It seems that everyone has an opinion on quiet quitting. Since the concept burst into popular culture via social media, it’s been the subject of think pieces and much hand-wringing in both mainstream media and online discourse. And on management teams, quiet quitting has become a potential point of stress.
As with any cultural shift, it’s essential to understand what’s driving quiet quitting — especially if you’re a manager watching the phenomenon impact your employees. But in this case, the issue isn’t all hashtags and buzzwords.
The trend speaks to some very real issues in the workplace, and as a leader, you need to learn what they are and how to address them if you want improvement.
What is quiet quitting?
Ever since Zaiad Khan discussed the concept in a viral TikTok video from 2022, people have debated what quietly quitting a job actually means.
Quiet quitters aren’t employees quitting and finding work elsewhere. Quiet quitting happens when an employee chooses to perform at the bare minimum.
They no longer stay outside of work hours, attend non-mandatory meetings, or take on additional projects, instead only completing the tasks that their roles and responsibilities require. The concept harkens back to the labor movement concept of “work to rule,” in which workers don’t do more than you strictly ask them to.
While quiet quitting may reflect workers’ dissatisfaction with company culture and wage compression, it also has roots in millennials’ and Generation Z’s desire to recalibrate their relationship with work. According to a survey from Deloitte, younger generations value work-life balance over anything else, particularly post-pandemic. Risking their health and well-being for the sake of an employer doesn’t seem worth it.
Instead, they’re ditching grind culture and setting healthy boundaries to prevent their work time from bleeding into the rest of their life. As Zaid said in his video, “You’re still performing your duties, but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life.”
How quiet quitting affects employee engagement
According to a 2022 Gallup survey, approximately 50% of US workers say they’re quietly quitting. Another Gallup study found that in the US, employee engagement dropped by 4% between 2020 and 2022 to 32%, while the number of actively disengaged workers rose to 18% over the same period.
The trend is catching on, and although it can have positive benefits for employees (like stronger work-life balance), a lack of engagement can affect everyone’s experience in the workplace. When employees are more engaged, they strengthen mental fitness, increase satisfaction, and foster healthier work environments. Disconnected employees don’t reap these benefits.
If your team isn’t engaged, and members are quietly or outright quitting their jobs, the source of the problem might not be something they can resolve on their own. Strong leadership can intervene and create a better environment that motivates them to stay.
Quiet quitting versus quitting a job: Why employees disengage
There are many reasons why people choose to quiet quit rather than leave their job entirely — often to keep receiving a paycheck and maintain their employee benefits while passively looking for something new.
But disengagement has dozens of causes. A 2023 study from Northern Arizona University listed the top reasons why people choose to quiet quit:
Deloitte’s Workplace Burnout Survey reports that 77% of respondents have experienced at least one episode of burnout in their current job, and a whopping 91% of respondents experienced unmanageable stress levels.
Even more worrying was 70% of professionals didn’t believe their employer was doing enough to help. All of these factors work together to diminish an employee’s experience at work, leading them to put in less effort.
2. Poor work-life balance
A survey from market research firm Ipsos found that the COVID pandemic led at least 20% of Americans to reevaluate their goals and prioritize a better work-life balance. In response, workers might set firmer boundaries around work time and unplug from their job instead of going the extra mile.
3. Lack of recognition
Around 66% of employees will leave if they don’t feel appreciated at work, making this one of the top reasons why people quit their jobs. And for millennials, that number shoots up to approximately 76%.
A lack of appreciation is often a driving factor behind quiet quitting. Without recognition, employees might not feel like you’re seeing their efforts, and they won’t see the point of investing their energy.
4. Dissatisfaction with their job
According to a Pew Research study, only 51% of Americans are satisfied with their jobs. Not everyone can have a position they love, but without passion behind their work, employees might invest less time and energy.
5. Poor compensation
It’s no surprise that compensation and benefits are important to workers. When compensation doesn’t match the value of an employee’s output, there’s less motivation to put in the extra work that companies need to become successful.
6. No clear advancement path
Promotions recognize hard workers for a job well done. And without them, employees might feel like you don’t appreciate them, damaging job satisfaction and decreasing engagement. Often, career stagnation is also a reason to quit a job entirely.
