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Culture

Quiet Quitting: What To Do When Your Team Has Mentally Checked Out

September 7, 2022
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Everyone’s talking about quiet quitting, but it’s been around forever. Learn how you can prevent quiet quitting through foster employee engagement.

Nouran Smogluk
Everyone’s talking about quiet quitting, but it’s been around forever. Learn how you can prevent quiet quitting through foster employee engagement.

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Slap a catchy new name on something that’s been around forever and it might be just enough to make it go viral. It happens all the time. An old phenomenon gets rebranded, and somehow finds new life.

Quiet quitting is the perfect example.

There’s something about the term itself that’s garnered a lot of attention. Maybe it’s the idea that people can quietly detach themselves from their jobs, leaving employers powerless and frustrated. The employee is holding all the cards here. Or maybe it’s because there’s an element of quitting about that detachment—the end of an employer-employee relationship. It sounds permanent.

The good news is that there are solutions. Quiet quitting isn’t the plague; it’s avoidable. All the buzz about it simply reflects the generally poor state of employee mental health and wellbeing

What’s the answer to quiet quitting? Building human-friendly work cultures and people-first companies.

What is quiet quitting?



Quiet quitting—coined by TikTok influencers—refers to emotional detachment from work. 

It’s when your employees do the bare minimum required. They do just enough to meet the basic expectations of their job and avoid getting fired, but refuse to invest any energy beyond that. They object to the idea of going above and beyond in their role. 

Work extra hours? No way. 
Taking on additional projects? Try again.
Exceed goals? Not gonna happen.

When quiet quitting occurs, employees mentally check out.

Does that sound like employee disengagement? It should, because in many ways that’s exactly what quiet quitting is.

There’s just one (big) caveat here: companies often treat disengagement as the employee’s fault—but it usually isn’t.

There’s been pushback against the notion that employers should expect their employees to go above and beyond their job, and with good reason. 

If I say “I’ll pay you $75,000 to handle these responsibilities” but I’m actually expecting you to consistently do more than that—with no extra compensation—doesn’t that seem exploitative?

Expecting this “above and beyond” level of engagement as the norm is often an excuse for employers to avoid paying their employees for extra work they put in, because that work is supposedly based on the employee’s initiative (even when it’s an unspoken expectation of the employer).

But here’s the thing: employers can’t expect engagement; they can only earn it.

When someone’s mentally or emotionally checked out at work—when they “quit quietly”—chances are they’re simply responding to the environment they’ve been placed in. They might be suffering from burnout or dealing with bad management. They might be under-resourced.

Quiet quitting isn’t the employee’s fault. It’s usually due to issues that only the employer can solve. 

That’s why people who self-identify with “quiet quitting” are often defiant and proud. They’re consciously choosing to protect themselves and prioritize their personal lives over investing in a workplace that doesn’t care for them. 

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Why doing the bare minimum at work is trending


Quiet quitting might be a new term for an old phenomenon, but the fact is that no term takes off so quickly if it isn’t tapping into today’s zeitgeist. The upheaval of the last few years has changed the nature of the relationship people have with work, and most companies are struggling to keep up.

There are some key shift happening that set the stage for quiet quitting to go mainstream:

  • Global mindshift
  • A new generation of workers
  • The great resignation
  • A recession and rising costs of living

Global mindshift


The 8-hour workday was a revolutionary idea…at the end of the 19th century.

Back then, people worked 100 hours a week. While some government employees and states started working 8 hour days earlier, the first prominent company to switch to a mere 40 hours was Ford Motor Companies in 1926. 

Think of how much has changed over the last 100 years. 

We live in the most technologically advanced age of all time. We’re continuing to develop new technologies at an insane pace. These developments have resulted in massive productivity improvements. And yet, compensation and work hours haven’t kept pace.


Source

Is it at all surprising that employees are getting fed up? No one wants to sacrifice their personal life and mental health for a company that doesn’t value them. 

A new generation of workers


Gen Z was born into a radically different world than their predecessors. The number of opportunities available to make a living in non-traditional ways today is unbelievable. The result? Gen Z is the most entrepreneurial generation

Gen Z’s expectations of their employers are also different. Employers used to define the terms of their relationships with employees. Today, an increasing proportion of employees have a clear idea of what they want and what’s available in the market. They have zero tolerance for being exploited. They want maximum flexibility. They expect to get paid what they’re worth.

If they’re paid the absolute minimum, they’ll do the absolute minimum.

