What makes some people go the extra mile in their jobs, while others do the absolute minimum to get by? It comes down to employee motivation and engagement, which is nothing new. What is new is the latest term for this phenomenon, i.e. “quiet quitting” – the fact that a new term was born illustrates how significant this challenge is today. Managers at all levels need to keep an eye out for the warning signs, and familiarize themselves with the best methods to improve the situation.
What Is Quiet Quitting?
Quiet quitting is not actually a form of quitting; rather, it means when an employee only does the specific work that is assigned to them, and nothing more. The employee avoids any tasks and communications that occur outside of the workplace. In HR terms, such employees are disengaged. The goal of a quiet quitter is to do the least amount of work so that they don’t get fired. The fact that this will probably limit their chances of promotion doesn’t really matter to them.
A Note on Terminology
In the HR industry, there is some disagreement over the definition of employee engagement. To make it clear, we mean:
- An engaged employee is interested in and enthusiastic about their work
- A disengaged employee does the minimum and shows no initiative
- An actively disengaged employee shows consistently poor performance and a negative attitude towards work and coworkers
How Did “Quiet Quitting” Start?
“Quiet quitting” is a phrase that evolved over Twitter, TikTok, and other social media that are popular with Millennials and Gen Z. It gained traction as platform users returned to work after Covid-19 closures and restrictions. This was the time of the Great Resignation, when people in many industries left in record numbers due to the renewed pressure of work.
The Great Resignation was all about employees rethinking their lives as wages went nowhere, but stress increased. This resulted in an attitude which rejects the idea that “life is work”. Whereas resigning is a “loud” way of showing dissatisfaction, quiet quitting is a “quieter” way of demonstrating that an employee isn’t enthusiastic about their job. They are content to show up, but won’t put in the effort to do much more than that.
How to Recognize a Quiet Quitter
A quiet quitter needs to walk a fine line. They don’t want to give off any signs that they have a negative attitude, because that could mean a discussion with management and/or HR, leading to a confrontation. (This is even more essential to the quiet quitter when working for companies that have an “at-will” employment arrangement. The employee can be terminated, on the spot and without the employer needing to give a reason.)
But inside, the quiet quitter might be conflicted. At one time, they were probably enthusiastic about their job – otherwise, they would not have made it through the hiring process. But now, they feel stuck, and that is bound to become apparent. So a change in behavior will rear its head, such as:
This is an employee who doesn’t want to participate in social events, is not interested in the professional or personal lives of colleagues, and seems pessimistic about the company and their job. Coworkers in particular are likely to notice this behavior.
Poor Productivity and Quality of Output
Managers will probably be the first to realize it when the employee doesn’t deliver their usual standard anymore. In this case, a word from the manager might be enough of a warning to at least return the employee to productivity.
No Interest in Challenges, Responsibilities, or Learning
A motivated employee is constantly seeking opportunities to prove their skills so that they can move up the corporate ladder. Conversely, a worker who is not engaged sees no reason to invest extra effort, and will avoid or refuse opportunities.
Frequent Breaks and Absences
This might be the most obvious sign of a quiet quitter, and can also indicate that they are on the verge of actually quitting or provoking a manager to fire them. An employee who doesn’t follow the schedule that has been set for them, or who causes coworkers to scramble because they are absent without warning, probably won’t last long in any organization.
Why Is Quiet Quitting Important?
For the HR department, and the company as a whole, quiet quitting means trouble. The challenge of maximizing employee engagement has long been a concern. This is because, when employees are disengaged, they create issues on multiple levels:
Operations and Strategy
The managers of a company create strategic goals, set quality standards for the service or product they make, and arrange schedules to coordinate the various operations of the company. But it’s up to employees to deliver. It’s true that one of the jobs of a manager is to check that everything is going according to plan. But there’s only so much that they can do. When disengaged employees are constantly making mistakes and failing to mention problems to the manager, it’s only a matter of time before productivity is affected.
As described above, the actions of quiet quitters can range anywhere from being antisocial to constant absenteeism. These actions have consequences that fall on their peers. A coworker who isn’t interested in your personal life creates a bad atmosphere in the workplace. But even worse is a coworker who doesn’t show up, which forces other employees to do that person’s job, creating more stress and longer hours.
Engaged employees can boost customer satisfaction rates by 18% compared to poorly engaged workers. The reasons are easy to understand. Disengaged workers tend to ignore schedules and do a bad job. Whenever a customer needs to deal with somebody who is at best indifferent, it causes them to wonder why they don’t move to a supplier who makes them feel valued.
We have yet to see the outcome of the Quiet Quitting movement. But it makes sense that many of these employees will either quit or be fired over time. In either case, this situation creates problems for skill continuity and morale. Plus, that brings all the difficulties that come with needing to hire someone new. All of this will fall onto the HR department to resolve.
Yes, this might sound a bit overblown, but disengaged employees are a global problem. According to Gallup, employees who are not engaged cost the world economy about 11% of global GDP, which adds up to trillions of dollars.
How to Deal with Quiet Quitting
In most cases, the goal of HR is employee retention. Remember, many quiet quitters don’t actually want to leave, and that provides an opportunity.
The first step in getting them back to engagement is to make absolutely sure that they actually are quiet quitters. In other words, personal matters, a new task, coworkers, or managers are not to blame. If this is true, then HR has two basic options:
Look for and Address the Cause
There can be many reasons for employee dissatisfaction. The big three are:
- Lack of career opportunities and advancement
- Dislike of certain job features
- Health and family issues
Within these categories are multiple factors. For example, a major cause of career disappointment is an absence of learning and development opportunities. Through programs like career coaching, HR can arrange meaningful L&D initiatives and give the employee a new lease on their professional life. However, this move assumes that the employee will respond positively to the attention of management. For some workers, being made to feel like a quiet quitter, even if true, can lead to resentment.
Should the employee quit, they will eventually need to work again. But HR can let them have their cake and eat it too. By giving the quiet quitter other role options within the organization, HR can convince the employee to avoid the risk of leaving and find something new that might revive their interest.
There is one final, but unfortunate, option. Some quiet quitters are the victims of burnout as they lose the will over time to perform their tasks with energy. There are many reasons for this to occur, but at some point, the employee will close their mind to constructive ideas. The best option in this situation is for the employee and the company to part ways. This allows the employee to take a break and search for a job that is more in line with their changed expectations.
Fight Quiet Quitting with GrowthSpace
It’s up to HR professionals to minimize the effects of quiet quitting. One vital solution in this fight is L&D programs, but only the right kind.
No more one-size-fits-all solutions. Each employee has their own professional goals and skill challenges. GrowthSpace is the leading platform to customize learning and development programs that build – and rejuvenate – employee career goals.