Is quiet quitting bad?
- 9 Min Read
Everyone in HR seems to be talking about quiet quitting. We’re going to take a look at what we think quiet quitting is, what’s causing it and what HR leaders and teams should do about it.
What is quiet quitting?
The term quiet quitting has gone viral off the back of TikTokers posting themselves logging on time, muting slack or Microsoft teams and generally promoting the idea of doing just enough not to get fired from a job.
There seem to be two general versions of quiet quitting:
- no longer doing extra or more than your job requires.
- explicitly going slow and doing less than required of your job but not so little that you get fired.
What’s causing people to quietly quit?
Work-to-rule by a different name
Many view quiet quitting as similar to the old concept of work-to-rule. In other words, doing exactly your job and nothing more. For example, not working any overtime. Someone might do this if they feel disengaged from their job and are quietly quitting while they find a new one.
People may become disengaged for lots of reasons including the absence of promotion opportunities, inadequate remuneration or perhaps they don’t have a good relationship with their boss. Employees who quiet quit in this way are sick of putting their heart and soul into their job without getting what they consider the return they deserve.
Stuck in a job they need
Similar to the scenario above, are people who are quiet quitting because they hate their job. However, for one reason or another, they really need to keep the job and don’t have a lot of choices. Perhaps they have a mortgage or dependents and basically need the money.
Instead of quitting these people just coast, doing the bare minimum. It’s important to consider this scenario against the backdrop of the ‘Great Resignation’ or ‘Great Reshuffle’. This kind of quiet quitter may feel like they have a bit more leverage at the moment because of the relatively high number of job vacancies and resulting talent wars.
Cost of living crisis
A further variation of the above example is something of a byproduct of the impact of crisis of living, inflation, rising energy costs and general economic uncertainty. This is particularly prevalent in countries like UK, US and parts of Europe.
There is a general sense of ambiguity in the world – broken economies, worries about fuel and food costs. For many, the world has just lost its sparkle, and this has trickled down into jobs and company culture. When people see their wages eroded and feel so out of control, it’s only natural that this is reflected as a lack of passion and engagement in our work.
Doing just enough is ok
Some people take the view that if the quiet quitting amounts to just doing what you were hired to do then that’s ok. Why shouldn’t you log off or mute Slack on time?
This relates to discussions about what we expect from people and why we equate high performance with going above and beyond. Many people love their job but also don’t think they should do unpaid overtime – passion and commitment shouldn’t have to go beyond your regular working hours.
Many also raise the point that we shouldn’t equate good performance or good leadership with overtime or weekend working. In fact, this highlights a continued squeeze on headcount and budgets and the approach of doing more with less has its limitations. There needs to be a sustainable flow for our health and for the health of the planet.
Re-evaluation of social norms
A further take on quiet quitting argues that it represents a reevaluation of social norms and, as the Guardian points out in an article, a move away from hustle culture.
Many people are feeling burnt out after the pandemic. They don’t feel like they have any downtime because personal life and work have to a great extent merged.
The pandemic also gave many a chance to reflect on their work, what it meant to them and what they were getting out of it. We know, for example, that people’s desire for a career that was a better match for their core values lead, in part, to the ‘Great Resignation’. Some wanted a job connected to charity, others the fight against climate change or just more stimulating and enjoyable.
In this context quiet quitting amounts to minimizing your investment in a job that doesn’t align with your values. Subsequently, the spare capacity can be directed at pursuits that bring you more meaning and happiness.
Actually, a sign of high performance?
Building on the point that doing just enough is ok, Tom Haak from HR Trend Institute challenges the assumption that quiet quitting means low performance. In fact, there are probably examples of high quiet quitting and high performance.
If people are good at managing their workload, prioritizing, etc and able to log off on time because the work is done, then that is the very definition of high performance.
Is quiet quitting bad?
Probably, but like so many things it’s not that straightforward.
