Why Quiet Quitting, Why Now?
You’ve probably noticed by now that people seem obsessed with quiet quitting. By some measures, it is estimated that up to two-thirds of employees could already be quiet quitting when compared with those who are actively engaged at work. Could this be true?
What is clear is that people at all levels of the organization are talking about it—and there is a lot of disagreement about what it really means.
Quiet Quitting: What is it, anyway?
At first glance, quiet quitting sounds like disengagement personified. Research surveys have warned HR and the C-Suite for years that their workforce is slacking. (Gallup, for example, has for years estimated that one-third to one-half or more of all employees are disengaged at work, hence the idea that when compared to the one-third that are actively engaged, the rest are already checked out.)*
Quiet quitting is also sometimes described as employees purposefully doing the bare minimum and no longer being invested in the outcome of their work or the company’s goals. In other words, it is a presumption that employees are unwilling to apply any extra discretionary effort to their work. Taken this way, quiet quitting, or “silent quitting,” is certainly something to be concerned about. But is this really what it means to your workforce?
Ask what quiet quitting means to employees and many sources relay that it may actually be about setting workplace boundaries. It is perhaps just a viral name for “better work-life balance” and directly related to employees reacting to the burnout of workforce shifts due to COVID, the Great Resignation, or to being overworked in general. As far as trends go, Millennials to Gen Z tend to see quiet quitting as a way of defining their approach to work and what they will, or will not, tolerate*.
Is Fear of Quiet Quitting Really Just Mistrust of Employees in Disguise?
Ever since hybrid/remote work and flatter organizations became more prevalent in the new normal, it seems that we’re not sure how to trust employees anymore without a hierarchical system holding them in check.
When working in an office, day-to-day, you can visualize how people are doing their work: Who they are connecting with, who they are learning from, how they are progressing—even who they are gossiping with.
As the trend toward decentralized workforces has become the norm, in many cases the ways employees work together have drastically shifted and it is possible that we just don’t trust folks to do their work because we’re still looking for clues through an old lens.
If you think you see evidence of quiet quitting, reflect carefully on how your lens is focused. If you agree that quiet quitting is more about boundary setting than disengagement, look for clues where you might be promoting an unbalanced culture. For example, are you sending and answering emails after work hours or on weekends? If employees regularly answer, is this a sign of diligence or a sign that something is out of balance?
As a remote employee on a different coast, I often have to send emails later than I expect many of my colleagues to answer. However, especially when I need to send a late communication to a direct report, I will often put For Tomorrow: in the subject line, or Not Urgent: and I have had many conversations about setting expectations, like: “Even if you peek at your email, I don’t expect an answer. In fact, I don’t want you to peek at all!”
Is Quiet Quitting a Management Problem?
The tone I have seen many articles take is: Don’t Let it Happen to You! Prevent and Combat Quiet Quitting! This is often with the underlying thought that managers aren’t doing a good enough job keeping track of employee actions.
The tools to combat quiet quitting come out of the same toolbox a good manager is already deploying, such as defining expectations, checking in early and often, providing recognition, holding people accountable, providing feedback, establishing performance goals, providing psychological safety, and having coaching conversations.
It goes without saying that if your managers are not equipped to manage, or your leaders are not equipped to lead, then quiet quitting may be just the tip of the spear.
Be Part of the Conversation About Quiet Quitting
Given the disagreement on the term, you might need to carefully reflect on what quiet quitting means in your organization before making sweeping assumptions. Start conversations about quiet quitting with your people at all levels. If you have an intranet, or pulse survey/survey process, set up an anonymous feedback system so you can get real insight into what this phenomenon means to your workforce. Opinions will no doubt be across the board and individualized, so assume the goal is insight—not consensus.
Although quiet quitting is a hot topic of conversation lately, don’t assume the worst in your organization, and don’t stick your head in the sand either. Conversations like the above are a great way to gauge what your individual employees think or what risk factors you may need to take a closer look at.