The Truth Behind Quiet Quitting

by Erin Sevitz on October 5, 2022
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While the term “quiet quitting” may be new, the concept is not. It’s been around for decades. But, amid the global pandemic, employees finally started speaking up — refusing to settle for employee burnout, poor management, or lack of career opportunities. Many argued that their leadership’s expectations of them extended past their job duties or workload capacity.

Quiet quitters make up at least 50% of the U.S. workforce. The notion has spread like wildfire on social media, meaning it’s more likely to worsen. Like any movement, the more a group feels heard, the more they speak up. Companies can no longer ignore their employees’ voices.

The Truth Behind Quiet Quitting

So, rather than debating if quiet quitters are fallacious, let’s try to understand them. What exactly is a quiet quitter? Are there warning signs? And is quiet quitting the result of a lazy work ethic, bad management, or poor mental health?

Dismissing quiet quitting as a news trend risks further disengagement and overlooks the genuine reason employees are taking a step back. Quiet quitting can be prevented, but only if we address it head-on.

What is Quiet Quitting?

The Great Resignation ignited employees to think about their careers, salaries, and overall treatment at work. Lack of advancement opportunities, low pay, and feeling disrespected were the top reasons for many to quit their jobs. Those that did not physically quit their jobs chose to “quiet” quit.

Quiet quitting is a softer approach than outright leaving a job. The term isn’t literal but a play on words. Rather than workers quitting jobs, they are quitting the idea of going above and beyond. Unhappy with some aspect of their current company or role, they choose only to complete the bare minimum.

While quiet quitting has gotten a bad reputation, that may be unfair. It’s ultimately all a matter of perspective. Some quiet quitters claim they are simply setting boundaries where they belong and refusing to take on what they can’t handle.

Signs of a Quiet Quitter

There are tell-tale signs of a quiet quitter. But with that said, quiet quitting doesn’t look the same for everyone. A quiet quitter may show some of the below signs while not experiencing others:

Low engagement. Previous overachievers now only doing the bare minimum are likely quiet quitters. Rather than volunteering to help co-workers with projects like they once did, they only focus on their own. They are not necessarily unengaged but limit their engagement to only what’s required.

Attendance at meeting without speaking up. Team meetings should encourage employees to participate and use their voices. An employee who continuously remains silent may be a quiet quitter. For virtual meetings, this refers to employees who consistently have their video off and sound on mute.

Lack of initiative. An employee who is a self-starter and can assess work independently has initiative. Conversely, quiet quitters don’t contribute new ideas or strategies to projects. Some may even require handholding with each task assigned to them.

Only working the required hours. Beginning and ending work exactly on time, every time, is a sign of a quiet quitter. While working extra hours shouldn’t be required of employees, sometimes it’s needed when a project’s deadline approaches. Employees who aren’t as passionate about their work are less likely to care about the outcome. As a result, projects become delayed or fall into another co-worker’s lap.

Isolation from the rest of the team. Collaboration is key to every team’s success. However, success falters when some employees stop contributing as much as others. Employees who only attend required meetings and participate in work-related conversations are potential quiet quitters. There is a difference between teamwork and tolerance.

Bad employee or bad management?

Less effective managers have three times more quiet quitters than their effective counterparts, prompting the question, “Is quiet quitting about bad employees or bad management?”

66% of managers are not engaged at work, meaning most managers are likely to miss employee burnout and disengagement. Leadership should actively converse with employees about their workload, strengths, goals – and even their current life situation. Employees who feel valued by their supervisor, not only as a company asset but as human beings, are less likely to become quiet quitters.

Additionally, employees who aren’t aware of their contribution to the greater organization feel less fulfilled. It’s up to management to show their team how their work impacts the company’s purpose. Excellent management also includes accountability for individual performances, team collaboration, and employee value.

The saying, “people don’t quit jobs; they quit bad managers,” resonates with many quiet quitters. Employees might love their position and company, but poor management makes them resent their day-to-day. Leaders who have conversations with their employees about workplace well-being – without being afraid to turn inward – can combat quiet quitting.

