WCI, Inc
Jan. 27, 2023

Quiet Quitting

To effectively lead others during this post-pandemic workplace transition, we must understand the current trends of employee disengagement — and with that, "quiet quitting."

The term, which has taken over the employment space in recent months, originated from a viral TikTok post that described quiet quitting as:

"The conscious determination that although you are not outright quitting your job, you are relieving yourself of the idea of going above and beyond to accomplish your work. You are still performing your duties, but you are no longer subscribing to the ‘hustle culture’ mentality that work must be your life. Your reality is that work is not your life, and you understand that your worth as a person is not defined by your labor."

There are healthy ways to interpret this new workplace conduct approach. Employees are correct in realizing that their sole worth is not tied to their workplace performance. So, as leaders in the workplace, it's important that we also recognize this trend to create an environment where we and our employees can be productively engaged in work that will allow our organizations to be successful.

We start by distinguishing the quiet quitting trend from the Great Resignation phenomenon that occurred at the end of 2020 and in 2021, when workers actually quit their jobs in droves - never to return again.

The remote working environment that developed during the pandemic redefined the work-life balance routines of many people. And during that two-year period of time, workers quit their jobs at exponential rates in search of different opportunities. This mass exodus forced business leaders in varied industries to manage actual attrition at a large scale.

Quiet quitting is different. While largely caused by the same factors, workers who quietly quit instead of actually leaving said: I'm going to stay at my job and draw a paycheck, but I will work only to meet basic productivity norms. In other words, quiet quitters are actively disengaged. Many of us lead individuals who no longer buy into the idea that they have to be workplace superstars.

A Gallup poll released in June 2022 illustrates this new reality very well. Here are a few findings from the poll, which surveyed 15,091 full- and part-time U.S. employees aged 18 and over:

  • Only 21 percent of employees are considered "engaged" at work
  • Only 22 percent of employees are "thriving" in their overall wellbeing

This means quiet quitting cannot go un-addressed. A few tell-tale signs of disengagement and a quiet quitting include isolation from team members, teammates reporting a sudden increase in workload, and withdrawal from any non-necessary conversation.

Much of this active disengagement is driven by heightened levels of stress and a changed attitude about the value of job security and whether it can actually be achieved through an employer-employee relationship. Younger workers are more often reporting that they do not feel as if "someone cares about them, someone encourages their development, and [that] they have opportunities to learn and grow," according to Gallup.

This trend has been going on for more than a decade. According to Jim Harter, chief scientist for Gallup's workplace management practice, what we're seeing is "a deterioration of the employee-employer relationship."

Managers are now calling employees back to the office in an attempt to resolve this disconnect; but, those in-office requirements are actually among the biggest sources of tension between bosses and employees. So, what do we do?

We need to acknowledge that old norms of organizational behavior are gone. Likely, forever. Moving forward, those who will lead in the employment space should live according to this truth: The future of work is flexible.

Numbers don't lie and ADP Research Institute, a division of the payroll processor ADP, has data that explains this new reality about workplace flexibility. According to a survey of more than 32,000 workers around the world published in late April:

  • 64 percent of respondents said they would consider looking for a new job if required to return to the office full time
  • 52 percent of respondents said they would take a pay cut to guarantee a flexible schedule

The way we manage, encourage and communicate with employed individuals is paramount when managing through this transition. Crafting and implementing an effective remote-work policy is key to fostering an environment at work that will keep employees engaged.

The Harvard Business Review put the onus for fostering productive workplace flexibility largely on the managers: "Our data indicates that quiet quitting is usually less about an employee's willingness to work harder and more creatively, and more about a manager's ability to build a relationship with their employees where they are not counting the minutes until quitting time."

If we are going to resurrect our offices, we need to be able to help restore disengaged people and create the culture we need to have an engaged workforce.

To do that in today's marketplace, it's especially important that mangers clearly define their expectations, inspect those expectations, and recognize and reward good work and behaviors. The burden is on the organization and its top leaders to help their employees develop a closer connection to the organization's mission through cultivating camaraderie, putting an end to class favorites, and even re-investing in quiet quitters to let them know their value.

Additionally, managers and leaders need to think about how they are incentivizing their workforce monetarily. Equity awards can help engage staffs, showing them that when the company does well, so will they.

Still, at times and with some employees, managers and leaders must accept the realities of the quiet quitting trend and understand that not all minds can be changed. Know when to step away and have a plan in place for how to proceed in an ethical way.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Brandon Davis and Michael S. Williams from Phelps Dunbar (c) Mondaq Ltd., 2023

From WCI's HR Answers Now ©2023 CCH Incorporated and its affiliates. All rights reserved.

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