Within the past few weeks, “quiet quitting” has become the latest pandemic-driven catchphrase, right alongside the more established “Great Resignation.”
Quiet quitting refers to an undetermined number of employees who are dialing back their work efforts—primarily trying to align the bare minimum of effort with their compensation. In short, quiet quitters are the last employee group you will find going “above and beyond” their job descriptions.
It’s a term that gained traction earlier this month with reports in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and more and has fueled significant debate on social media. While some argue that the term is a misnomer—since it’s a productivity and, not necessarily, a retention issue—others have questioned whether the trend suggests that employees are committing to healthier work boundaries, as opposed to slacking off.
To be sure, it’s certainly happening. An August ResumeBuilder.com survey of 1,000 working Americans, in fact, found that a decent percentage (21%) of workers report having a “quiet quitting” mindset, with another 5% doing even less than what’s required of them. About one-third of those who said they have reduced their efforts have walked back their working hours by more than half.
Bottom line, the survey found that nearly half of respondents don’t want to do more work than they’re compensated to do. They also aren’t eager to go the extra mile because it could compromise their mental health and work/life balance—importantly, eight out of 10 admitted “quiet quitters” said they’re burned out.
Stacie Haller, a career strategist and coach, says that—like many workplace trends today—the pandemic is at the heart of quiet quitting, as it “shifted many people’s attitude toward work.”
“Some employees no longer feel connected to their work or workplace and have a much stronger desire to focus their attention on their families and personal lives,” she says. “With this shift in priorities, you see less willingness to engage in a ‘hustle culture.’ ”
Natalie Baumgartner, chief workforce scientist at Achievers, an employee voice/recognition solution provider, notes that, at the start of the pandemic, many employees “put all their energy and time into work,” particularly while shifting to new, remote environments.
“That level of effort and focus isn’t sustainable, though,” she says, “and many people have reevaluated the importance of work, among other things in life. So, now people are drawing back, bringing us face to face with the trend of people ‘quitting quietly.’ ”
Experience and engagement are key
According to the ResumeBuilder survey, about 90% of “quiet quitters” said they could be incentivized to work harder. So, what can HR do to get them back in the game?
Joe Galvin, chief research officer at Vistage, a global CEO coaching and peer advisory firm, says boosting the employee experience is the most effective way to keep employees engaged and productive. HR should be working to curate an environment that people want to work in—including key considerations like compensation, flexibility and wellness offerings.
It’s important for HR and employees to work together to identify and address problems and determine ways to increase engagement.
“Employers and HR teams can minimize quiet quitting by consistently engaging in open, honest conversations with staff about their individual expectations, desires and goals,” Galvin says. “It is important employees feel like they have a vested interest in the company; they want to feel like they are heard and know how their work is impacting the company’s larger mission.”
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This collaborative work can ultimately enhance overall company culture, he adds.
“Culture has become even more important, and even more challenging, amid the rise of hybrid work,” Galvin says, adding that a strong culture can unify employees and help keep quiet quitting at bay. “Employers should focus on re-engaging their workforce by making meaningful changes to their culture. This is what will help motivate employees to continue to strive for more.”
Fostering a culture of appreciation can also be effective, Baumgartner adds
“It’s a great way to boost engagement and retention,” she says.
According to the Achievers Workforce Institute’s Belonging at Work Culture report, 41% of employees don’t feel valued at all. Programs that would encourage frequent meaningful recognition could reduce that number, Baumgartner says, adding that 57% of employees in the Achievers report state that feeling recognized would reduce the likelihood that they would take a call from a headhunter.
Baumgartner says employees who feel celebrated and supported are also more likely to have a strong sense of belonging, which can be furthered by knowing their voices matter. HR should use frequent surveys to gauge how employees feel and what changes need to be made at a company-wide level.
“No matter how big or small the feedback is, don’t overlook the importance of change and employees feeling heard,” she says.