Quiet quitting is a hot topic right now. Over the past month, it’s been extensively covered by everyone from NBC to Business Insider and even the New York Times. The conversation took off after a TikTok video by Zaid Khan went mega-viral this summer. In the video, Khan describes quiet quitting:
“You’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond. You’re still performing your duties, but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life. The reality is it’s not, and your worth as a person is not defined by your labor.”
Since the topic started trending, it has ignited a heated debate about what it means to be a dedicated employee and what managers should realistically expect from their teams. But as with so many trending topics, the media attention has also led to a lot of misconceptions, misunderstandings and mischaracterizations.
1. Quiet quitting is not new
Although many news outlets and articles are framing it as an emerging trend (sometimes characterized in light of Great Resignation burnout or backlash against hustle culture), quiet quitting is not a new concept; it’s a realization that employers often ask too much of employees and fail to establish realistic and consistent expectations.
This is a challenge that has plagued workplaces for decades. How do you encourage employees to deliver excellent work without fostering resentment and reinforcing a culture of competition and unspoken expectations?
2. There’s no consensus on what quiet quitting even is
Depending on which articles you’ve read, quiet quitting may be defined as:
- Doing your job as expected but avoiding the pressure to distinguish yourself as a top performer
- Doing the bare minimum to not get fired
- Doing less than the bare minimum because you don’t care if you get fired
- Doing less than the bare minimum because your company can’t afford to lose you (in light of continued hiring and retention challenges)
So which is it? There is no consensus on what constitutes quiet quitting because the term itself is the product of social media banter—and it doesn’t help that the term is a misnomer (it doesn’t actually constitute quitting at all).
However, there is one consistent theme that all of the above definitions share: An over-reliance on “hustle culture” and unclear expectations lead to burnout.
If a once-ambitious employee stops exceeding expectations, starts doing the minimum or shuts down altogether, burnout may be the cause. Our own internal research has found that burnout is the No. 1 reason for high turnover in the current economy. But not every burned-out employee quits. Some just pull back their efforts to achieve some relief.
However, it’s also misguided to attribute every instance of quiet quitting to burnout. Often, the bigger issue is a job where expectations are not clearly defined or communicated.
3. Employers and employees need to find common ground
The quiet quitting discussion has led to two dominant perspectives. On the one hand, you have some people proclaiming that nobody wants to work hard anymore. On the other hand, you have people arguing that employees are tired of being exploited by their employers.
The truth is somewhere in the middle. Sure, some employees are unmotivated, and yes, some managers may over-rely on asking more and more from their people instead of properly staffing or finding better ways to run their business. But in most cases, it’s more nuanced than that. Most employees are just trying to maintain some semblance of work-life balance, and most employers are just trying to keep their businesses afloat. After all, employers are facing unprecedented challenges right now, including staffing limits that cause managers to ask for more time, extra shifts and overtime. But these demands come with a price if you ask for more without taking care of the person. And this conversation is the price.
In an economy where more than half of workers are disengaged, it’s more important than ever for employees and employers to find common ground. Employees need to satisfy the expectations of the job, but those expectations must be clearly communicated as part of the role—with no unspoken strings attached.
Leaders must be careful not to ask too much of their people, for risk of burnout (including managers). Part of it is effectively running your business within your means, including strategies to staff and budget properly so no one relies on overtime. Asking for more should be the exception rather than the rule.
Also, employee recognition is critical. Recognize people for their effort, but be sure to monitor employees who may be heading toward burnout and help them find balance. And make sure you’re making decisions based on fair, consistent expectations. Working extra hours shouldn’t be what gets people a raise or promoted if it’s not the expectation or fair for everyone. Focus on the people who do a great job, and not just the people who do extra.
4. You can’t really prevent quiet quitting
Given the attention that quiet quitting has received, some employers are understandably seeking ways to prevent it. But since there’s no major consensus on the definition of quiet quitting, and since many employees simply perceive it as a refusal to work beyond their job description, it’s not really something to “prevent.”
Instead, the more important question to ask is: How can you keep your employees engaged?
If you can do that, chances are you won’t have to worry about excessive fallout from quiet quitting. You want to ensure that everyone understands what’s expected of them, has a sense of purpose and is equipped to do their job—without hitting a wall.
So listen to your team and collect feedback to ensure that people feel like they’re being appreciated and that their expectations and goals are realistic. Surveys are a great way to generate pulse data and understand how people feel about their jobs at any given time. The data is often anonymous, but if you notice a shift in the results, you can get a good sense of overall morale. If the data combined with your own observation reveals that there’s a change in the team, it may be time to do something about it.
You can also engage with people individually during regular one-on-one meetings or quarterly performance reviews. Ask specific questions about their level of engagement, confidence, energy and motivation. And anytime you notice an issue with a specific employee, you can always pull them aside and have a conversation. Are they feeling overloaded? Is there something going on? Are they looking for something else? By understanding the employee’s unique concerns and difficulties, you can sometimes fix the problem before it gets worse. The important thing is to be supportive. Listen actively and avoid blaming. Try to come up with a mutually agreeable solution.
If you’re struggling to keep your team motivated, you might benefit from an employee engagement platform. Axonify supports continuous engagement by providing centralized communication for the whole team, streamlining the training process and offering performance management tools to help each team member better understand the value they bring to the organization. Axonify has built-in surveys and engagement metrics so you can keep track of morale and always respond accordingly.
Quiet quitting may be an ambiguous buzzword, but it reflects a very real sentiment. Here are a few things we can learn from it:
- Reduced effort is often a sign of burnout; take steps to minimize employee exhaustion.
- Communicating expectations is critical for any job—and it’s okay if not everyone exceeds those expectations.
- If you want employees to do their best, the key is to promote an engaged workforce.
And remember, trending topics are ephemeral, but taking care of your employees is always beneficial.