Unfairly or not, a subset of employees are being accused of doing the bare minimum of work to get by.
It's a trend dubbed "quiet quitting" that has emerged in the wake of huge disruptions to how and where people work.
The viral phenomenon, though not at all a new behavior, was popularized by TikTok creator Zaid Khan, who claims that while people are still performing their assigned tasks at work, they are rarely going above and beyond for reasons such as to avoid burnout or to prioritize their mental well-being.
This may include declining to take on extra unpaid job roles, leaving the office promptly at the end of their shift, not volunteering for overtime, or only accepting overtime at high pay rates, and not looking to excel at work when 'good enough' will fulfill their obligation.
It represents a major shift from the so-called “hustle culture” that previously embodied success at work. To be sure, the phrase is broad, and evidence is anecdotal. But since the pandemic, employees have become increasingly disengaged.
One-third of employees feel disenchanted by the changes in the transformation of work, while a quarter of employees will consider leaving their jobs if they no longer feel recognized by the company, according to a recent Gallup Poll.
This is a complicated issue. On one hand, it is bad for businesses. A group of "quitters" in an office can harm productivity and profitability. Worse, it can be 'contagious.' If employee A and employee C are both "quitters," employee B may lose motivation as well. Over time, the cumulative effect of these workforce decisions could be disastrous.
On the other hand, many experts believe that this behavior represents a response to genuine issues in the workforce. Worker stress is at all-time highs, with more than half of surveyed workers reporting serious burnout and dissatisfaction with their work-life balance. For many workers, lowering their own workplace standards is a way of psychologically rebalancing.
Further, it's not unreasonable for workers to expect compensation for their work. Why should they answer emails during their off hours when it amounts to working for free? This can be particularly problematic if workers feel they are not getting other rewards for excelling either, such as being passed over for raises or promotions.
How to Reduce or Prevent Quiet Quitting
Utilize better employee monitoring - The first step in combating quiet quitting is to recognize that it's happening. Look for early signs of burnout and intervene before it becomes prevalent.
Given today’s pressures in the workplace and at home, employers need to be more empathetic. Stress is a global issue, and leaders in business, as well as government, are ignoring a disturbing trend: the global rise of unhappiness. Gallup, the analytics firm, first began tracking global unhappiness in 2006. Negative emotions—the aggregate of stress, sadness, anger, worry, and physical pain—reached a record high last year. This presents an opportunity for leaders of all types to focus on well-being.
Use carrots, not sticks. Punishing workers is risky and could easily increase morale problems - especially if the workers are genuinely staying within the bounds of their contracts. With workforce shortages in so many fields, workers know they can find other jobs easily if they become too dissatisfied at their current workplace.
Reward success. If employees are genuinely putting in extra effort and trying to excel, they need to be tangibly and visibly rewarded for their efforts. Refusing to offer pay raises or passing people over for promotion in favor of hiring outside the company, will only encourage quiet quitting. Make sure employees know that extra effort will truly be rewarded - and not just with a pizza party.
Remember, retaining employees through incentives is always cheaper than hiring and onboarding new ones.