Sarai Marie (@saraisthreads) went viral for her short video clips on TikTok, showing the world classic examples of ‘quiet quitting.’
But a 24-year-old engineer from New York called Zaid Khan first started the trend (@zaidlepplin). His catchy 17-second video summed up the sentiments of a new generation of post-pandemic workforce rebelling against the 24/7 start-up grind - the ‘hustle culture.’
But have Sarai Marie or Zaid Khan’s videos started a global trend of employees ‘acting their wage,’ or is it just a short-lived fad?
What is Quiet Quitting?
While there are several interpretations of ‘quiet quitting,’ it generally means quitting the hustle culture with its debilitating work pressure and long hours. It refers to doing only the bare minimum at work instead of going ‘above and beyond’ to impress the bosses and advance their careers.
The almost meteoric rise in popularity of ‘Quiet quitting’ can be attributed to the pandemic and a radically shifting workplace environment. Remote working blurred the lines between home and office, and people began to question the need for prioritizing work at the expense of family and personal life. Active social media discussions revolved around the impact of burnout on mental, physical, and social life as more and more workers began to reject the notion of the live-to-work culture.
Now, as businesses struggle to return to normal amidst a pitched battle for the sustentation of remote working, many employees are re-evaluating how they live, spend their time, and what is important about their jobs. The ‘quiet quitting’ movement paves the way to setting healthy boundaries at work, eliminating exhaustion, and renegotiating a healthier work-life balance.
Stories about Quiet Quitting
The internet is full of people going cold turkey on their jobs. It’s not just the blue-collar workers, but even executives have started chiming in with their own stories of quiet quitting after struggling with deteriorating mental health, non-existent social life, and the exacting task of balancing work and family. Some, having lost loved ones to the pandemic, were struck with the realization that they’d missed crucial moments in life due to the overwhelming pressure of work. Others waxed eloquent about being able to reconnect, rejuvenate and replenish.
While these stories paint a larger picture, what does quiet quitting look like on the ground?
The Economics of Quiet Quitting
Reports show that these are not isolated cases; at least half of Gen Z’ in the U.S. (and others globally) are mentally and emotionally withdrawing from their demanding workloads and less-than-empathetic bosses.
Maria Kordowicz, associate professor and director of the center for interprofessional education and learning at the University of Nottingham, maps the relationship between quiet quitting and the concurrent rise in job resignations by linking the phenomenon to a noticeable drop in engagement.
Gallup’s global workplace report for 2022 traces this wave of resignations to the rise of a new ‘empowered’ breed of employees who are leading the conversation around how the onus should be on the employers to remove the root cause of burnout. HBR’s latest study on the impact of managers on quiet quitting corroborates this by showing how work environment and leadership abilities are key factors in moving the needle towards productivity or disengagement.
Finally, weighing in on the immediate economic impact of quiet quitting, the U.S. Secretary of Labor, Marty Walsh, points to U.S. government data showing a startling drop in U.S. labor productivity this year. He says, "If you are an employer, you should catch on early enough that your employees aren't satisfied, aren't happy, and then there needs to be a dialogue, a conversation."
Top 5 Signs to look for in Quiet Quitting
‘Quiet quitters’ represent the zeitgeist of the ‘new normal’ era where employees do the bare minimum.
But with every employee that disengages, revenue generation and ROI are affected. So, before it reaches the point where productivity takes a hit, there are some red flags to watch out for:
- Chronic disengagement - A lack of motivation or chronic apathy is a classic sign of burnout, making quiet quitters ‘check out’ of their work.
- Performing to minimum standards - Unlike happy employees, quiet quitters do not take pride in performing their work to the highest standards.
- Withdrawal from activities, tasks, and responsibilities outside the job scope - The most classic sign of quiet quitting is a refusal to take on additional responsibilities that fall outside the job description.
- Refusal to collaborate with team members - Quiet quitters reject the idea of teamwork, preferring to work in isolation instead.
- No active participation in meetings - Quiet quitters tend to zone out or do not actively participate in meetings, preferring to take a backseat in active discussions.
Contrasting Views on Quiet Quitting
Questions about the pros and cons of quiet quitting as a strategy will doubtless continue to rage on. But quiet quitting is real and here to stay until companies decide to make an enlightened change to stop burnout by offering fair wages and taking steps to engage, challenge, and stimulate their employees.
However, not everyone is on board with the new concept. Some detractors argue that quiet quitters are shutting themselves off from pay raises and promotions because there will always be someone else to take their place.
How to Solve the Quiet Quitting Crisis
This statement from Gallup shines a spotlight on the root cause of the quiet quitting crisis – employee engagement. It’s less about workers coasting by in their jobs and more about employees setting boundaries because they aren’t feeling valued or appreciated in their respective organizations.
Here are some things that can help both the employer and employee create a meaningful, balanced relationship to avoid quiet quitting.
1. Get them talking and be ready to listen
Talk to your employees and dig deep to find out their reasons for going quiet. Ask relevant questions about their workload and bandwidth, and determine if they’re satisfied with their current tasks/projects or need additional resources or learning.
- Open a two-way channel of communication.
- Ask for honest feedback about the company and leadership.
- Create an environment where your employees feel comfortable speaking up.
- Provide constant motivation and stimulation.
- Take the feedback and act on it to implement changes.
2. Balance performance and expectations
Sit down and assess your employees' workload, have meaningful conversations around performance goals, and reassess company expectations and how you can help balance the two. Establish proper boundaries between personal life and work.
- Have 1-to-1 meetings about performance goals and how to align them to the higher company vision.
- Encourage a healthy work/life balance with conversations around mental health.
- Encourage your employees to take time off to recharge and rest when sick to avoid burnout.
- Ensure your employees have adequate time and resources to complete their tasks.
- Find out if there are any blockers and how to remove/work around them to maintain high productivity levels.
- Empower your employees to work autonomously and utilize different skills to keep up their enthusiasm.
- Promote internal career development and progression.
3. Reward and Recognize
Employees thrive on motivation and recognition. Frequently appreciate your employees for meeting and not just exceeding expectations. Do not wait till an annual event to announce service awards; offer a personalized, immersive, engaging, and responsive total rewards experience, including:
- A fair compensation commensurate with your employees’ experience and skills.
- A competitive benefits package with long-term physical, psychological and financial wellness incentives.
- A comprehensive rewards and recognition experience comprising social shout-outs, peer-to-peer recognition, and multiple types of rewards to celebrate every aspect of an employee’s professional journey.
To conclude, while it is easy to blame employees for being lazy, data from different studies show a significantly smaller number of quiet quitters in organizations that advocate their employees' interests. Companies that empower their employees to lead from the front, recognize and invest in their potential, share the company's successes, and guide them on the best path to mature in new roles, have come out on top; there’s a lesson to be learned here.