What is Quiet Quitting?
Is quiet quitting really a thing? Most definitely, yes. Also known as ‘soft quitting’ or, in China, as ‘lying flat’, the term was first used to describe this tendency by Bryan Creely, corporate recruiter turned job coach, in 2022. Other references to the origins of the term can be picked up here and there too, but the gist is the same. Let’s explore.
How did quiet quitting come about? Is it something else we can blame on COVID-19, a generational thing, or merely a question of an employee’s preference for how engaged they want to be at work?
Many would argue that quiet quitting is normal, nothing to fuss over. People go to work, do their jobs and come home, and there are always some employees who work harder and longer than their colleagues.
Others would say it’s a sign that people are struggling to find meaning in their work and therefore see no reason to go the extra mile for co-workers or customers. Either way, a quiet quitter is not benefitting from the ultimate employee experience, and can negatively affect the productivity of others, so it’s important to understand the phenomenon.
We’ll discuss some of these questions and other issues below. We’ll also outline the impact of quiet quitting on the workplace, and talk about ways to avoid or prevent it.
What is a quiet quitter?
What exactly is a quiet quitter? It’s an employee who comes to work to do the absolute minimum required in order to draw a salary. This person won’t show up early or work late and is likely not interested in social or community initiatives the company might offer as part of organizational culture.
Although this employee meets the job description assigned to them, they are psychologically detached from their work. They are physically in the office, but are mentally at the beach.
It’s worth bearing in mind that there is in fact a second type of quiet quitter, and that is the employee who resigns without giving notice.
Reasons for quiet quitting
Ideally, people who need to earn money want to work at something they love. There’s a well-known saying to which we can all relate, “Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” attributed to the Chinese philosopher, Confucius (b.551 BCE – d. 479 BCE).
It’s unclear how much flexibility existed around job choice back then, or if the American writer, Mark Twain, was actually responsible centuries later for saying this. Still, we can probably agree that wanting a job you love is not a new concept, and if you don’t love your job, motivating yourself beyond the basic minimum has always been, and always will be, mighty difficult.
Let’s focus on some of the reasons for quiet quitting:
Everyone has a life beyond work. All of these lives are different, and some employees will prioritize life outside the workplace over all else. Some choose this, but some have no choice because they might have extensive responsibilities at home, like a family member with special needs, or someone who is very ill.
Others may struggle with the demands of what is generally known as a ‘normal life’. They might have low energy levels or feel generally overwhelmed by the world. Some people are naturally less organized, less productive or just lazier than others.
A recent poll by Gallup indicates that up to 50% of the American workforce is disengaged, and a large proportion of this falls in the managerial sector, where one in three managers is disengaged.
Change in the workplace environment
The COVID-19 pandemic caused dramatic disruption in traditional workplaces across the world. People had to adapt swiftly to remote work situations and balance family life with the challenges of lockdown.
They were forced to give an alternative work-life balance option a go, and consequently experienced an entirely different way of life. When lockdowns eased, many experienced dissatisfactions when returning to an on-site workplace.
Conflict with managers or coworkers
If there is unresolved conflict in the workplace, it goes without saying that employees will be negatively affected. Nobody wants to work in a toxic environment. A bad atmosphere causes employee dissatisfaction, withdrawal, and disengagement.
Better job opportunities elsewhere
If the competition offers a superior all-around work experience, including better compensation, this will lead to frustration and dissatisfaction among employees, even if they are not able to apply for those jobs. Resentment could cause quiet quitting.
Poor internal communications are a major factor in quiet quitting, and it figures. How can employees rise to a challenge when they don’t know what the challenge is? How do they know where their purpose lies?
Without a strong communication strategy in place, employees have no idea of expectations, or opportunities for career advancement and growth, and will likely consider their job boring.
Weak workplace culture
If employees don’t feel supported, connected, and included in a collaborative culture, they will become disengaged, or actively disengage themselves from what’s going on. Weak values and ethics are a sure-fire way to drive quiet quitting.
If an employee joins your company under the impression you are a Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity (DEI) champion, and then finds out this is not the case, you could have a quiet quitter on your hands.
Lack of resources and support
Every employee needs the correct tools and support to do their job. If these are inferior or lacking, they will probably disengage while they look to the competition for a better opportunity.
Poor compensation is a big problem. Employees will want to resign but if they can’t, they will probably resort to a minimum contribution corresponding to their perceived value in the workplace.
Excess workload leading to burnout
Excess workload followed by burnout can be a knock-on effect of quiet quitter culture, or it can be caused by poor management or personal factors. An employee suffering burnout, could feel the need to dial back and take it easy until the workload eases, or may be driven to look for another job.
The hustle culture
To combat rising costs, people have been forced to turn to side hustles and gigs to pay the bills. If someone is working two or more jobs, something will give. Extra jobs outside the workplace can encroach on company time and cause problems with focus and commitment.
