Quiet quitting is a new term that refers to an employee doing the "bare minimum" when it comes to their work responsibilities, which has the potential to negatively impact their employer. There are many possible reasons for this, including remote work, burnout from being overworked, unclear workplace boundaries, or it could just be pure laziness. Whatever the cause, South African employers need to understand the risks attached to quiet quitting and how to manage this phenomenon effectively. In this article I will define quiet quitting, and then present 10 ways how employers can prevent it.
What is Quiet Quitting?
When most people think about quitting a job, they often imagine a dramatic scene in which an employee storms out of the office, slams the door, and never looks back. However, there is another type of quitting that is much less visible but equally as damaging: quiet quitting. According to the New Yorker, the term first appeared in July 2022 and is attributed to a young engineer, Zaid Khan.
Quiet quitting, also known as invisible quitting or slow quitting, occurs when an employee disengages from their work and gradually loses motivation and interest in their job. They may show up to work every day, complete their tasks, and appear to be productive, but in reality, they are mentally and emotionally distressed.
In the new world of work, large swaths of the workforce still say they’re burnt out - BBC, March 2023
What Does Quiet Quitting Look Like in Practice?
When an employee engages in quiet quitting, they stop going above and beyond for their employer and simply do the bare minimum possible to avoid being fired. In practice, this means:
- Not volunteering for extra work, leadership roles or responsibilities
- Not speaking up in meetings unless addressed directly
- Not responding to emails or messages outside of work hours
- Turning down work outside of their job description
- Becoming isolated from the rest of the team and avoiding social events
- Taking a more-than-usual number of sick days.
Quiet quitting can be a sign of burnout, frustration, low pay or a lack of fulfilment in the job. In a recent study, 67% of respondents believed that burnout had increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. The danger of quiet quitting is that it can go unnoticed by employers, who may mistake the lack of enthusiasm for normal behaviour or attribute it to external factors, such as personal issues or stress in the workplace. However, when employees quietly quit, it can have a negative impact on their productivity, job satisfaction, and mental health. It can also lead to higher staff turnover as employees who are quietly quitting may eventually decide to actually quit.
The common signs of Quiet Quitting
1. Lack of initiative
Employees who are quietly quitting may stop taking initiative or seeking out new challenges. They may become unworried and stick to "the letter" of their job description, rather than trying to improve processes or innovate.
2. Reduced communication
Employees who are quietly quitting may stop communicating as much with their colleagues or manager. They may avoid meetings or discussions, and their responses to emails or messages may become short, impersonal and tardy.
3. Decreased engagement
Employees who are quietly quitting may appear disengaged from their work. They may not participate in team activities, social events, or training sessions. They may also take longer breaks, arrive late, or leave early.
4. Negative Attitude
Employees who are quietly quitting may develop a negative attitude towards their work, their colleagues, or the company. They may complain more often, criticise decisions, or show signs of unconcern.
If you notice any of these signs in an employee, it's important to address the issue as soon as possible. Start by having a conversation with the employee to understand their perspective and concerns. Ask them if they are feeling overwhelmed, burnt-out, stressed, bored, or unfulfilled in their role. Offer support, resources, or opportunities for growth and development. Consider adjusting their workload, responsibilities, or schedule if possible.
10 ways to prevent Quiet Quitting
Quiet quitting invites managers to examine the company culture, have honest conversations with their employees about job expectations, respect employee boundaries, and provide room for employee growth. Improving employee engagement is the result of improvement in several areas and it may take some time before any benefits are realised.
1. Examine company culture
Company culture is often the critical factor that determines an employees’ attitude toward their work. In fact, 60% of surveyed HR professionals who indicated that their organisations are experiencing quiet quitting, can trace it back to their company culture. Company leadership should examine a number of areas in the company that affect employee morale, including company values, rewards and recognition, and management styles. A toxic company culture is known to increase burnout which can lead to quiet quitting.
Company leadership should be clear and consistent with how they articulate company values and make those values apparent at every stage of recruiting, onboarding, and talent management.
