Recent times have been full of the “quiet quitting” hashtag, where demotivated employees share the ways in which they scale down their participation at work. The trend provokes important conversations about motivation, boundaries, and the rewards of work. Let’s take a look. 

What is Quiet Quitting? 

Quiet quitting is the reduction of workplace engagement. For some employees, this may mean doing the “bare minimum” required of them during their shift. For others, it may mean simply limiting themselves to their scheduled work hours, or written job description, and not going above and beyond. The term specifically applies to employees who used to do more and are deliberately scaling back, rather than employees who were always “slackers.” Some of the signs of quiet quitting are:

  • Strict adherence to working hours. A quiet quitter may leave/log off/shut down at precisely the moment their shift ends, and never start early. They don’t reply to emails, messages, or texts outside of working hours. 
  • Sticking with their core duties. An employee who “quiet quits” performs the tasks in their job description, without doing more. They don’t volunteer for extra tasks, and don’t attend non-mandatory meetings. 
  • Psychological disengagement. Perhaps most importantly, a quiet quitter disengages mentally from the job and workplace. They are investing their thoughts, attention, and ambition elsewhere.

The term “quiet quitting” was coined in 2022, and the behavior is mainly caused by a larger shifting of goals and aspirations in response to the pandemic, the economy, and other social factors. 

What’s the Problem with Quiet Quitting? 

Quiet quitting has caused a lot of outrage and backlash. From journalists and economists to corporate leaders and staffing experts, everyone is discussing the problem of quiet quitters. The conflict is driven by equally important positions between management and workers. 

Quiet quitters are enforcing boundaries. Rather than being lazy or slackers, quiet quitters are simply creating and enforcing healthy boundaries. They are doing the work they are paid for, while allocating their time and mental energy toward activities they find more important and rewarding. During Covid, many of these boundaries were overrun with staff shortages and crises. Furthermore, working from home blurs the distinction between work and non-work times and places, making it more difficult for employees to set aside personal time. These are healthy boundaries that promote a better quality of life, and no employer has the right to expect ongoing unpaid contributions from employees going “over and above”.

On the other hand, employers require flexibility. It would be impossible for a job description to cover every single potential task, schedule, or job requirement. Companies rely on employees to be flexible and adapt to specific situations, without needing explicit instruction every time. Furthermore, “engagement”: the willingness of employees to bring their own motivation, experience, and intelligence and work independently toward company goals, is a crucial competitive advantage that allows employers to accomplish more with fewer people. Employers naturally expect that staff will contribute toward improving processes, providing insights, and solving problems without being asked. 

Quiet quitters are sometimes portrayed as “seat fillers:” people who show up to work and do virtually nothing, drawing a salary until they are fired, but that’s not true. It’s a negative stereotype used to smear employees who don’t go above and beyond, and blame them for productivity problems. When some employees opt out of doing extra work, the expectation shifts to others to step up and contribute more, fostering resentment and hostility, even when unwarranted.  

How to Address Quiet Quitting

The truth is, quiet quitting has become the norm. A Gallup poll shows that just 32% of US workers are engaged, and 18% are actively disengaged at work. More than half of American workers are quiet quitters. At the heart of quiet quitting are two key issues that companies need to address:

  1. Motivation. Quiet quitting is driven by employees who feel unnoticed, taken for granted, apathetic, and burned out. Managers and supervisors, supported by leadership and company policy, need to find ways to connect with these workers, assure them that their work is meaningful and empowering, and find ways to connect them with their team and the company. 
  2. Staffing. When overwork and “hustle culture” are used to compensate for staffing issues, it causes active disengagement. Employees are often willing to take on extra work to compensate for temporary shortages, but when those shortages are ongoing and systematic, they will quiet quit, or even quit out loud. 

Avoiding quiet quitting is a balance of expectations and respect, and workers, companies, and managers need to find that balance together. For more insights on engagement, productivity, and staffing, contact grapefrute today.