Quiet Quitting – What Can We Do About It?

by Lauren Hopkins, Marketing Coordinator

If you keep up to date on news and trends from the business world, you’ve more than likely heard the term ‘quiet quitting’ a handful of times over the last several months. It has become a buzzword, particularly among Gen Z and younger employees, with virality being one culprit. But what exactly is quiet quitting? Why has the idea gained so much traction?

Despite the name, quiet quitting doesn’t involve an employee quitting their job. Instead, quiet quitters adopt a “work-to-rule” style of work – they are still completing tasks and contributing as much as is expected from them, but they are shifting away from the idea of the “hustle” culture to a mindset in which the goal is to work just enough to make the money they need to live comfortably and enjoy life – and it doesn’t go far beyond that. Quiet quitters reject the belief that work should be a central focus of life and don’t put an extra amount of thought into work, especially after-hours. The “hustle” culture, in all its (arguable) glory, is on its way out.

You can understand how this is a problem for organizations. As this cohort of employees put less time, energy, and effort into work, workplace productivity suffers. Employee engagement has fallen over the past two years in the US, and levels in Canada remain even lower than those of our downstairs neighbor.

Some people are surprised that this is taking place among younger people in the workforce, arguing that it is an overreaction and reassuring workers that their motivation to hustle will return as soon as they reassess their worth in terms of contributing to their company. It can be difficult for some colleagues and managers to avoid reactions of anger when they don’t understand the motives behind quiet quitting, viewing these employees as lazy and accusing them of displaying inappropriate behavior.

What is the motive behind quiet quitting?

There are a few potential suspects to blame for the quiet-quitting phenomenon. The COVID-19 pandemic brought on significant stress and sudden change for everyone. We spent two years following protocols and shifting our way of life in order to protect ourselves and those we love, creating feelings of isolation for many people. Life changed for everyone – for better or for worse. This experience caused people to change their perspective on life and reevaluate their values and how they spend their time. It is a positive thing – people are making time doing the things they enjoy, resulting in happier people – but as leaders of organizations, we need to adjust and learn how to accommodate our employees in order to make them feel supported in their role and engaged.

The question has been raised of whether remote work is a risk factor in quiet quitting. The truth is, the theory behind quiet quitting is not a new idea. For years, employers have been conducting surveys and assessments, collecting feedback from employees about their work environment and asking employees to rate their level of happiness at work. The difference is that employees are actually starting to do something about it.

How can we help employees who are struggling?

Managers need to actively assess the environment in which their employees work and pay attention to the warning signs of quiet quitting. Do your employees enjoy working or are they counting down the minutes until the end of the day? Are your employees engaged and excited about their role in your team? Are they genuinely happy?

As leaders, one of the most important things we can do for employees who are showing symptoms of quiet quitting is to focus on connection. Help them visualize the connection between the work they are doing and how it contributes to a bigger picture. Work on building your relationship with them as a leader – make it known that you are someone they can come to for support.

Provide clear initial expectations and follow through by guiding and providing continual support during the time employees spend at work. Engage them by asking questions and showing genuine interest in their response – welcome their input and suggestions with open ears.

Another thing we can do as leaders is acknowledge and respect boundaries set by employees. Many of us are guilty of conforming to the workplace culture of “now” – we expect that email, that message, the answer to that question – now. Set realistic limits and shift your focus from the “now” culture to the “when?” culture. Ask employees to give you a realistic timeline for meeting expectations. If they have a say in their deadlines, it gives them ownership of the task and empowers them to meet the goal.

If you are an employee having thoughts of quiet quitting – don’t be afraid to communicate with colleagues to let them know your situation and that you need a different timeline, level of support, or type of feedback. As they say, communication is key.

Time is valuable and when people have the time to do the things they enjoy, the result is a happier, more positive person – and this is exactly what we want in our workplaces. The team will benefit, the numbers will benefit, and most importantly, you will have happier employees that stick with you in the long haul.