Is lack of employee engagement costing you?
Important signs to look for in employees that are ‘quietly quitting’ at work
While it’s certainly not a new topic, the concept of ‘quiet quitting’ has become a trending social media hashtag over the last few weeks (largely thanks to a TikTok video that went viral1). People’s increasing interest in the concept comes off the back of the COVID-19 pandemic, record-high employee stress levels2, and uncertainty around the current political climate. Add to this steadily rising levels of burnout (on average, one in four employees surveyed report experiencing burnout symptoms3) and it’s no wonder that employees around the world are re-thinking what work/life balance really means to them.
What is quiet quitting, exactly?
In essence, quiet quitting doesn’t literally refer to employees quitting their jobs. Instead, it refers to doing the bare minimum in a boycott against allowing work to become their life’s sole purpose.
As the now-famous TikTok creator @zkchillin explains1, “You’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond. You’re still performing your duties, but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life. The reality is, it’s not, and your worth as a person is not defined by your labour.”
There are many ways to view the concept of quiet quitting and that’s why debates around the concept have become quite polarising.
On the one hand, when employees are consistently overworked and feel pressure to put in long hours just to get their work done and keep their jobs secure, a concept like quiet quitting can be empowering and a source of motivation to make positive changes in their lives.
As a career strategist and author Jennifer Brick told Newsweek3, “Our identities have become defined by our work, and there are so many ‘should’s’ about what that looks like. However, not everyone dreams of climbing the career ladder to the executive ranks. Many people simply want to do their jobs, go home at the end of the day, and live their lives.”
On the other hand, there’s the argument around employees merely jumping on a negative mindset bandwagon in order to ‘stick it to corporate culture’ without taking any responsibility for the role that they need to play in their own lives to make positive changes to their careers and find roles and companies with values that resonate with them.
As Career coach, Kelsey Wat, said in a recent interview with Newsweek3, “I think that healthy boundaries are important, but I don’t see quiet quitting as setting [a] healthy boundary. It’s a coping mechanism for a larger issue, which is lack of boundaries and lack of value alignment with the role.”
While none of us need to be defined by our work, surely we have a responsibility to ourselves to find an alternative to quiet quitting? Namely, a job that offers us a sense of purpose and that doesn’t compromise our work/life balance?
This middle ground is something that Arianna Huffington of Thrive (a global wellbeing company on a mission “on a mission to end the burnout epidemic”) tackled when she weighed in on the debate in a LinkedIn post.
“If work is at least eight hours of our day, are we saying these are hours we’re willing to simply go through the motions, with the inevitable boredom that’s bound to ensue? Work can give us meaning and purpose. It’s part of a thriving life. We should absolutely reject ‘hustle culture’ and burnout (I believe this so strongly I founded a company with that as its mission). But rejecting burnout doesn’t mean rejecting the possibility of finding joy in our work, loving our work.”
The signs of burnout behind ‘quiet quitting’
As Amanda White, The Unisure Group’s Head of HR, explains, quiet quitting in employees who are experiencing burnout very often does not start quietly.
“Burnout happens when an employee has depleted themselves, mentally and physically, and they are struggling to function as a result,” she says. “In this scenario, quiet quitting is the result of employees who have more work than they can handle long-term, with no clear end in sight, and who feel improperly rewarded for the amount of effort put forth.”
“Often employees express their concerns about their work overload to their manager. If their manager ignores their pleas, or acknowledges the concern but fails to tack action, then employees may resort to taking matters into their own hands and ‘quietly quitting’.”
Noticing dips in productivity in certain employees from time to time need not necessarily be cause for alarm, but when complacency becomes the norm, managers need to know that they have a serious problem on their hands.
“For this reason, it’s incredibly important for leaders to know their team, to be aware of how they’re doing, and to keep a close watch for any team members acting out of character so that they can, ideally, catch the warning signs of burnout before it happens,” Amanda emphasises. “If your superstars pull back, take note. A sudden drop in productivity or enthusiasm can be a red flag that trouble is brewing. When outspoken employees go quiet in meetings, and key contributors are suddenly nowhere to be found, do some digging to get to the root cause.”
At the end of the day, leaders play a crucial role in an employees’ engagement and productivity levels. As Amanda says, “It’s paramount for leaders to ensure that increased workloads are short-term situations. Both leaders themselves, and their employees, need to understand the importance of maintaining healthy work-life boundaries. They need to reward great effort, by utilising employee recognition strategies, for example, and they need to manage demanding schedules that become impossible to sustain over the long term.”
At the end of the day, we owe it to ourselves, wherever possible, to work towards a place of work/life balance and job fulfilment. In light of this, Arianna Huffington’s rallying cry of focusing on “joyful joining4” (rather than quietly quitting) seems like a much better avenue for many employees’ energy.
“Rather than go through the motions in a job you’ve effectively quit on, why not find one that inspires you, engages you and brings you joy?” she asks. “We have, after all, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to redefine how we work and live. Let’s not settle on quiet quitting.”
- TikTok, @zkchillin, On quiet quitting #workreform (tiktok.com)
- Gallup State of the Global Workplace report
- Newsweek, ‘Quiet Quitting’ Isn’t New, Here’s Why Gen Z Is Taking Blame
- Arianna Huffington, Founder and CEO of Thrive, LinkedIn
- Amanda White, Unisure Head of HR, interview 29 August 2022
- Forbes, 6 Signs That A ‘Quiet Quitter’ Is Among Your Employees And What To Do About It