You’re probably tired of hearing about the quiet quitting trend—we are, too. But there’s a reason it’s been talked about so much (and—let’s be honest—why you chose to read this article). Quiet quitting among your employees may be a devastating productivity and retention problem for your organization, or it could be an opportunity for improvement. The difference is up to you.
WHAT IS QUIET QUITTING, REALLY?
The concept started buzzing this past year thanks to a viral TikTok video, but the term “quiet quitting” was coined by economist Mark Boldger back in 2009. Once the phrase began its recent trend, Gallup did a poll and found that “quiet quitters” make up at least 50% of the U.S. workforce.
Quiet quitting is really about employee engagement and work-life balance. As the Guardian puts it, it’s “doing just enough in the office to keep up, then leaving work on time and muting Slack. Then posting about it on social media.” The Wall Street Journal adds that it’s really just about not taking your job too seriously.
THE GENERATIONAL CONTEXT
The premise of quiet quitting is nothing new. It may, however, be a new concept to many under-45 workers (Millennials and Gen Z). If you’re a Gen Xer, there’s little doubt you’ve already scoffed at the “revolutionary” mindset that the trend is “introducing.” Haven’t these kids seen Office Space? Watched Homer Simpson phone-it-in?
Fast Company found this headline in the Central New Jersey Home News in 1995: “‘Xers work for selves, not their companies!” it declared. But it doesn’t start there. Check out this article clip from the Chicago Daily News in 1972: “The work ethic, at least as grandpa knew it, is fading rapidly…Younger persons, particularly those in blue-collar jobs, no longer dutifully worship the god of work and its major icon—the paycheck. They want something more—and regardless of how things turn out, the workplace won’t be the same.”
Those young people? At that time, it was the Baby Boomers. BABY BOOMERS. Chew on that for a second.
Perhaps, then, every modern generation hits a point in their early careers in which they realize that their health and wellbeing could use a good dose of balance…or quiet quitting.
What makes young workers today different? A decade ago, Millennials swore that meaningful work that was satisfying, innovative—and that provided an environment that recognized their passion and talent—was worth more than a giant salary. They wanted to work for a brand they could passionately believe in. Gen Z soon followed, echoing their desire for meaningful work above all else.
But then, as Austin’s own Center for Generational Kinetics found, young workers were first to lose their jobs at the beginning of the pandemic and have been struggling with inflation and cost-of-living increase more than other generations since. Suddenly salary, scheduling flexibility, and benefits have increased in importance while workplace culture, job perks, and professional growth have slid down the scale. Pre-pandemic, work flexibility was as important as liking coworkers and managers and fitting in at work. In short, work was the center of your universe and the source of your happiness (or angst). That story has changed.
PROBLEM OR OPPORTUNITY?
“The most interesting part about [quiet quitting] is nothing’s changed,” 41-year-old Clayton Farris explains in a TikTok video, one of the thousands now shared on the platform. “I still work just as hard. I still get just as much accomplished. I just don’t stress and internally rip myself to shreds.”
“Those are the quiet quitters you can work with. They simply crave work-life balance and a reduction of work-induced anxiety, which can be a positive thing for everyone,” says The HT Group Founder and CEO Mark Turpin. “The flip side is quiet quitting that involves apathy towards a job WHILE you’re clocked in. That’s a much bigger problem to fix.”
Some observances we’ve made over the years that could ensure quiet quitting doesn’t reach toxic proportions at your organization:
Give workers a voice. Research has uncovered a growing disconnect between executives and employees, leading to burnout at both levels. “Many executives can sense when things aren’t right—with their own situation, with their employees, with the workplace culture in general—but they don’t know how to identify what is wrong and what needs to change to make things better,” says The HT Group Director of Consulting Services Sam Wood.
The remedy: Ask. Communicate. Have a dialog. Make sure there are open lines of communication up and down the management chain. It’s not a bad idea to bring in a consultant to workshop the issue—perhaps even incorporating anonymous feedback—to get to the root of the problem and find a resolution.
Be a good place to work. Young professionals have now realized that no employer can take care of them how they need to take care of themselves—and that’s a pretty healthy realization. But that doesn’t mean you can get away with being a dreadful workplace. Underpaying is a top way to encourage quiet quitting. So is a lack of transparency and communication, cited above.
But then there are even more sinister ways to marginalize workers. Now that workers have clued into quiet quitting, they’re exposing “quiet firing” for what it is, too. Quiet firing? Oh, yes. You know what it is: treating an employee horribly—piling on the work (or not giving challenging work at all), denying raises, criticizing—in hopes that they’ll quit. Reacting to quiet quitting with aggressive tactics like installing workplace monitoring tech is another way to breed toxicity (which one in three U.S. companies have done since the start of the pandemic).
Make work-life balance the goal. Don’t fight quiet quitting; embrace it. Many workers who claim to have resorted to quiet quitting have really just decided that they need to stop overworking and start putting their health and happiness back on the agenda. Good employers not only support but encourage such a move.
By listening to workers and being a good place to work, you’ll find out what actually WILL motivate your employees. How can you improve flexibility, for instance? More than 70 British companies are testing out a four-day workweek as we speak, and what have they found so far? About 95% report the same or improved productivity.
So that’s it. We can now put the fears and debate about quiet quitting to rest. The tried-and-true rules of employee engagement and retention still apply, only now to the youngest workplace generations who may just be realizing that they have the ultimate power over their work-life balance and wellbeing. To refine your particular strategy to address employee engagement and retention and to hire employees whose talents and motivations fit your culture, give us a call.