Quiet Quitting and Mental Health

Quiet quitting is linked to employee burnout. Burnout can be a byproduct of the following:

  • Unfair treatment in the workplace
  • Unmanageable workload
  • Lack of role clarity
  • Lack of communication or support from management
  • Unreasonable time pressure

Neglecting employee well-being affects employees’ mental health. Quiet quitting is a response to workers feeling exhausted from unmanaged workplace stress. But is it the answer? The movement has had both a positive and negative impact on professionals’ mental well-being.

On the upside, employees are no longer afraid to set boundaries and advocate for work-life balance. Instead, quiet quitters ask managers to meet them halfway – whether with fairer workloads, pay increases, or growth opportunities – to co-create a better work environment. Supervisors who disregard the notion may find their employees retaliating through low-quality work.

With that said, job satisfaction and mental health are connected. Employees may choose to put in less effort, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel good about it. If anything, it’ll harm their self-worth and ultimately hurt their mental health. Unfortunately, it’ll also damage their co-workers’ mental health, specifically those who pick up their slack.

Ways to prevent Quiet Quitting

Employees don’t want to become quiet quitters. But when they repeatedly feel overworked and overwhelmed – without the proper compensation or growth opportunities to cushion the blow – they feel left with no other choice.

Rather than dismissing quiet quitting, employers should understand the reasons behind the phenomenon and provide actionable steps to fix the problem. Here is a list of ways companies can prevent quiet quitting:

Monitor workloads. In a perfect world, employees would always have predictable and steady workflows. But in truth, sometimes overtime is necessary. Managers should monitor their employees’ workloads. If they’re asking employees to step up and take extra responsibilities, they need to acknowledge it with a reward. Offering time off afterward gives the employees time to rest and mentally recharge.

Properly compensate. Pay discrepancies are one of the leading causes of quiet quitting. The issue isn’t that employees don’t want to do the extra work but don’t feel appropriately compensated for their efforts. More than money, the root of the problem is a lack of respect. Piling on responsibilities without employee consent damages manager-employee relationships. If leaders cannot give employees a raise or promotion, they should explore other forms of recognition, such as perks, benefits, and flexibility.

Make stepping up optional. Every employee doesn’t have the same career aspirations or goals. Some employees may be content where they are, while others envision themselves moving into management or desire to switch departments. Don’t make assumptions. Leadership should give additional responsibilities to employees who want to climb the ladder. Those employees will be more motivated and eager to accept them.

Listen to employees. Quiet quitting doesn’t come out of nowhere. Employees usually express their concerns beforehand. When they feel ignored, they begin retaliating. Employers must listen to their employees and keep an open dialogue. While managers can’t always give their teams what they want, basic empathy goes a long way.

Respect boundaries. Companies shouldn’t overstep or intrude on their employees’ personal time. Workers don’t need to explain why they can’t work extra hours. Leaders should acknowledge employees who do work overtime with a reward. It’s management’s job to be an advocate for their team’s work-life balance.

Be upfront about role responsibilities. 40% of job switchers among the Great Resignation are already looking for a new job. Why? Because most companies are not upfront about each role’s duties. Many quiet quitters are required to do more work than their job description calls for. Recruiters must be honest about job roles and any associated career development. Specifically, not to oversell a position or false promise opportunities.

Build relationships. Relationships between leadership and employees are essential. Employees are more likely to become quiet quitters when there is a disconnect. Management needs to bridge the gap by building rapport with their team. We’re all human beings – employers, managers, and employees. Nurturing these relationships helps avoid miscommunication and disappointment.

Monitor behavioral changes. Quiet quitters are not chronic under-performers but disheartened high performers. A drop in engagement and productivity is a red flag. Employees may also be going through a challenging personal matter, and when they feel unsupported, they quiet quit. Behavioral changes are telling, as actions aways speak louder than words.

Quiet Quitters are far from quiet

Quiet quitters aren’t quiet, or subtle, but loudly recognizable. Employees display multiple warning signs. They aren’t hard to miss if you’re looking out for them. In the end, quiet quitters don’t want to be ignored. They want to be heard and see positive changes.

Companies should work with employees to build a strategy that promotes workplace well-being and fights burnout. Employees deserve reasonable working demands, positive cultures, opportunities to grow, and the chance to be passionate about their jobs. It is leadership’s responsibility to fix any workplace dysfunctions so employees can have a healthy work-life balance.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erin Sevitz

Erin Sevitz is the Senior Director of Marketing at iOFFICE + SpaceIQ.

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