It’s the social phenomenon that’s dividing opinion online. Is so-called “quiet-quitting” the product of an entitled generation of lazy workers, or is it a legitimate act of defiance against a toxic workplace culture and lowered economic prospects?
We take a closer look at quiet quitting, investigate its causes and suggest how you can address them to bolster employee engagement.
What is "Quiet Quitting"?
The term “quiet quitting” appears to have been coined by TikTok user Brian Creely in a video from March 2022. Referring to an article posted in Insider magazine, Creely explains that “a lot of people are kicking back and taking it easy instead of quitting their jobs.” Using the hashtag #quietquitting, Creely describes a phenomenon in which employees are increasingly choosing to stay in their jobs despite feeling unfulfilled, rather than actively seeking new opportunities.
This differs from the “great resignation” in which employees left their jobs in droves. In quiet quitting, employees simply stop putting in the extra effort. They become disengaged and unproductive, but they don’t make a fuss about it.
An unproductive, unhappy workforce is bad news for any business. But what’s causing this quiet rebellion? And how can you address it?
Why are Employees "Quietly Quitting"?
Some social commentators are quick to dismiss quiet quitting as the product of an entitled, lazy generation. Dubbed a “self-indulgent sulk“, critics argue that employees are increasingly incapable or unwilling to deal with the stress and boredom that are a natural part of any job.
Under the guise of self-care, critics argue, quiet quitters are being championed for their refusal to put in the extra effort required to be successful. But is this really the case?
While laziness could be ascribed to specific individuals, it is accurate to tar an entire generation of workers with the same brush? Are there other, more likely, socio-economic contributors to quiet quitting?
Lack of ambition... for a reason
There are several reasons why people work hard to advance their careers: to feel a sense of accomplishment, to take pride in their work, to contribute to society, etc. But one of the key incentives is the hope of earning more money, and by doing so, earning a better life for themselves and their families, or at the very least establishing financial security.
In recent years, however, many people entering the workforce have had the rug pulled from underneath them. That is to say, they have found that the traditional measures of success – working hard and being rewarded for it – no longer apply.
Increased cost of living
Rising inflation worldwide has led to a crippling increase in the cost of consumer goods and services. In the UK, inflation reached a high of 10.1% in July 2022 while in the same month average house prices soared to £292 118 GBP.
While employers feel the pinch of increased running costs, they are often reluctant to pass on the burden to employees in the form of salary increases and raises that reflect their dedication and performance. This results in workers feeling trapped in a low-paying job with little chance of progression.
In a viral video from February 2022, TikTok user @KrisDrinksLemonade reenacts an interaction with his boss during his job performance review. In the video, Kris’s boss asks him why he hasn’t been nearly as present or as focused in his job since he was the top-rated employee in 2020. Kris goes on to explain:
The popularity of his video, which has racked up over 3.2million likes on TikTok, suggests that many employees can relate to Kris’s sentiment and admire his course of action – quiet quitting.
Hustle culture hangover
In a final knock-out blow to the argument that quiet quitting is a result of laziness, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reported last month that the contrary is true.
For decades, despite an increase in productivity and overall income growth, hourly compensation for everyone but the top 10% of earners has risen very slowly by comparison.
In other words, steadily since the 1970s, workers have in fact been putting in more hours and more effort for very little extra pay. And, as the EPI’s report points out, this is particularly true for women and people of colour who face greater barriers to entering higher-paying occupations.
By the late 2010s, working overtime had become the new normal for many workers, and employers had come to expect it.
In his original dissection of the quiet quitting phenomenon, Creely describes how society had romanticised and celebrated so-called “hustle culture, where you have this constant, incessant need to work, work, work, and work becomes the main priority in your life in order to get ahead.”
Seen in this context, quiet quitting does not describe laziness so much as it does a refusal to be taken advantage of in an increasingly unequal economy.
What can employers do to tackle quiet quitting?
There are a number of steps that employers can take to address quiet quitting and its underlying causes.
Raise wages in line with inflation
The bare minimum you can do is ensure that employees aren’t losing out year-on-year by rising inflation. If you’re increasing the price of your services and products, you must ensure that this passes down to your employees who are getting less for their wages each year.
Create a culture of honest and open feedback
Employers need to create a culture in which employees feel comfortable and safe giving and receiving feedback, both positive and negative.
Anonymous employee surveys are a great start to creating this culture by providing a space for employees to give honest feedback about their working conditions, their relationships with managers and colleagues, and the company’s overall direction.
Use open-ended questions to allow employees to freely bring up any issues they’re concerned about. Using Symanto NLP technology, quickly and easily analyse employee feedback company-wide to spot any patterns and see which issues are most impacting employee engagement.
Perhaps employees seek more training to be able to confidently do their work. Perhaps they feel overburdened by the workload, or they don’t feel supported by management. There are a lot of factors besides financial ones that can make employees disengage.
Remember, the issue is about employees not being fairly compensated for their extra work and efforts, so if your company isn’t in a position to doll out raises and bonuses, there are other ways you can support your employees to feel their work arrangement is fair.
Be reasonable about workloads
Employees are reasonable about what’s expected of them. Most people understand that there will be times in their work when they’ll need to give a little extra to work through the busy season, or wait for a new hire to start. However, be careful about incessantly overloading them and continually adding to your expectations of them.
Each time you add a new responsibility to your employee you’re changing your operating agreement with them. These changes should be short-term and ideally optional. If you expect workers to take on more roles and responsibilities indefinitely, they should be fairly compensated with a raise and offer of promotion.
When you force work on your employees without consulting them, you remove their autonomy, and they may resort to quiet quitting as a way of regaining some control.
Be honest about career progression opportunities
When you make promises to your employees about their career progression, be sure that you can deliver on them. If there are no internal opportunities for advancement, be honest about it and look at ways to help employees develop the skills they need to progress in their careers.
Quiet quitting can be a result of employees feeling that they’ve been working hard towards a promotion that’s unavailable to them.
Consult employees on changes that affect them
When it comes to making decisions that will affect employee morale, such as changes to working hours or benefits, it is important to involve employees in the decision-making process as much as possible. This will help to ensure that any changes are fair and take into account the needs of employees.
Get Started With Symanto
Start getting deeper insights from your employee feedback with Symanto’s NLP technology. To find out how we can help you get to the core of why employees are disengaging, get in touch today.