Quiet quitting has become one of the new buzzwords in America’s post-pandemic workplace. But what does it mean? And what can managers and leaders do about this trending phenomenon?
Quiet quitting (also called soft quitting) appeals primarily to Gen Z and Millennials. But despite the name, it isn’t about leaving one’s job. Instead, a quiet quitter does the bare minimum required in their role and foregoes the “go above and beyond” team player attitude most employers want to cultivate. They are pushing back against the culture of burnout and work-related stresses that have become in-grained in the workplace, especially with older generations. To reverse this concerning trend, employers must find new post-pandemic leadership tactics and work practices to re-engage with workers .
The term quiet quitting is new, but the behavior has been around for eons. But what is new is how this trend has recently fired up at least half the US workforce. And according to a Gallup report, up to 85% of US workers may be quiet quitting. This piece reveals the causes and solutions behind this disruptive movement .
What Is Quiet Quitting, and How to Spot It
The US workplace is traditionally a social space. It’s where people form working relationships through day-to-day interactions and team-building pursuits. But quiet quitters tend to be less engaged and isolate themselves from their colleagues.
Here are seven of the most obvious signs of a quiet quitter:
Continually misses deadlines
Always finds reasons to avoid meetings
Skips optional group activities
Arrives late, leaves early, or both
Less productive than coworkers
Clearly disengaged in team projects
Lacks passion and enthusiasm at work
These signs are very similar to those shown by disengaged workers and they are easiest to spot in unhappy workers. However, they will be subtler among those just trying to maintain a better work-life balance.
Characteristics of a Quiet Quitter
Quiet quitters are not responsive outside of office hours. They don’t reply to emails, answer their phones, or switch them off altogether. Disconnecting and being not always-available is not a new trend, though it is growing. Many more employees are now refusing to go above and beyond their duties to achieve workplace goals. But despite the rise in this trend, not all employees feel the same.
The Generational Divide
There are still many workers who think employees should go the extra mile for their organization. But opinions vary between generations, as shown in this 2022 YouGov poll.
No doubt mindsets around these issues are complex and are intertwined with age variables of an employee, like how long an employee has been with the organization, their role, and level of seniority.
US Leads the Way in Quiet Quitting Searches
This phenomenon is not unique to the US. But the United States leads the way by a considerable amount in searches for quiet quitting advice, followed by the UK.
Data analysts recognize soft quitting as one of the major workplace culture fallouts in the wake of the pandemic. Another is the Great Resignation movement; we will look at that in more detail soon. During the pandemic years, employees began to reassess their work-life balance. Especially employees with organizations that provided little support for employees during the time and pushed more towards burnout. That is, they took time to reflect and reimagine what their world of work could look like and what would make them happier.
Quiet Quitting Vs. Outright Quitting
Quiet quitters may have given up, but they are still at their job. They realize they have necessities in their life that only employment can provide. They don’t leave their job; they just stop going beyond the writ of their position and focus on completing their core tasks. Often seeing quiet quitting as a means of self-preservation in an inhospitable workplace.
This shift in work is a problem for employers who expect team members to go above and beyond to meet business goals and expectations. Moreover, soft quitting can develop a domino effect as it increases the burden on others to take up additional work resulting from disengaged colleagues . The additional stress and burnout leading other employees to follow suit by re-orienting efforts to focus on their core duties.
Quiet Quitting Vs. Employee Sabotage
Some employers view quiet quitting as a silent act of sabotage, and there’s an element of truth in that. After all, one or more full-on quiet quitter can significantly harm an organization’s ability to complete work and injure its work culture. But quiet quitting is rarely malicious, unlike employee sabotage. Saboteurs often have an ax to grind with their employer. They deliberately inflict physical or virtual damage to the organization’s property, products, services, or reputation specifically to injure the organization. Altogether a different motivation from the quiet quitter, though they can be sometimes be misidentified as such.
How an employee saboteur works depends on what they want to achieve and why. Some examples are stealing equipment, destroying digital files, planting computer viruses, or intentionally treating customers with total disrespect. The list goes on .
3 Leading Causes Behind Quiet Quitting
Quiet quitting is not simply people wanting to work fewer hours, though that is appealing to many. But employees need companies to treat them differently than in the past. They want HR to create new working models aligned with post-pandemic expectations. However, to do that, organizations must understand the root causes behind the quiet quit.
A global recruitment agency asked HR experts on LinkedIn about the root causes behind this rising trend. There were many answers, but three stood out:
No sense of responsibility
Disengaged company cultures
The Organizational Impact of a Burnt-Out Workforce
Employee burnout is a growing concern in modern America. Deloitte’s Workplace Burnout Survey found that around 73% of professional-level workers have experienced it. Burnout is often the result of excessive workloads with unreasonable deadlines. A lack of role clarity and poor compensation are other known factors. These things increase the stress that eventually leads to employee burnout and, in many instances, soft quitting .
