If you are active on social media or subscribed to any popular media outlets, you may have heard of the latest workplace trend, dubbed “quiet quitting.” In a mere few weeks, we’ve heard endless takes about how quiet quitters are good for business, bad for business, and everywhere in between. But what does the term actually mean?
What is quiet quitting?
Quiet quitting refers to the overarching idea that your work does not have to be a defining feature of your life. In the original TikTok video that sparked the trend, creator Zaiad Khan says it’s “quitting the idea of going above and beyond at work.”
@zaidleppelin On quiet quitting #workreform ♬ original sound – ruby
It can be viewed in many different lights, though. For some, it’s prioritizing a better work-life balance, and for others, it’s rejecting the idea of endless productivity. Either way, the idea of solving a problem you weren’t paid to solve is no longer of interest to many working professionals.
Further, a new Gallup poll found that quiet quitters make up 50% of the U.S. workforce. In processing the idea that such a high number of people identify with this trend, what’s clear is that there’s something bigger to uncover. This isn’t one simple problem to solve or something that can be addressed at an individual company-level—it’s the combination of several problems we face in our society.
What caused quiet quitting?
It’s important to note that quiet quitting has always been present in the workplace, but it has gained more traction in recent years. There were always people at work who simply did the tasks they were asked and went home. So, what’s changed?
Pandemic: The obvious avalanche that has upended the way we work has been the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shifts that followed. For many, that was the first time they were able to prioritize their family or their health over productivity and profits at work. For others who worked in-person jobs, they felt envious of those who finally achieved a better work-life balance.
Going through that experience with an employer, many learned that they didn’t love the way their employer handled the pandemic. And as soon as it felt safe, they were ready to leave to find something that better aligned with their needs.
The Great Resignation: That leads us directly into another major shift in the workforce, the Great Resignation. Suddenly, and seemingly without warning, there was no talent to be found. Highly skilled candidates were finding new jobs in a matter of days. They wanted better benefits, more flexibility, and a lot more money. Employers who barely made it through a shutdown suddenly had a new problem.
With the market on their side, employees were able to negotiate for higher pay rates—often correcting years of being underpaid—and letting others know to fight for what they’re worth. Plus, they’ve learned that work can hold a scaled back presence in their lives, and employers are finally willing to allow it.
The rise of consulting/contract work: As contracting and consulting became a more popular option for professionals, they saw great benefits of choosing this type of work. The idea of loyalty to an employer is no longer present in this work model. You are paid for a valuable skill that you can deliver on. And once you fulfill your contractual obligations, you are free to go. No burnout, no structural or management problems, just your job.
Types of quiet quitters
As we evaluate all of the problems contributing to quiet quitting that are out of our control, this begs a question: How do half of professionals in the U.S. fall into this group? The answer: one quiet quitter does not mirror another. For anyone who decides that they need to find a better balance, every person has different motivations for doing so. Here are 4 types of quiet quitters:
Disengaged: The disengaged employee is just that—whatever their responsibilities are at work, it’s not lighting a spark in them. When the work itself is not motivating, inspiring, or even interesting, it can be difficult to show up in a more meaningful way. This type of employee may not be going above and beyond because they simply aren’t interested in what that entails. However, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. Perhaps this employee simply needs a transition within the organization. The best way to find out is by asking what they would like to do.
Burned-out: Amid the Great Resignation, the burned-out employee is all too common. While employers ramped up production after months, consumer demand skyrocketed. However, there were no extra employees to take on the work. Employees were stretched thinner and thinner, and suddenly they had nothing left to give. While employers today are still struggling to hire, these employees can be saved with an extra set of hands to help them.
Boundary-setting: For many, the pandemic was an awakening. Commuting long distances and working long hours took away from time spent with family or friends, staying healthy, or working on a hobby. Once they saw that other options were possible, they knew their health and well-being were worth setting more boundaries with work. For this group, it’s not that they won’t go above and beyond at work. But, if it means pulling extra hours at the office, they’ll probably avoid it. So long as this type of employee is engaged in work during work hours, there may not be anything wrong here.
Quiet fired: On the flip side of quiet quitting, where employers are trying to place blame on employees for their behavior, a response has emerged, known as “quiet firing.” In a quiet firing scenario, managers use passive-aggressive (or just aggressive) tactics to drive an employee to quit. While the manager may not have an HR-approved reason for wanting this employee gone, they take matters into their own hands, sometimes without realizing they’re doing it. In this case, any employee who was excited about their work or ready to go above and beyond will surely stop once they realize it doesn’t get them anywhere to try harder.
What does this say about work today?
Is there anything wrong with a little balance? With the massive cultural shifts we’ve been through in just a few years, it’s no surprise that we’re still catching up. And employers in particular are lagging behind. When you really think about the motivations behind quiet quitters and the causes that drove them there, can you really blame them?
Furthermore, if professionals are happier with their lives and still completing their work, is anything actually wrong with that? Personal happiness, mental health, physical health, and work-life balance all have an impact on how an employee shows up to work. Happy employees are more productive than burned out, overworked, or underappreciated employees. So, if your quiet quitter falls into that boundary-setting category, all they’re asking for is an evening free from your emails. Give it to them, and they’ll be back and ready to work tomorrow.
Workers know their worth. In many cases, employees finally were able to earn a paycheck that was worth their skills. And, they’ve gained confidence in their value. It’s not that they don’t want to go above and beyond, they simply want to be compensated for it. They also know they have options; with employers still struggling to hire, they can leave if they are asked to do more than their role requires without higher pay.
This is a transparency issue. Simply put: If employees are disengaged, employers need to ask them why, and work together to help them improve. However, rather than consistent and open lines of communication, both parties are being iced out, and neither wants to break the ice.
Employers still struggle to hire. Even with market indicators all over the map these days, the Great Resignation is still having a lasting impact. While hiring has slowed, it certainly hasn’t stopped. Meanwhile, those hard-won new hires are quite valuable. After finally filling a seat, employers can’t afford to let that person slip away. Given the types of quiet quitters we’ve outlined, two things are clear:
- Employees know their power: They know it’s hard to hire, they see their colleagues who are burned out or underpaid, and they know the value of their skills.
- They’re waiting for employers to act: If they’re disengaged in their work, it could be argued that it’s on the employer to identify that, communicate with the employee, and help resolve it. At least, the idea is that a good manager can do that.
Bet on the quiet quitters
Given everything we’ve learned about these employees, employers almost don’t have a choice: you’ll have to bet on the quitters. After all, they’re half of the workforce. But, the argument can be made that it’s worth doing. So, what can be done to engage employees and keep productivity rolling along?
Don’t dismiss them—they’re actually really smart: First, really think about who is engaging in quiet quitting and why. This is someone who is simply conserving their time and energy to use it most efficiently. If you think about it, they might be some of your brightest employees. Imagine if they brought that knack for efficiency to your business.
Communicate better: In many of these cases, there will be a lack of communication. Increasing the number of regular check-ins with managers and spending time understanding each employee will help improve that. However, it also relies on a manager’s ability to promote an open and honest environment. If an employee thinks they will be punished in some way for speaking up about a legitimate issue, they won’t come to you, and the cycle will continue.
Invest in management training: To avoid scenarios like quiet firing, and to improve communication, providing adequate management training is critical. Identifying what lights up an employee and empowering them to achieve a goal all comes down to a good manager. This is where you can really transform a quiet quitter’s outlook.