Quiet quitting – should leaders be worried?

It seems that quiet quitting is the hot new trend. But what is it?

After a quick search for “quiet quitting” on Google (and like any search) thousands of links are returned. A quick glance through a few pages and it is interesting to note most stories about quiet quitting are just a few weeks old. 

It seems that quiet quitting is the hot new trend. But what is it?

Writing this article is a good example. If I were a quiet quitter then I would stick rigidly to the brief and not get all clever, do the bear minimum of research and create the least number of words in the shortest possible amount of time. I would then slope of early and do something that gave me real satisfaction – meanwhile ignoring any communication with my team until it was absolutely necessary and within the bounds of any agreement in place. In short, I would not go above and beyond.

More formally, quiet quitting is an application of work-to-rule, in which employees work within defined work hours and engage solely in activities within those hours. The philosophy of quiet quitting, despite the name, is not connected to quitting a job, but rather doing exactly what the job requires. 

However, unlike work-to-rule, the primary objective of quiet quitting is not to disrupt the workplace, but rather to avoid occupational burnout and to pay more attention to personal mental health and well-being. Proponents of quiet quitting also refer to it as acting your wage. 

In 2022, quiet quitting experienced a surge in popularity in numerous publications following a viral TikTok video.

How should leaders respond?

Leaders first need to recognize that quiet quitting is about “more than just setting boundaries,” says Michelle Hay, global chief people officer at Sedgwick. “It speaks to the tired and frustrated feeling that many are experiencing on the tail end of the pandemic. People are reassessing their priorities, and social disconnection can be part of this shift.”

To better understand how employees are feeling, organizations could consider surveying staff and seeking comments to help leaders understand work engagement. HR departments could conduct in-depth onboarding and exit interviews to get a sense of what motivates employees and what drives them to leave.

Leaders can do their bit by not responding to emails when they’re not working and avoid sending late night non-urgent messages. They should also consider creating a psychologically safe workplace environment so employees feel comfortable asking for help without fear of retribution.

It doesn’t stop there. It is also important that leaders ensure workloads are at acceptable levels and engender a sense of progress beyond just career development. Generally, people are fulfilled by gaining new skills and experiences, having greater control over their jobs and feeling genuinely appreciated.

Maria Kordowicz, an associate professor in organizational behaviour at the University of Nottingham and director of its centre for interprofessional education and learning, says “the rise in quiet quitting is linked to a noticeable fall in job satisfaction.” 

For example, Gallup’s global workplace report for 2022 showed that only 9% of workers in the UK were engaged or enthusiastic about their work, ranking 33rd out of 38 European countries. This is alarming!

The term “great resignation” was coined in 2021 by Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at University College London, when he predicted an exodus of American workers from their jobs, prompted by burnout, and the taste of freedom while working from home. Ranjay Gulati of Harvard Business School has characterised it as a “great rethink”, where people evaluate their lives and options.

Whatever it may be called, the idea of quiet quitting is likely here to stay and organizations should recognise the movement and respond accordingly.

Learn more about ‘getting stuff done‘, creating psychological safe working environments and our 10 steps to hybrid working.