Sarai Marie (@saraisthreads) went viral for her short video clips on TikTok, showing the world classic examples of ‘quiet quitting.’

dealing with 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.’

"I recently learned about this term called quiet quitting, where you're not outright quitting your job, but you're quitting the idea of going above and beyond. You're still performing your duties, but you're no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life. The reality is it's not — and your worth as a person is not defined by your labor."

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.

“Almost two-thirds (61.4%) of workers admit they're currently quitting or have thought about it. Their reasons? 61% of workers say they're burned out, and nearly three-quarters (70%) have dealt with their company being short-staffed. In turn, a whopping 72% of workers say they've been asked to work additional hours outside of their contracted hours.” - Forbes

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?

Source: BBC

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.

"Quiet quitters" make up at least 50% of the U.S. workforce, while only 9% of workers in the U.K. are engaged or enthusiastic about their work. - Gallup

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.

“Since the pandemic, people’s relationship with work has been studied in many ways, and the literature typically, across the professions, would argue that, people’s way of relating to their work has changed.”

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.

Harvard Business Review, in its article “Quiet Quitting Is About Bad Bosses, Not Bad Employees,” points to data showing that “quiet quitting is usually less about an employee’s willingness to work harder and more creatively, and more about a manager’s ability to build a relationship with their employees where they are not counting the minutes until quitting time.”

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:

  1. Chronic disengagement - A lack of motivation or chronic apathy is a classic sign of burnout, making quiet quitters ‘check out’ of their work.
  2. Performing to minimum standards - Unlike happy employees, quiet quitters do not take pride in performing their work to the highest standards.
  3. 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.
  4. Refusal to collaborate with team members - Quiet quitters reject the idea of teamwork, preferring to work in isolation instead.
  5. 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.

"There are risks attached to taking this approach to your career. Inevitably, your progression within that company will become limited – particularly if your colleagues are going above and beyond to exceed employer expectations. You also run the risk of having little to show to your next employer when interviewing for your next role.” Paul Farrer, the founder and chairman of Aspire

Supporters

VS

Detractors

Since COVID, my priorities, values, who and what are important to me have shifted drastically. I now leave my office at the end of the day, not thinking about what I need to work on when I go home at night. I set boundaries for checking my emails and reaching out to co-workers during non-office hours. Most importantly, I am not anxious when requesting time off, taking personal days, or especially taking sick time. Before, it was something I would agonize over, and now it is something I can do without hesitation or worry.”   Sara M., department manager

“I have zero ability to do anything but do as my boss requires me. The idea that 'quiet quitting' fits any job besides the ones laden with keyboard strokes, spreadsheets, and meetings, is foolish. It feels like more of a realization by people, who were more than happy to work 24/7/365 chasing the almighty dollar, that their lives are wasted in pursuing more stuff. Now they are presenting some laughable notion of 'I just realized I work too much, but luckily I can afford to do less because no one will notice anyway!' as a paradigm shift in worker's rights. I am disgusted that this has become something people believe could be effective for most of the workforce.” James Holverstott, laborer

"Many of my friends work in Big Law, and while they're paid very well, the expectations placed on Associates are extremely demanding and often unfair/emotionally abusive. They can't or won't draw similar boundaries, often for fear of retaliation, but they all recognize the toll it takes on their mental and physical health. Many have left their positions as a result."  Lane Sheldon, attorney

“Quiet quitting is doing the bare minimum required of you at work and being content with mediocrity. Advancement and pay increases will go to those whose level of effort warrants advancement and doing the bare minimum certainly does not." Pattie Ehsaei, workplace decorum expert

How to Solve the Quiet Quitting Crisis

"It's clear that quiet quitting is a symptom of poor management." - Gallup

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.

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