In July 2022, TikTok users started sharing their personal stories about how stressful their work had become and their attempts at solving the issue. Many viewers related to these stories about “quiet quitting,” and the videos quickly went viral. Like most hot trends, this caught the eye of corporate America.
But, unlike hoola hoops, the pet rock, and Harry Potter, this trend didn’t make CEOs see dollar signs—instead, they saw impending doom. To workers, “quiet quitting” meant reducing work-related stress. But, to their employers, it meant reduced productivity, lower profits, and a potential slew of long-term effects for their companies.
Though the debate is new, the idea of “quiet quitting” has been growing in popularity for years, under different names. In fact, the phrase itself is so new that the “Quiet quitting” Wikipedia page is less than two weeks old at the time of this writing!
But many consider this phrase to be a misnomer that has led to a fundamental misunderstanding between employer and employee. A better understanding of what quiet quitting is and why employees choose to do so can go a long way in finding solutions that help employers and employees alike.
What is Quiet Quitting?
At first glance, the phrase “quiet quitting” might bring to mind visions of employees secretly searching for new employment, eventually pulling the rug out from their employers. It could make some imagine an employee who stops showing up for work without notifying their boss. Or, perhaps, an employee who simply gives up.
But quiet quitting is none of these things. In fact, quiet quitting has nothing to do with quitting a job or ceasing work at all. Instead, it refers to employees setting healthy boundaries to create a more comfortable relationship with their job. This typically involves scaling back their work to include only those tasks required by their job description or title. While this might mean the workers refuse any tasks outside the bounds of their position, they give 100% to their required work.
But, in an environment where employers expect 110% (or more), some see this as only doing the bare minimum.
So why do they do it?
Why Employees Quiet Quit
Quiet quitting might be a recent trend, but setting boundaries at work has existed for quite some time. For previous generations, “hustle culture” saw workers consistently going above and beyond for their employer. For many, this meant prioritizing their job over spending time with their friends and families. Putting in the extra effort became something of a silent requirement for many jobs. It wasn’t uncommon to feel guilty when leaving work early or unfinished so workers could go home and see their loved ones.
Younger generations, such as millennials and Gen Z, have seen the effects this can have on workers’ mental health. Because of this, the past two decades have seen a focus on creating a more positive work-life balance. The pandemic helped push this idea further when workers forced to remain at home found value in spending more time with their family members or by themselves. Many who still went into the workplace throughout the pandemic experienced increased burnout.
This eventually led to the “great resignation” as workers realized their time had value—not just for their employers, but for themselves. Workers who felt undervalued or burnt out left their jobs in droves.
But quiet quitters don’t want to quit. Instead, they hope to strike a balance where they can feel comfortable performing their job without having their personal boundaries crossed.
And, as employers, we can help them do just that.
What Employers Can Do About It
Now that we understand why employees choose to quiet quit, we can learn how to combat it. When doing so, it’s important to remember that the decision is based on the employee’s relationship to their work, not on their ability or willingness to do their job. With that in mind, when hoping to prevent quiet quitting, consider the following actions that can help create a more positive workplace:
Incentivize going "above and beyond"
It’s easy for us to see how our employees going “above and beyond” can help them meet their long-term career goals. But to them, in the short term, it can often feel like they’re giving free labor to their employer. Giving employees a more immediate reason to put in the extra effort can help incentivize them to do so. That probably means giving them what they want: pay them adequately for their time. Offer bonuses for completing tasks outside of their required workload. It’s also important to not punish them for choosing not to go above and beyond.
Our employees understand the value of their time; it’s critical that we do the same.
Respect their boundaries
A primary goal for quiet quitters is creating reasonable boundaries at work. By respecting these boundaries, you can show them you both hear and appreciate them. It’s important to remember that both physical and emotional boundaries exist. Emotional boundaries might include showing employees appreciation, not overwhelming them, or avoiding their personal triggers. Physical boundaries can include respecting their personal space, such as an aversion to shaking hands or standing too close.
Giving your employees a voice can help them feel comfortable sharing their boundaries with you. Consider options such as a suggestion box, an open door meeting policy, or regular one-on-one check-in meetings to give your team an opportunity to discuss what boundaries might be important to them.
Engage your employees
Research shows that unengaged employees are less motivated on the job. A lack of engagement can also make work tasks feel more exhausting. Helping your employees connect with their work can help energize them and increase their productivity. Understanding where their personal goals and the company’s goals intertwine can help them feel accomplished when meeting them. This can help decrease work-related stress and potentially prevent burnout.
Simply put: motivate your employees in such a way that they not only want to do their job, but they want to do it well.
Offer workplace perks
Offering perks can help the workplace feel more comfortable and increase productivity. It can also help your team feel more valued and appreciated. The perks you offer depend on your particular workplace and team, but you have many options. These can include (but are not restricted to):
- Healthy snacks
- Rewards programs
- Wellness programs
- Employee discounts
- Vacation time/sick leave/personal days
- Performance bonuses
Finally, don't hold the phrasing against them
Yes, the phrase “quiet quitting” has a negative connotation. But there’s no reason to hold that against them. After all, your employees didn’t come up with the phrase themselves! Keep in mind that it doesn’t actually involve any actual quitting—your employee has simply decided to do their job according to the description they received when you hired them.