Quiet quitting – where employees stay in their jobs but opt to do only the bare minimum required to keep those jobs – is increasingly gaining popularity, especially among younger employees. Considering the stress of the pandemic, coupled with ongoing economic uncertainty, it is perhaps no surprise that burnt-out workers are attracted to the idea of putting in less effort at work.
The idea of quiet quitting may be a hot new TikTok trend but, as Derek Thompson argues in the Atlantic, it is simply a new name for an old issue – disengagement. Employee disengagement has always been a problem for employers looking to get the best from their teams.
Not only are disengaged employees more likely to quit, but they also drag down your bottom line in other ways. When team members only put in the bare minimum, productivity drops. Innovation and creativity are threatened. And the issue can soon spread to other staff members, as working with disengaged colleagues brings down morale and leaves people resenting always having to pick up the slack.
Still, although quiet quitting might not be a new phenomenon, this latest trend in employee disengagement has some specific characteristics that are worth paying attention to. Understanding why employees are inspired by the concept of quiet quitting can help you make the changes you need to keep your team engaged and motivated.
In this post, we’ll look at the trend of quiet quitting in more detail, evaluate how much of a problem it is, and discuss some ways you can prevent quiet quitting within your own team.
The Problem of Quiet Quitting
Let’s start first by looking at the problem of quiet quitting and how it is affecting the workforce.
As we’ve already seen, employee disengagement isn’t a new issue. For years, managers have struggled to motivate and inspire their teams, knowing that engaged workers are more productive and less likely to be absent or quit.
But the events of the past few years have had a major impact on the way we think about work.
Interestingly, overall employee engagement actually increased during the early months of the pandemic. The unique circumstances of the global crisis at first fostered an all-hands-on-deck mentality. Coupled with an increased level of flexibility from many employers (and concern about holding onto their jobs), this created an environment where many were prepared to go the extra mile.
However, as the initial sense of urgency wore off, engagement levels soon began to drop. According to figures published by Gallup in April 2022, only 32% of U.S. employees now consider themselves engaged with work, down from 36% in 2020. 17% of workers say they are actively disengaged.
So, what is behind this particular trend of decreasing employee engagement? To answer this question, we need to look at the unique circumstances of the past few years.
Firstly, that initial rise in engagement we saw at the start of the pandemic may be partly to blame for the current drop. Increased short-term efforts at work are often not sustainable for the long term, and we’ve all been affected by the stress and uncertainty of the last few years.
Secondly, not every company has kept the flexible, open, and considerate approach to working arrangements that they adopted at the start of the pandemic. Employees who have had a taste of hybrid or remote working and a better work-life balance may be reluctant to perform at their best for an organization that takes a stricter approach to working hours and location.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, there’s a new narrative appearing around work and its place in our lives, often driven by conversations on social media. It’s no accident that the term “quiet quitting” has been made viral by TikTok and other social media platforms.
For many years, success in life has been equated to financial security and success in our careers. However, employees may no longer buy into this definition. Recent research by insurance group?Aviva?shows that more workers are now attracted to their current role for the work-life balance that it offers than for the salary.
After all, the internet and the rise of the gig economy have both meant that the traditional 9-5 is no longer the only option for earning a living. This may be one of the factors behind the Great Resignation, according to research by McKinsey & Company. But even those who choose to remain in traditional employment will likely be affected by this vision of work as something that should fit around their lives, not the other way around.
If what we do in our free time is now more important to our identity than our careers, it makes sense that employees will want to direct more of their energy towards their relationships and hobbies and less towards their work.
The challenge for managers and employers is making work meaningful, attractive, and inspiring enough to combat this trend and keep their team members motivated and engaged.
How to Spot Quiet Quitters
Re-engaging employees who have mentally checked out can be hard work, so it is always best to put measures in place to keep your team motivated before they reach that point.
However, it helps to be able to spot the warning signs of quiet quitting in your staff members before they get too disengaged – or start to affect the morale of the rest of the team.
Before we get onto how to spot whether your employees are at risk of quiet quitting, we want to share a cautionary note about employer expectations.
Engaged and motivated employees will often be willing to go above and beyond for their work. They come up with creative ideas, pitch in to help others get tasks done, and perform their own duties with enthusiasm.
People with this mentality will likely be willing to take on extra duties or work longer hours when needed to get the job done. However, this extra effort shouldn’t be demanded all the time.
If you are consistently expecting people to take on responsibilities that aren’t in their job description or to work longer than their contracted hours, it is reasonable for them to push back against these expectations – and a sign that you are likely under-resourced too.