Addressing the Causes Behind Quietly Quitting
HR can address the causes by creating cultures that align with employee needs and values. E.g., more active listening, recognizing personal needs, and promoting inclusivity. Employers that respect boundaries and foster genuine care and engagement energize individuals and teams. And that, in turn, helps retrain key workers and attract new talent.
Is Quiet Quitting the Next Phase of the Big Quit?
From 2021 into mid-2022, the Great Resignation dominated US business news. Millions of workers quit their jobs, some for better opportunities, while others took a career break. Five leading causes triggered this phenomenon. And burnout was cited as the number one reason, as seen in this chart.
In the second half of 2022, the quiet quitting trend stole the headlines and continues to dominate the American economic news cycle. It even went viral on social media channels. But is this the next phase of America’s Big Quit? It seems so.
But rather than leaving their job, many employees stay put and quietly quit. In other words, they tick over doing the bare minimum, often as they hunt for a more flexible and less-stressful position aligned with their demands. It’s a strategy known as career cushioning.
And there is no shortage of new job openings.
The Great Resignation triggered—and continues to cause—a massive labor shortage. This worker scarcity has created a relentless drive by organizations competing for top talent. With more jobs than people applying for them, employees feel less pressured to work as hard as they once did. And that has contributed to the quiet quitting trend.
Post-Pandemic Working Is No Passing Fad
Employers must understand that the world of work has changed forever. There is no putting the toothpaste back into the tube, determined to return to work how it was pre-COVID. The Great Resignation has caused a massive labor shortage. Thus, workers now have an upper hand when negotiating for better pay, benefits, and conditions.
The pre-COVID approach to recruitment and retention of key workers is no more. The needs and expectations of in-demand employees have become complex. Recruiters who evolve and adapt to these shifts will triumph over those that remain stuck in the past.
New recruiting strategies should embrace the following six practices in 2023 and beyond:
Prioritize diverse and complex employee needs as appropriate
Promote opportunities and development incentives to retain key employees
Offer fair wages with competitive benefits, e.g., mental health support & retirement
Compromise with flexible work/life balance
Consider options for hybrid or remote work and flex time
Incorporate DEI+B into the recruitment process
There is not a one-size-fits-all successful recruitment and retention tactic. But understanding the generations and new worker priorities is helpful for tailoring your attraction strategies.
EWF’s Corporate Workshops for Forward-Thinking Leadership
EWF corporate workshops help executives and senior leaders adapt to the uncertain, post-pandemic workplace. Our experts have their fingers on the pulse of the evolving challenges of tomorrow, and so can you. Attracting and retaining talent needs a new approach to managing leadership pipelines, building trust and resilience, and shaping company culture. Are you ready to protect your workforce in 2023 and beyond?
It’s tempting to exaggerate a job description to attract potential candidates. But a recruitment initiative that over-promises, under-delivers, or misleads only creates shift shock. Shift shock occurs when a new hire realizes the job they accepted is very different from the one advertised. It’s a surefire way to create more quiet quitters, hurt morale, and lower retention rates.
Global Talent Pool Opportunities
The pandemic lockdowns resulted in a lot of telecommuting. And with that, new possibilities opened in the recruitment process. Savvy employers saw how the remote and hybrid business models let them cast a wider recruitment net. As recruiters tapped into the global talent pool, they found that the worker’s geographical location was, in many cases, a non-issue.
How to Prevent Quiet Quitting in Your Company
According to a Gallup report, at least 50% of the US workforce is impacted by the quiet quit. It is the wake-up call employers should heed if they’re to attract and retain top talent. But how do you tackle and then prevent quiet quitting in your organization? It all begins with engagement, understanding, and compromise .
The idea is to foster a healthy work environment where employees collaborate, express themselves, and learn. Be sure to distribute workloads appropriately among teams. This approach avoids conflict and prevents workers from feeling overwhelmed and resentful. Also, offer clear career paths and attractive compensation to keep people onside and driven.
Finally, promote the right to disconnect. Allow employees at every level the time to rest and recuperate, and be mindful that workers cherish work-life balance. Happy workers tend to give their all, so a people-focused approach is the way forward to success.
EWF’s Executive Education for Transformational Leadership
Transformational leaders are developed, not born. EWF’s transformational leadership development programs are here for you. We equip your leaders with the tools and skills needed to become truly transformational—without burnout. Our experts show you how to inspire and empower people and organizations in the new American workplace.
The quiet quitting trends should not be an employer vs employee battle—quite the opposite. Instead, think of it as a real opportunity to realign perspective where employment is a respectful, equal exchange partnership.
There’s a real opportunity for recruiters and leaders to listen and understand, not fix. Employees want to engage when companies create inclusive, empathetic, collaborative spaces. Organizations that support their workers find that their workers support them back.