Is Quiet Quitting something to be concerned about?

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It's been a few months since quiet quitting first hit the news as a trending topic on social media. By the beginning of September, the hashtag #QuietQuitting had amassed 17 million views. That number has now skyrocketed to over 346 million views. 

By now, you're probably familiar with the term. But what does it actually mean and is it something employers should be concerned about? If the answer is yes, what can be done? 

In their latest Labour Market Insights report, academics from the University of Kent present their findings on this phenomenon. 

What is quiet quitting? 

Quiet quitting isn't actually quitting at all. It is an emotional disengagement from workplace demands in an effort to create better work-life balance. In other words, it's doing the bare minimum, or what is specifically required in a job - nothing more and nothing less. Want some copies run by your secretary after 5? If their specified work hours end at 5 pm, then you're out of luck. 

What is contributing to quiet quitting? 

The fact is, even with a recession reducing the number of job vacancies, workers still have the upper hand in the labour market. There continue to be historically high labour shortages in key sectors making recruitment problematic for many employers. And this environment feels empowering to many employees. 

The movement appears to be led by post-pandemic Gen-Zers embracing the practice of what's called 'working to live' rather than 'living to work'. In fact, a YouGov poll shows a clear generational divide in the UK, with 67% of 18 - 29-year-olds saying they should only work on what they're paid for, no more and no less. According to Ranjay Gulati, Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, this is all part of the post-covid 'Great Re-evaluation' in which stress and burn-out are major factors.  

We also see that salary is no longer a leading job-satisfaction measure. In a 2022 report by Ipsos more important factors were: type of work undertaken (43%), work-life balance (38%), colleagues (36%), how interesting their work is (35%) and how secure their work is (35%), while salary came in sixth at 34%. 

Dissatisfaction in the workplace is shown to be a major contributor to quiet quitting. And overall, dissatisfaction is currently high among employees. In an Indeed multi-industry study of 18,000 UK workers, fully one-third expressed unhappiness in their work. In addition, 47% of UK employees plan to quit their job in the next 12 months according to a 2022 CIPD Good Work Index. Among 25–54-year-olds, 34-35% cite job satisfaction as a major cause. 

Is quiet quitting a new phenomenon? 

Traditionally, work dissatisfaction has been expressed through trade union membership and activity. But over recent years, a decline in trade union membership followed on from tougher legal constraints on industrial action, limiting union influence. However, post-covid, this trend appears to be reversing. And one historic form of industrial action short of striking called 'work to rule' bares similarities to quiet quitting, but there are core differences. 

'Working to rule' is a collective action in which the type of action and duration is determined and agreed upon in advance. In contrast, quiet quitting is not so much about working class solidarity and is not union managed. It's a personal decision influenced by concern for mental health and wellbeing. So, in this respect it is a new phenomenon. 

How to spot quiet quitting 

Unfortunately, the covert nature of quiet quitting means it can be hard to spot. And some things that may be indicators could also just as easily be signs of depression or employees coping with difficult problems outside of work. So, it's worth checking in sensitively if you notice any of these potential signs: 

  • Employees either not attending meetings, or barely participating 
  • Previously innovative and enthusiastic team members no longer contributing 
  • Social distancing from the rest of the team - are your employees isolating themselves? 
  • One of more of your team has a new, unexpected increase in workload  

Can supporting your employees better make a difference? 

Each organisation must look at their own individual circumstances and evaluate the reasons quiet quitting may be taking place in their workplace. This will influence what steps you choose to take to resolve the problem. 

The good news is that your response could be crucial. Academic theory supports recent reports that quiet quitting is a response to feeling undervalued and under-appreciated at work. And, according to 2010 research published in the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, genuine appreciation and recognition motivates and engages employees while strengthening and developing quality work relationships. So, implementing a comprehensive program of recognising excellence could be a game changer.  

However, if your quiet quitting employees are suffering from post-covid burnout rather than a feeling of being under-appreciated, employee wellbeing initiatives might be more appropriate. You could consider offering flexible working and financial wellbeing benefits as discussed in our last labour market insights blog: How to save your business during the cost-of-living crisis. 

If you think your employees could just be shirking, performance management and/or performance monitoring could be implemented. But employers must beware of overstepping their legal limitations as well as realising this could develop significant trust issues. 

Prevention is better than cure 

Given that quiet quitting is a trending cultural phenomenon, it would be wise to encourage open communication and positive reinforcement before such issues arise. Not only will your employers be happier and more engaged, but studies also show this will result in greater productivity too. So don't hold back on workforce relationship development. Get your recognition program up and running, and always follow up with feedback from your employees. 


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