Quiet quitting causes more quiet quitting. While some employees will take up the slack caused by a quiet quitter, others will resent the extra demands and quiet quit themselves.
Note: for the other type of quiet quitter, the one who walks out without giving notice one, or more of the reasons above can contribute to their departure.
The impact of quiet quitting
Quiet quitting has a negative impact on a company or its customers including: Negative effects on the organization
The negative impact within a company harboring quiet quitters is vast. If an employee is disengaged, employees who are engaged might have difficulty concealing their resentment. This can lead to dissatisfaction and conflict. Low morale can also be a big problem because if an employee is only doing the bare minimum to retain their job, others might begin to question their own commitment.
When one person is perceived not to be pulling their own weight, this negatively affects teamwork, and others could wonder if their own efforts are excessive. The quiet quitter will sometimes broadcast their supposed advantages over those doing more, and this can cause disruption and bad feelings.
It goes without saying that disengaged employees giving the minimum expected input, will not drive productivity within a company, and revenue will be adversely affected.
Repercussions for the employee
Employees can damage their own professional reputations if they are considered to be quiet quitters. Prospective employers will look to references and probably not select a worker who appears to do the minimum required. Similarly, it’s a big ask for a manager to give an honest reference for a quiet quitter.
Questions about ethics and values
Corporate and personal ethics and values will be put under scrutiny if there is a perception that employees are not putting equal effort into their jobs.
A company where employees do only what they absolutely have to will not enjoy a good reputation among customers. When customers get special service or treatment, they are inclined to regard a company in good light.
Customers often notice excellence, but they always notice apathy. Brand visibility can be badly affected too, by a quiet quitter’s lax attitude.
How to prevent quiet quitting
How do we head this off at the pass? Is there a way to identify a potential quiet quitter, or to prevent the situation from developing? Let’s have a look at some of the things we can do to prevent a culture of quiet quitting from taking hold in the workplace.
- Forewarned is forearmed. Pay close attention to levels of employee engagement. Try to anticipate areas where employees might fall into a state of quiet quitting. Once these areas are identified, you might be able to make adjustments before it’s too late.
- A strong internal communications strategy is key. The vital importance of open communication between management and employees cannot be over-emphasized. Equal, consistent communications give people the best chance to be engaged. Employees who don’t know what’s happening won’t know how to do their jobs effectively. If they feel they’re not being heard, they’ll lose interest and disengage, or resign.
- Quality management is paramount to successful employee engagement. Managers are ideally placed to know individuals, know about their lives and personal goals, and their potential and capabilities in the workplace. Remember, employees need autonomy and want to feel empowered and respected. Don’t damage their trust by micro-managing. Ask questions, and use surveys and interviews to determine how engaged employees are. Listen to feedback and implement suggested changes where reasonable to do so.
- Foster an inclusive workplace. Never assume to know what someone else’s life is like, or what pressures they may have, and be extra careful not to carry or tolerate unconscious biases. If support from colleagues in HR is available to employees struggling to integrate and engage, so much the better.
- Promote connection in the workplace. Employees must feel connected to the company mission and dedicated to collaboratively achieving company goals. This way, they feel that they matter, and are important in the overall grand scheme of things. Otherwise, you’ll have an actively disengaged employee—and that disengagement is contagious.
- Provide opportunities for career advancement and promotion. If people have the chance to explore routes to career development, this leads to a better employee experience and higher levels of engagement.
- Compensation and benefits are key. If you are not providing competitive salaries and benefits, employees will become dissatisfied and this will cause disengagement. If they move to a competitor, you have lost talent in which you’ve invested time and money. If a disengaged employee is unable to jump ship for any number of reasons, you’ll probably have a quiet quitter on your hands.
- Recognition and reward. It’s not a good idea to presume people will go the extra mile all day, every day, so don’t take it for granted when an employee has exceeded expectations. Recognize star performance and extra effort and reward as appropriate to create satisfaction and promote healthy competition between co-workers.
If a quiet quitter needs to be ‘let go’, be sure to follow correct protocols and to maintain respect for the employee whatever the circumstances. A professional, discreet, fair severance is best as this will do the least harm to a company’s reputation.
Throughout corporate history there have always been clock-watchers in the workplace, but these are not necessarily our quiet quitters. There are a number of reasons why people arrive for work on the dot or depart swiftly at closing time.
These reasons can include personal responsibilities, commuting issues, or others, and a person navigating such situations can also be fully engaged at work in spite of outside pressures. Without efficient methods of communication however, employees feel cast adrift and disconnected, and companies will struggle to create and sustain collaborative, engaged workforces in a competitive world.
If you’re thinking of revisiting issues around successful employee engagement, the best place to start is with your internal communications platform. This is where Simpplr can help, by designing a user-friendly experience that employees will love. Contact us to schedule your free demo!