If someone is disengaged from their job there is probably something wrong and as mentioned earlier this might point to a toxic company culture, a genuine or perceived lack of growth opportunities, and a general lack of trust and independence.
However, quiet quitting that amounts to working-to-rule is not necessarily bad. There seems to be an assumed correlation between the level quiet quitting and performance. In other words, it’s assumed that a high level of quit quitting equates to low performance and the same for commitment – the lower the commitment, the higher the quiet quitting. We need to test these assumptions. It seems entirely possible that high quiet quitting and high performance and commitment can coexist and that quiet quitting might even lead to higher commitment and performance.
We also shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that people are not always at their best and it’s acceptable for their performance to change from time to time. We must be sure to pull back and make a more general assessment. A few off days are fine if someone is otherwise performing well.
However, a long-term and consistent change in performance may be a sign that something’s wrong. It could be a work-related issue with a manager or coworker or a personal problem outside of the work environment. Whatever the root cause, we should start a dialogue.
What should HR and People teams do about quiet quitting?
What HR and people teams can and should do depends very much on the nature of the quiet quitting. As we’ve listed a number of possibilities but of course, there could be other variations.
If quiet quitting is burnout related then we need to give people a chance to recharge. Genuine care about the well-being and mental health of employees are crucial components of the employment contract.
Modern ways of working often mean working largely digitally and this can result in a feeling of constantly being ‘on’ and an obligation always be available. HR must help teams set clear boundaries and cocreate working arrangements around when it’s ok to be logged off and unavailable.
For example, some companies have introduced recharge days. Everyone takes the day off together, there’s no pressure to check their inboxes and everyone can take a break in comfort. Deep work days are another example. These are days when meetings are banned, even for senior leaders, leaving people to just concentrate soley on getting the job done.
Kindness and psychological safety
Kindness really does matter. People want to feel recognized for their efforts at work and they like to be thanked. According to research reported in People Management people perform best when they feel trusted and in an environment of psychological safety where they can speak up, perhaps disagree and give feedback to their team and management.
Have a purpose-led EVP (Employee Value Proposition)
Most people feel the need to link their job to a higher purpose. Data from Gartner suggests that when assessing potential employers people are looking for organisations with a clearly defined, purpose-led EVP more than ever before.
An EVP gives meaning to an organization beyond the products or services it offers and acts to create a sense of loyalty based on values and not just salary. Think about your own business context. Could you link your EVP to social goals such going net-zero or creating a genuinely diverse workforce?
Again, this goes back to one of the impacts of the pandemic. There was a sort of reset of the employee/employer relationship resulting in employees wanting something more human and purposeful from employers.
Related to this, is the need for greater personal choice and personalization. We must tailor the design of our organisations to fit the different needs of people and move away from one-size-fits-all (or rather, one-size-fits-none) solutions.
Hold ‘stay interviews’ with people who aren’t quiet quitting
A ‘stay interview’ is where you ask people who aren’t quiet quitting why they like working for your organization. From this you can gain some insights into why things might not be working out quite as well for other people.
Josh Bersin reckons this listening to the voice of the employee is the most important topic in business. However, this should be done through many channels (not just surveys for example) and, crucially, action needs to be taken based on the results.
HR magazine feels this technique isn’t used enough and points out that ‘exit interviews’ are often too little, too late. Being preemptive, ‘stay interviews’ give you a chance to do something about the results. They are also a demonstration of line managers’ desire to invest in their teams.
This easy exercise can reveal why an employee joined your organization, what currently motivates them to stay and what they need in order to remain.
So that’s our view on quiet quitting but what do you think? Is this something that’s happening in your workplace? If so, what are you doing about it and do you have any other tips to share? Also, do you think quiet quitting reflects a reevaluation of social norms or is it just a new term for work-to-rule?
Natal Dank is the co-founder of PXO Culture where she heads up learning, coaching and community. She serves as director of HR Trend Institute. Natal is seen as a pioneer in the Agile HR movement and is focused on defining modern HR to help organisations build great people experience and operations.