In every organisation, there are a few employees who are passionate about their work, consistently putting in efforts that are above and beyond the expectations, and most often, climbing up their career ladder rapidly, but there are many who work just enough to meet the minimum expectations and not draw the ire of the reporting manager.
Unfortunately, during the last two years, many employers faced various unforeseen situations like the pandemic and economic slowdown, and hence, couldn’t do enough to reward their most valuable employees for their hard work and passion. And some of these employees did feel resentment.
“Promotions and hikes were minimal in sectors like manufacturing, engineering, construction, mining, power, energy, hospitality and entertainment. This led to many good-performing employees experiencing a lack of recognition and burnout at the same time. They feel disenchanted leading to their quiet quitting,” says Aditya Narayan Mishra, managing director and CEO of CIEL HR Services.
What is quiet quitting?
As the trend suggests, quiet quitting is when employees stay in their job but refuse to do more work than they're contractually obliged to.
"No longer are they willing to go above and beyond what’s required unless there’s a meaningful give-and-take – and this doesn’t just mean salary bumps and added vacation days. This trend is seen across multiple industries, especially among Gen-Z and millennial workers,” says Kristi Hummel, chief people officer at Skillsoft.
How to find out if employees are quiet quitting ?
Signs of quiet quitting can take on various forms, depending on the employee's reasons for wanting to pull back on work. If an employee is truly unhappy, the signs may be much more noticeable than for someone with the simple goal of wanting a better work-life balance.
Lack of engagement, disinterest in the job, and lack of initiative are the main indicators.
“Some signs of quiet quitting include not attending meetings, arriving late or leaving early, reduction in productivity, less contribution to team projects, not participating in planning or meetings and lack of passion or enthusiasm,” says Yeshasvini Ramaswamy, CEO, Great Place to Work® Institute India.
Why are employees quiet quitting?
From an employee standpoint, the past two years reinforced the epiphany that health is wealth. This was due to the pandemic and burnout that took place because remote work became mainstream. However, Siddhartha Gupta, CEO, Mercer|Mettl, says that the major change was an evolution in the meaning of employee value proposition (EVP) for a workplace which is now dependent on four parameters:
Control/Freedom: Employees now want a certain level of freedom/control regarding how they work. The aim is to have the freedom to design one’s own work environment enabling work-life balance.
Meaning/Direction: Workplaces are not just workplaces anymore. For some, they provide meaning to their lives - a purpose. In addition, the quality of relationships with fellow colleagues and the senior leadership plays a key in defining an ‘employee experience'.
Growth/Path: Employees want clarity in terms of career growth. They want to see a clear path regarding their role. They also want a chance to broaden their skills.
Listening Culture: Employees want decisions at an organisational level to be based on their feedback. The aim is to have complete transparency and accountability on all levels with employee well-being at the forefront.
Gupta says failure to instill these pain points while formulating an EVP leads to a trend like quiet quitting. In a nutshell, the employee needs to be considered an equal stakeholder in the formulation of policies, they want to be heard and acknowledged.
“When communication or collaboration breakdown because the employee feels they lack work-life balance, recognition, learning, visibility, career advancement opportunities, fair compensation, and incentives; they tend to adopt quiet quitting,” he adds.
As per Ramaswamy, many people, at some point in their career, have worked for a manager that moved them toward quiet quitting. “This comes from feeling undervalued or unappreciated. It's possible that the managers were biased, or engaged in inappropriate behaviour. The employees' lack of motivation was just a reaction to the manager's actions.”
Why is quiet quitting gaining prominence despite various employee wellbeing initiatives?
The pandemic, and related movements like The Great Resignation, introduced a slate of challenges that increased employees' demands and saw them changing their attitudes about work and re-evaluating what’s important.
Hummel says research by Skillsoft found that individuals who switched employers within the past year cited a lack of growth and development as their top reason over factors like better compensation. This shows that the issue is less about employee wellbeing initiatives and more about a breakdown in communication.
“Managers must create trusted environments where employees feel comfortable initiating open and honest conversations to re-align on expectations and explore what drives loyalty, engagement, and a sense of fulfilment. From there, managers can work with specific individuals to get to the root of their frustrations and create a plan – together – to get things back on track. This could come in the form of improving work-life balance, establishing clear growth paths, and/or providing opportunities to transition into new roles that align with personal goals and values,” she adds.
Are there any benefits of quiet quitting?
Quiet quitting can create a better balance between work and personal life and protect against burnout before it happens.
Ramaswamy says working less is good for mental health. It can also help to separate employees' self-worth from work because when an individual only has work and nothing else, it becomes difficult not to derive their sense of value from it.
What are the challenges of quiet quitting?
The challenge is regarding perceptions and boundary setting.
Gupta says both the employee and the employer have different perceptions when it comes to the workplace, and both will aim to look after their self-interests.