How to spot a quiet quitter
As a leader, you’re responsible for shaping your team’s work culture and inspiring commitment to the job. And because of that, you’re the first link in the chain that can address the causes of quiet quitting. But first, you need to know what signs you’re looking for:
1. Reduced productivity
When your usually reliable, go-to employee is cutting back on special projects, it could be a sign they’re trying to realign their workload and focus on themselves. Their entire performance might slip as a result of quiet quitting.
2. Lack of contribution
On a team, you sometimes have to pick up each other’s slack to be successful. If a team member is fulfilling only their requirements and not stepping up to help their coworkers like they usually do, it could be a sign there’s an issue that needs your attention.
3. Diminished enthusiasm
It’s not easy to generate excitement for a job that doesn’t appreciate, respect, or value you. If your employees feel this way, it could manifest as staying quiet in meetings, missing deadlines, or failing to contribute toward team goals.
4. Decreased participation
One tell-tale sign of a quiet quitter is isolation from the rest of the team. Maybe you used to chat with them for a few minutes before leaving the office, but now they leave quickly. They pull back on their work responsibilities and withdraw from team activities, causing their working relationships to suffer.
5. Disengaging from meetings
So you have a quiet quitter: Next steps
Quiet quitting is a form of negative feedback. Your direct reports are telling you there’s a problem with the team. It’s up to you to act on this information and address the issues that might be contributing to the lack of engagement.
Speaking with your coworkers and team members is one of the best ways to combat quiet quitting. Gallup has found that successful managers make it a habit to have one meaningful conversation with team members once a week.
It doesn’t need to be lengthy — Gallup says that 15–30 minutes is enough to make a difference. Check in, ask for feedback, and make sure they know you hear them and are willing to make changes if necessary.
You can address issues with employee engagement by:
Compensating fairly: Employees work harder and are more satisfied when they receive a fair wage. If you find your team doesn’t have the compensation they deserve, it’s time for a larger conversation with higher-ups.
Respecting employees’ time off: No more Sunday emails or after-hours phone calls. Keep work to office hours unless absolutely necessary. And if it’s an emergency and people have to work late, find a way to compensate people for their time.
Offering praise: Show your employees you respect and value their contribution by telling them they’re doing a great job. Saying thank you is free and doesn’t take much time on your part. And if it’s in the budget, try buying lunch or another incentive to show how much you care.
What can you do if you find yourself quiet quitting?
If some of the above signs of quiet quitting ring true to you, you’re not alone. Managers are one of the groups that experienced a drop in worker engagement over the last two years. According to Gallup, only one in three managers are actively engaged employees, and you might not realize you’re disconnected until it’s too late.
You might start quiet quitting due to the stress of managing remote work and its effects on your team. But any manager can feel the strain of a poor work-life balance and find themselves investing less time and energy into their jobs.
If you’re burnt out, that’s not okay. You shouldn’t have to work long hours or start extra projects if nobody’s expecting you to. Protect your energy and take care of yourself if you’re taking on too much.
But if you want to increase your own engagement and start putting in some stellar effort, these steps can help you reengage with your workplace:
1. Set boundaries
You might be working too much, which could lead to a dangerous case of burnout. Protect your mental health by establishing healthy boundaries around your time away from work. Try not to answer emails, texts, or calls. This time is yours.
Everyone needs out-of-office time to recharge their batteries and be more effective at work — and that includes managers. And if you have too much to do while on the clock, don’t be afraid to delegate tasks. Sharing the load is an important part of teamwork.
2. Be proactive
If you need help with your workload or feel like leadership doesn’t recognize your effort, speak with your human resources representative instead of letting things slide. Nobody likes languishing, and chances are, your higher-ups want to help you succeed.
3. Cultivate relationships
Build connections with your direct reports, leaders, and coworkers. Of the people who regret switching jobs during the Great Resignation, the thing they miss most about their old job is their former coworkers. Not only is having work friendships fun, but it also helps drive engagement and success.
The message is loud and clear
When it comes to handling quiet quitting as a manager, listening to your employees is key. If they don’t feel like you value their time or their work, it’s no wonder they’re checking out and investing less effort.
It’s time to spark conversations about your company culture, environment, and expectations. You might have been overworking your team, or yourself, without even realizing it. And as you take steps to prevent quiet quitting, consider giving it a new name: establishing a healthy work-life balance.