is no miscommunication along the way.
- Establish proper communication: appropriate communication methods and frequency are essential to ensure employees feel like they are getting the attention they need from their managers and therefore feel valued and appreciated. Establish what feedback should look like, what frequency it’ll be delivered in and through what channels. Setting up rules for how each communication channel should be used is also an essential tactic in this area: should email be replied to within 6 hours, 12 hours, 24 hours? Are your team communications expected to be immediate or asynchronous? Knowing what to expect is half the battle.
- Lead by example: It’s near impossible for an employee to feel comfortable checking out at 5pm when their boss messages them at 8pm asking for something ‘urgent’, or enjoying a Sunday lunch with family when Slack is blowing up. Showcase good boundaries, be available for quick feedback when needed, and demonstrate that you are engaged with the work being done. Walk the walk and others will follow.
- Care for your people: Remember you’re dealing with human beings who expect you to treat them as such. Show that you care, ask people about their personal goals as well as their professional goals. Managing in a holistic way is going to help you build that relationship with your employees that will keep them engaged in their role and will make you a better leader in the long run.
- Make employee engagement a priority: This seems obvious but not all companies do so. Standardizing processes to put employee engagement at the forefront of your strategy can make a massive difference in the way you recruit and retain top talent. If you want to learn 12 strategies to increase employee engagement, check this blog out.
Quiet quitting isn’t new,
it’s an opportunity to break the cycle
Quiet quitting is an opportunity to reassess how you're leading and engaging your employees. What this alliterative trend reflects is a fundamental issue in the way that the corporate world has foregone its humanity by pursuing growth at all costs, forgetting its most valuable asset: its people. It is essential for leaders to remember that employees are their greatest asset, treat them with respect, keep them engaged, and make sure you don’t become the kind of place that your employees want to ‘quiet quit’.
If you want to learn more about how you can offer an amazing financial benefit and increase your employee engagement and retention, get in touch with one of our experts today.