The latest buzzword and yet another worry for employers to add to their ever-increasing risk register, no doubt including; Covid, the cost of living/energy crisis, political uncertainty, the great resignation, a rapidly unfolding environmental catastrophe, and burnout.
- But what is quiet quitting?
- Should employers be worried about it?
- How do you manage it?
TikTok has a lot to answer for and ‘quiet quitting’ is one of them. American TikTokker @zaidlepplin recently posted a video in which he made the simple point that ‘work is not your life. It wasn’t a new or profound observation, but the video went viral.
Quiet quitting is doing the bare minimum to keep your job because your fulfilment and priorities lie outside work. Essentially, do the basics to get paid (and keep getting paid) but do no more because why should you? Put yourself first for a change.
According to a recent study, the trend affects over half the US workforce, and the problem is allegedly getting worse (pause for panic/hysteria).
But wait a minute: Quiet quitting isn’t new
There’s always been a percentage of employees who complete their contracted hours, get paid and head home. Going the extra mile isn’t on their radar because their passions/dreams/headspace is elsewhere. But is quiet quitting an issue if they’re doing their job to a reasonable standard?
Reflecting on my 25 years of HR/leadership/coaching experience (including my ups and downs at work), I believe there are two types of quiet quitting, one which is healthy (for everyone) and one which is less healthy (for everyone).
You define new boundaries to safeguard your well-being. You know your sanity and health can’t sustain your pace of life, and you’re stretched in too many directions. Your boundaries enable you to regain control and restore a more manageable pace.
If your work environment fosters positive and open communication, both employer and employee can benefit from a refreshing change.
It’s neither ‘quiet’ nor ‘quitting’, but you have transitioned from ‘extra mile to ‘contractually-obliged distance and no further.
You’ve had enough and are dissatisfied with how your working life has unfolded. Rather than talk it through with your employer (you may have previously tried), you give up and disengage. At the same time, you privately commit to doing just enough to keep your job because currently, there are no apparent alternatives.
Rebellious, quiet quitting is a problem, both for employer and quitter.
- Rebellious, quiet quitting leads to corner cutting and mistakes; it intensifies boredom and deteriorates working relationships, which creates more disengagement for the quitter: a never-ending negative cycle is rapidly spinning.
- Rebellious, quiet quitting increases the pressure on the rest of the team, and with no communication, it can create misunderstanding, becoming infectious and fuelling collective apathy.
- Rebellious, quiet quitting, when prolonged, increases the risk of ‘milestone anxiety’ when the quitters since they’ve fallen behind.
If you’ve been in a rebellious state of quiet quitting for a while, check out Linkedin to feel bad.
Everyone else is posting about getting promoted, receiving awards or abseiling down the shard to raise money for the local donkey sanctuary while you’re rotting in a place you don’t want to be.
Should employers be worried about quiet quitting?
Quiet quitting is a new label for something which has always existed (doing the basics but no more), but if it’s the rebellious form of quiet quitting rather than a necessary form, it’s a problem which needs talking about.
It’s clear that since Covid, our expectations and attitudes around employment, work/life mix and priorities have shifted. With the many UK employers struggling to attract and retain the staff they need, it’s in everyone’s interests to create psychologically safe workplaces where people feel comfortable being open about how they think and what they want, without the fear of being penalised, belittled or judged.
When people can be open because it’s safe to do so, then quiet quitting is more likely to be of the restorative type than the rebellious type, which is more constructive for the employer, the quiet quitter and the wider team.
To create a safe psychological space, leaders can dare to be vulnerable about their challenges, mistakes, and dreams, so it signals that it’s ok for everyone else to do the same. Practically, leaders could also trial local initiatives in the workplace which encourage transparent communication and the building of safe spaces.
- Grumble and celebration time: where the first 10 minutes of the weekly team meeting is ring-fenced for people to voice their high and low points of the week (with general agreement that ‘low points’ shared do not personally implicate team members).
- ‘Mistake & Cake’ meetings: where people come together each month to share a cake, with several parameters for the meeting: a) the cake is a truly sumptuous offering, b) the purpose (other than eating cake) is to openly discuss mistakes/near mistakes made in the previous month, c) the mistakes discussed must be real issues (not trivial) d) no one is judged or penalised) learning is shared.
- Meaningful conversations: leaders take time out of their busy schedules to have meaningful conversations with their team members, not just about what needs to be done and where things are going, but about how that person is doing. These could be brief/informal conversations which leaders stick to as part of their weekly/bi-weekly schedule, regardless of what else is kicking off.
It’s easier said than done, but people’s happiness, motivation, and engagement are driven by complex factors such as relationships at work and home, finances, physical/mental well-being, the pursuit of inspiring goals, physical spaces (our car/office/home/community), autonomy, feeling in control and self-confidence etc.
Therefore, until you ‘know’ a person, you can’t quickly know whether someone is in a period of restorative, quiet quitting or rebellious.
Quiet quitting as a buzzword isn’t a storm in a teacup nor a brewing crisis. It’s an ongoing challenge with a new label, where the root causes constantly shift and evolve.
With compassionate, effective leadership, however, we can reduce the risk of rebellious, quiet quitting taking hold of the people we lead and make restorative change a natural and healthy cycle for those involved.
Andrew Pain is a high-performance coach, TEDx speaker, productivity expert, domestic abuse campaigner and survivor of a long-term abusive marriage.