Quiet Quitting: What Workplaces Should Learn From The Trend

11 October 2022 Sharyn Waterworth

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​If you haven’t heard of “quiet quitting” before (and you’d be forgiven, seeing as it only started making waves in August this year), then allow me to explain.

“Quiet quitting” refers to employees deciding to do the bare minimum at work. And by the “bare minimum”, I mean the responsibilities they’re contractually obligated to fulfil. As in, the job they were hired to do. Nothing more, nothing less.

That’s right, quiet quitting isn’t really quitting at all. It’s arriving at 9 AM and leaving at 5 PM. It’s responding to work emails during work hours and only undertaking responsibilities you’re being paid to do.

Quiet quitting: Where did it come from?

First came the great resignation - a tide of employees moving on from their current employers that swept the world during the height of COVID-19. The pandemic forced people to reassess their lives and confront some hard truths: they weren’t happy and needed to make a change. Starting with their career.

While many were leaving their jobs or creating new ones, others were learning to work from home for the first time. And it gave them a real glimpse into what work-life balance could truly look like.

Fast forward to 2022, and while some workplaces are back in the office, there’s been a line drawn in the sand. Hybrid workplaces are the new norm, and having the option to work from home isn’t a perk but a must-have in a lot of industries.

In fact, when we conducted our own research earlier in the year, we found that 64.30% of employers allowed their employees to work from home and 70% of employees who weren’t offered the option to work from home, wished their employer allowed them to.

Amelia Negoski, the co-author of the book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, believes there is a link between quiet quitting and burnout (another term that’s risen to prevalence in the last few years).

Burnout happens when employers place unrealistic demands on their employees, expecting an unsustainable amount of their time and energy when they’re at work (and even when they’re not).

Negoski believes the quiet quitting trend is a response to burnout or a strategy to prevent burnout from happening to begin with. Negoski says quiet quitting allows people to change how they approach their work. The author also notes that she’s glad “to see younger generations opting out of exploitative work cultures.”

I’ve certainly heard of my fair share of work environments that shame employees for leaving “early” (despite “early” being the time their contract states) or opting not to work through their lunch break.

There seems to be a universally acknowledged, but unspoken expectation from employers, that if you really care about your job, then you should be willing to do much more than what your employee contract asks of you.

Quiet quitting has gained popularity because people are burnt out after the pandemic and these last few years have given them a new perspective on life.

They feel unappreciated, unrewarded and in some cases, exploited. Quiet quitters are detaching their sense of self from their jobs and viewing their work as just that: work. One aspect of their life. And not necessarily the most important aspect either.

Quiet quitting: What employers need to realise

Expecting your employees to continually give you more time than they’re contracted to sends the message that in order to be taken seriously and valued, they need to sacrifice their work-life balance for the sake of the company.

Employers need to see the quiet quitting trend as the wake-up call that it is; not as employees merely “being lazy” because no one wants to work anymore (that’s a myth).

Employees are often very happy to work and work hard when they feel supported, challenged (read: not overwhelmed) and recognised for their contribution.

But, there shouldn’t be an expectation that “doing your job” means coming in early, leaving late, missing lunch, working weekends, answering correspondence when you’re away, contributing more than your fair share of work and showing an active interest in extracurricular work activities.

However, there is a difference between quiet quitting and an employee who is actually underperforming. Quiet quitting is still doing your work in a timely and adequate manner; an employee underperforming is likely not completing satisfactory work and meeting deadlines.

If you recognise the signs of quiet quitting in your own workplace, we recommend that you:

  • Invite an open discussion and listen to your employees' concerns. They’re likely trying to recover from burnout or avoid it altogether.

  • Build an environment that encourages open communication and feedback.

  • Facilitate ways for your employees to achieve work-life balance. This is key to a healthy workplace that is burnout-free.

  • Communicate to your employees the importance of family time, and then follow through by giving them the flexibility necessary so they can be present for their loved ones.

  • Educate your managers on mental health so they can support employees and facilitate these conversations.

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