Where does one draw the line when it comes to expectations and boundary setting. For example, setting boundaries at work can be healthy, but showing blatant disregard for your work, company, or team is unlikely to be seen in a positive light in any context.
“The challenge is customising experiences and environments that are harmonious to both the employee and the employer. Hence, the key themes regarding this are going to be transparency, accountability, and honest communication,” he adds.
Ramaswamy says it is essential first to analyse if the job is the issue or the idea of the work as a whole. Actively tweaking employees' roles could make them feel more empowered. If it's not done quite often, they may seek a change in the job role.
“When it comes to quiet quitting, it is often a sign of moving on from the current role, as reducing employees' effort to the bare minimum would mean that their heart is no longer in the job or the organisation. By quitting quietly, employees are likely shutting themselves off from promotions and pay raises. The risk of this approach is that employees' progression within that company will become limited, particularly if their colleagues are going above and beyond to exceed employer expectations,” she says.
If employees' take on quiet quitting involves still doing all their required tasks, they won't be in line for a sacking, but if their judgement of the 'bare minimum' is off, they could be in trouble.
Ramaswamy says it is imperative for the employees to understand that quitting quietly could be a useful tool for a short period of time, especially if it's coupled with looking for another role. Once an employee starts a new job, it's much easier to set boundaries from the get-go — thus removing the need to quiet quit.
“The risks of quiet quitting come if it's employed as a long-term strategy, with no other actions to try to change the reality of an individual's situation. For example, if employees want to stay in this job but experience less stress, they may need to talk to their manager to make changes. If an employee wants to leave this job and start another one, they need to take action to make that happen,” she says, adding that quiet quitting is not recommended as a long-term strategy, but it can be used as a mechanism to create the space employees need to work out the next step in their careers.
“Think of it as a transition period. And with the taboo around job-hopping beginning to break, there's no need to be in a role they don't like long-term.”
How to deal with quiet quitting?
Can we reframe 'quiet quitting' as 'healthy working', and put the onus back on employers to remove the causes of burnout, rather than leave it to individuals alone to manage the symptoms?
Industry experts say quiet quitting is a trigger for employers to revamp their company policies and employee engagement strategies.
In digital economies, the most important thing that employers must realise is that a re-conceptualisation of productivity has taken place, says Gupta.
The notion that productivity equates to the number of hours became outdated. The office routine of ‘9 to 5’ and ‘Mondays to Fridays’ is redundant. The present and future workplace entail the ability and mindset to deliver from anywhere, anytime, and on any platform. i.e., digital nomadism.
“Hence, fluid hierarchical and organisational structures must be installed to address a digitally distributed workforce. Additionally, while designing workplaces of the future, the focus should be on customisation’ and ‘adaption’.i.e.... the ability to customise experiences and environments that are harmonious to both the employee and the employer; and to adapt to the perpetually evolving economy and a disrupted world,” he adds.
However, the backbone of any workplace is honest and authentic communication between the employer and the employee. A transparent and safe line of communication between employers and employees needs to be established - especially in a virtual workplace.
“The goal must be to create flexible/customised communication protocols to provide staff with privacy, freedom, and trust when they speak out. To further elaborate, a leader must be able to gauge when communication should take place in a private space and what platform is suitable based on the context of communication,” says Gupta, adding that employers must include employee feedback when making organisational decisions.
“The aim of leadership should be to ensure complete transparency and accountability to employees with their well-being at the forefront of workplace policies.”
Ramaswamy says open and honest dialogue with colleagues about each party's expectations of the other goes a long way.
In addition to being honest, she adds that leaders must deliver on what they promise. Most leaders believe they are more consistent than others perceive them. Employers need to look inwardly at why employees are less engaged and look at the internal working culture.
Furthermore, proactive HR policies and strategies have been proven to lengthen service and increase retention. “Career development and investment in talent are also crucial paths to success for employees who fit within the organisation. Still, they may be able to utilise their skills in a different area of business,” she adds.
Also, identifying employee pathways and support structures through focused HR strategies is likely the key to organisations offering tangible and actionable well-being in the workplace.
Lastly, says Ramaswamy, it is worth mentioning that not creating a culture of rewarding overworking plays a crucial role in quiet quitting. “Overworking staff means that the business is not sustainable and has terrible organisation values, and that's why we have burnout.”
As per Mishra, the same formula will not work in all scenarios, and employers will have to keep adapting to the changing situations and demands of the people.
He suggests the following ways to prevent employees from quiet quitting:
- Understand how employees are feeling about working in their company
- Conduct regular feedback sessions
- Create an open environment for employees to freely express their thoughts
- Build a sense of purpose and belonging
- Regularly recognise and reward deserving employees
- Constantly evolve employee engagement strategies based on employee needs and industry trends