2. Respect employee boundaries and work-life balance
Employees value work-life balance now more than ever before. If they are burnt out, they may enforce their boundaries and stick to the tasks in their job description. The current state of the global economy and skills shortage in certain sectors, has meant that staff are often thinly stretched. Employees are therefore often asked to "do more" with fewer resources, or to perform work-related activities outside of their usual working hours. The "people-come-second" mindset hasn't gone unnoticed by many professional employees, 63% of whom consider work-life balance a top priority when finding a new job. Improving the work-life balance of every employee should be a priority if you want to reduce quiet quitting.
3. Have honest conversations about job performance and expectations
To address quiet quitting, executives, managers, and HR should assess the ways they recognise, promote, and evaluate employees. A solid understanding of job expectations on both the employee’s and the manager’s end goes a long way in assessing how an employee is performing, be it over, under, or at the expected level. A manager should have an open conversation with an employee who consistently underperforms. Furthermore, the goal of this conversation should be a better understanding of what resources or support the employee needs in order to succeed at their job. Ultimately, a performance review should provide a pathway for the employee to achieve their career and life goals.
Replace fear and assumptions with trust and transparency - Technology Advice.
4. Provide room for employee growth
Regardless of how an employee is performing, managers should prioritise short-term performance discussions in addition to regular check-ins with their employees. These meetings are a chance to discuss employees’ goals, identify opportunities for growth, and reduce the potential for quiet quitting. Encouraging employees to develop in their careers and create opportunities for them to do so. This can boost morale and excitement at work. Company sponsored training and development is a "must" for both the company and its employees.
5. Re-evaluate remote work
Remote work can make it difficult to separate work from personal life and has been attributed to a rise in quiet quitting. Employees may find themselves working longer hours or struggling to find a healthy work-life balance. Furthermore, employees that work remotely can make it more difficult for managers to supervise and manage their staff. Without face-to-face interactions, managers may find it difficult to monitor employee performance, provide feedback, and ensure that work is being completed to a high standard. This may lead to communication breakdowns and reduced productivity, as employees feel less accountable for their work. Remote Work – Pros and Cons
6. Don't micromanage
Micromanagement can easily demoralise employees and create mistrust and disengagement, which leads to quiet quitting. There is a fine line between guiding an employee, and micromanaging them.
7. Pay a fair salary
Employees that believe they are under-paid will be dissatisfied and may resort to quiet quitting as they seek employment elsewhere.
Almost half of workers younger than 30 are engaged in “quiet quitting" if they see no prospect of their wages increasing - Robert Walters Recruitment.
8. Celebrate and reward achievements
Feeling undervalued has a detrimental impact on employee morale and may lead to quiet quitting. Without any recognition for their contribution, employees have little way of knowing whether their work has meaning and if it's appreciated. To combat this, make employee recognition intentional, meaningful, public and frequent. Be careful not to "over reward" as this can make the process meaningless.
9. Explain the workload
Giving more responsibility to a talented employee is both common and often necessary, specifically when companies are faced with skill shortages. It is important that such growth and responsibility is explained early on to the employee, otherwise they may feel overwhelmed and caught off guard, which can result in quiet quitting.
10. An ergonomic workstation can prevent quiet quitting
An ergonomic chair and workstation setup is important for the long-term health and wellbeing of every employee. The consequences of sitting on the wrong chair. Working when you are uncomfortable can have a detrimental impact on your health, productivity and morale, which may then lead to quiet quitting.
An uncomfortable worker is not a happy worker.
A prerequisite for employee comfort is a workstation that includes a correctly adjusted ergonomic chair, desk and monitor. It is the responsibility of employers to ensure that every employee, whether they are in the office or are working remotely, has an ergonomically designed workstation. Best practices for ergonomics in the workplace
Quiet quitting is a real phenomenon that can have serious consequences for both employees and employers. By recognising the signs of quiet quitting and addressing the underlying issues, companies can help to prevent staff turnover, boost employee engagement, and create a more positive and productive workplace.