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Why Employees are Quiet Quitting and What Employers Can Do to Prevent It

In late July, a TikTok user shared a video on the social media app describing the term “quiet quitting.” Since then, the video has gone viral—with over 3.4 million views—and the phrase has made its way into mainstream media.  If Your Co-Workers Are ‘Quiet Quitting,’ Here’s What That Means, read a headline in the Wall Street Journal. The Guardian went with Quiet Quitting: Why Doing the Bare Minimum at Work Has Gone Global. The term was defined and redefined throughout August—#quietquitting—as many TikTok users shared their own experiences in response to the video.

What is quiet quitting?

“I recently learned about this term called ‘quiet quitting’ where you’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond,” says Zaiad Khan, the TikTok user that coined the term. While it sounds like workers are leaving their jobs without notifying their company, quiet quitting doesn’t involve resigning. Instead, it’s a response by young professionals to the hustle culture that teaches American workers that busyness is good and that we must work all day every day in pursuit of our career goals because there’s always more money to make and a promotion on the horizon. “No longer are individuals subscribing to the neoliberal ‘hustle’ culture, which puts materialism and profits over human-centered values, such as compassion and self-development,” says Maria Kordowicz, Ph.D.

After two-plus years of dealing with a pandemic that turned the world upside down, young professionals are feeling burned out and suffering from the effects of the labor shortage. In response, by quiet quitting, workers may simply be striving to lessen the “always busy” mentality—and do only what’s required of them and nothing more—to achieve healthy work-life boundaries. Some of the common examples that have been used to define “quiet quitting” include:

  • Saying no to tasks outside of your traditional job description unless you receive additional compensation
  • Being less emotionally invested in your work and less of an overachiever
  • Closing your work laptop at 5:00 p.m. and physically distancing yourself from your work—including not checking and replying to emails and messages
  • Not offering to serve on company committees or participate in corporate volunteer work

What employers can do to address quiet quitting

Because work and life are now more intertwined than ever, organizations must address and manage their employees’ well-being to prevent disengagement, burnout, and, anxiety. Quiet quitting detractors believe it fosters laziness and hurts performance. 90 percent of quiet quitters feel they could be incentivized to work harder. Here are ways to lessen the occurrence of quiet quitting:

  • Embrace flexibility and autonomy: Employees value organizations that empower them to manage their own time and give them the flexibility to utilize their time most efficiently. By prioritizing productivity over hours worked, companies can provide their employees with greater flexibility to achieve work-life balance. In the past, organizations penalized their workers when they arrived late to work or left early for the day. Employees’ needs and preferences are no longer met with such a fixed schedule and there’s a shift toward placing more emphasis on output that is measured by results and not input hours. Managers should place more focus on communicating the work that needs to be done, giving their workers the necessary tools, and then providing them with the space they need to complete it.
  • Encourage employees to use their vacation time and practice self-care: Employees need time away from work to destress, recharge, and practice self-care. In 2021, only 27 percent of U.S. employees used their allotted vacation time. Employers can lead by example and model and encourage their workers to take their earned paid time off to prevent burnout and achieve work-life balance.
  • Set realistic, well-balanced expectations: Be cognizant of individual employees’ boundaries and how to work within them. If you must create a longer day or workweek for your employees, be sure to explain why it’s necessary and important. Try to stick to a “no email outside of work hours” policy where workers are only contacted after hours and on weekends when necessary. The biggest challenge associated with remote work for 27 percent of employees is unplugging after work. Therefore employers need to set clear, consistent, and reasonable expectations just as you would if these work-from-home employees were working onsite in the office.
  • Express gratitude: 41 percent of workers don’t feel valued at all. If employees are not receiving any form of acknowledgment or recognition from their manager or coworkers—good or bad—they may start thinking, why bother. If no one notices their accomplishments, it may not be worth going above and beyond. Express gratitude for your employees’ hard work and extra efforts to ensure they know that you appreciate and value them. At the same time, you’re holding them accountable and encouraging them to continue to be team players.

The drastic workplace shifts that the pandemic brought, along with the effects of the labor shortage, have caused blurred employee work-life boundaries and increased burnout. When workers start distancing themselves and feel resentful, it’s harmful to their career goals. It’s also damaging to your company’s bottom line—disengaged employees cost the American economy up to $350 billion per year due to lost productivity. Managers must check in regularly and build relationships with their employees to ensure they feel supported in their roles, engaged, and fulfilled.

This blog was written by Broadleaf Client Delivery Manager Brian Schultz.