The Great Resignation


The Great Resignation has resulted in an unprecedented 47 million Americans voluntarily leaving their jobs in 2021, with at least a third of workers considering leaving their jobs last year. The top cited reasons were low pay, the desire to work remotely, and burnout.

Quiet quitting is essentially a continuation of the same trend. People today are facing these same struggles, but they’re choosing a different path forward. Instead of quitting completely, they’re simply disengaging and doing the bare minimum. 

Most companies aren’t investing enough into their employees to retain talent, and engagement and retention are closely intertwined. Why would anyone continuously work “above and beyond” their job when they’re feeling unappreciated, stressed out, and exhausted?


Recession & rising cost of living

Salaries tend to stagnate when someone stays at the same company for a long time, yet 49% of people get a significant pay raise when they switch jobs. 

We’re living in a period of record-high inflation, leading to huge cost of living increases. That means staying in the same position is detrimental to most people. When salaries don’t keep pace with inflation, employees’ budgets are actively taking the hit.

Many employees are jumping ship for new opportunities with higher salaries. But even the people who decide to stay feel unappreciated and unrewarded, which eventually culminates in quiet quitting. 

How can companies prevent employees from quiet quitting?


The only way to avoid quiet quitting is to actively work on earning engagement and loyalty from your employees. Whatever your employee engagement levels look like today, these six tactics will help.

Flexibility


Offering flexible work options comes up again and again as one of the top ways companies can reduce burnout

Stress might be a normal part of work. That’s why deadlines tend to be so effective. When people feel compelled to achieve something and know people rely on them for it, it’s easier to work harder. The problem happens when that stress becomes chronic and people don’t have time to recover or space to maintain healthy boundaries. 

When 32% of people say they consistently place work commitments over personal ones, something is going wrong. 

Flexibility at work is how you offset that. The exact recipe is different for every company. It could mean working remotely, offering part-time options, or not mandating specific hours that you expect everyone to be online for. 

Whatever shape it takes, flexible work options pay off.

Psychological safety


Building psychological safety means creating an environment where people can speak up without fear. 

You’re seeing psychological safety in action when your team members are open about their struggles, ask for help, admit their mistakes, or give critical feedback. All of these are signs that your team is comfortable being vulnerable with each other.

If you aren’t there yet, you can build psychological safety with Kona. Kona is a dog that lives in your company’s Slack, asking how your team is feeling every day. It creates a space and an opportunity for your team to be open and vulnerable with one another.

Empathetic leadership


Quiet quitting is a sign that people don’t trust their managers to help them out when they’re demotivated—that’s why it happens quietly. And that’s a real shame, because there are so many opportunities for leaders to help when they know their people are unhappy. 

Your managers are the first role models of your culture. They play a critical role in creating a great working environment. Cultivating empathy at all levels of leadership will transform your relationships with your employees and reduce the likelihood they’ll just silently check out.

Emphasis on mental health


When someone’s mental health suffers, almost everything else does as well—including productivity, motivation, and engagement. Actively asking about how they’re doing and offering initiatives to improve wellbeing are some ways you can tackle this as an employer.

If you don’t know whether your company’s mental health is in good shape, Kona can help. Kona compiles mental health data for you, making it easy for you to know how your employees are doing on a simple dashboard. 

Employee recognition


Employee recognition is easy to overlook and underestimate. People who don’t feel recognized at work are twice as likely to quit. Quiet quitting is often driven by employees feeling unappreciated.

What’s sad about the lack of recognition common in many companies is that recognition doesn’t have to cost a lot. Money is one way to recognize someone’s accomplishments, but something small like an honest and authentic shout-out can also be powerful.

Learning & development


Quiet quitting is a response to an environment that isn’t helping employees improve. 

Offering great, valuable opportunities for learning and development means you avoid this pothole. Every time you invest in your employees, you make it clear that you care about them as individuals and about their long-term success, not just the short-term gain you get from their labor. 

Spot early signs of quiet quitting before it happens


Quiet quitting doesn’t just happen in a vacuum. It might seem like it’s caused by external factors—like the times we live in—but it’s ultimately an indictment of the employer. 

That might sound critical, but don’t miss the point: if the employer is the source of the problem, it means you also have the chance to prevent it. Rather than waiting for quiet quitting to become a problem, you can be proactive instead. 

Start getting proactive by adding Kona to your Slack workspace for free today.

Meet the Author

Nouran Smogluk

Nouran is a passionate people manager who believes that work should be a place where people grow, develop, and thrive. She writes for Supported Content and also blogs about a variety of topics, including remote work, leadership, and creating great customer experiences.

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