Your team members may well slide towards quiet quitting if a situation like this is allowed to continue for the long-term – but that initial push-back isn’t necessarily a sign that they’ve disengaged just yet.
Remember too that work isn’t the only thing in your team members’ lives. It might be tempting to think that someone who never comes to after-work drinks or who never volunteers for things is disengaged. But it can simply be a sign that they have responsibilities at home that demand their time and attention.
So, before you start worrying about whether your employees are disengaging, it is worth taking a look at what you are asking of them and whether your expectations are reasonable.
With that caution in mind, here are some of the signs that can indicate employees are disengaging from their work and are opting to become quiet quitters:
- Rarely contribute in meetings or team discussions
- Do exactly what you ask of them… and nothing more
- Don’t come up with new ideas or initiatives
- Show a marked, long-term lack of enthusiasm for work
- Aren’t proactive about finding opportunities for professional development
Preventing Quiet Quitting in Your Team
Whether you have already noticed signs of quiet quitting in your team or are anxious to prevent it in the first place, there are a few things you can do to keep people engaged and interested in their work.
We’ve already suggested assessing your expectations to make sure what you are asking from people is reasonable. Make that a two-way conversation so that your employees can give feedback on where they feel the balance isn’t quite right.
Some other ways to prevent quiet quitting include:
1. Help Employees Find Value and Meaning in Their Work
Lack of meaning at work continues to be one of the top reasons that employees quit, with 31% of respondents quoting this as a contributing factor in a recent survey by McKinsey & Company.
If we want to keep our team members engaged and enthusiastic about their work, helping them find purpose needs to be a priority.
While we can’t choose what our employees find meaningful, we can help them find value in their work in a few ways, including:
- Sharing the bigger picture and articulating how their work contributes to it
- Defining the company’s purpose and putting it at the heart of decision-making
- Creating a culture that focuses on collaboration, connection, and teamwork
2. Give People Flexibility and Autonomy
Flexible working practices can be a huge draw for employees looking for a healthy work-life balance. People also report higher levels of motivation and well-being when they have more control over their work schedules, according to findings by the University of Birmingham. ?
While it’s easier to achieve in some industries than others, offering your staff members some autonomy on where, when, and how they complete tasks can increase their job satisfaction and help to prevent quiet quitting.
3. Look at Your Compensation Package
Although flexibility and work-life balance are increasingly important factors in retaining employees, salary and other workplace benefits still have a major impact too.
People who feel properly compensated for their work are more likely to feel valued and respected by their employers. In turn, this helps them remain engaged and enthusiastic about their roles so that they are willing to do more than just show up.
When assessing compensation, it is important to look beyond just the salary. Consider what you can offer in terms of bonuses, pensions, paid vacation and sick leave, health insurance, and childcare too, as well as softer benefits like gym memberships, shopping discounts, and subsidized training.
4. Prioritize Employee Well-Being
One of the factors behind the current quiet quitting trend is employee burnout, as the stress and tension of the last few years catch up with people. With an increased focus on the importance of mental health, people are increasingly refusing to put their well-being at risk in order to perform better at work.
Employers can respond by making well-being a priority in the workplace. This can include making sure people take breaks and time off, running initiatives to help staff cope better with stress, and fostering an open and caring culture where employees feel supported to speak up when they experience mental health issues.
5. Recognize and Reward Performance
We’ve looked already at the financial compensation for hard work. But it isn’t just money and benefits that matter when it comes to making people feel valued and celebrated for their work. Make sure you’re maxing out your “psychic income” bank as well.
If you want to inspire your team to do more than the bare minimum, it’s important to recognize their achievements, no matter how small. Offer praise whenever it is due – making sure to be specific about what the person did and how it has positively impacted the team.
And if someone is consistently going above and beyond, make sure that you reward their contributions by supporting their professional development – ideally through promotion, if possible.
6. Build Your Relationship with Your Direct Reports
It’s very telling that teams that go the extra mile are mostly led by managers who have a strong relationship with their direct reports, as shown by research published in?the Harvard Business Review. Leadership matters.
While employees are certainly affected by how they perceive the wider company, it is their direct line manager who has the biggest effect on their enthusiasm and motivation. When staff members believe their manager cares about their well-being and is serving them as a leader, they are more likely to feel inspired and engaged with their work.
An open and trusting relationship with your direct reports also means they are more likely to come to you when they have issues at work or feel that they are being expected to do more than is reasonable. This gives you a chance to make changes before your team members become quiet quitters.
Quiet quitting is a new name for an old problem – employee disengagement. But managers can help keep their teams engaged and prevent quiet quitting by making sure employees feel valued, respected, and supported in their work.