Leading people

Quiet quitting: How HR and business leaders can turn it around

Quiet quitting is a new workforce trend that can negatively impact your business's performance and reputation. Here are ways to combat it.

Despite what it sounds like, quiet quitting is not silently packing your bags and leaving without telling anyone. It’s about employees who feel that they aren’t being compensated (not only financially) and no longer going above and beyond in their jobs.

They disengage (a word you’ll see often) due to a lack of meaning in their jobs and, as a result, expend minimal effort on their daily tasks. Also dubbed ‘acting your wage’, this trend is most prevalent in the Millennial and Gen Z workforce, who list a good work-life balance as one of the major factors they consider when choosing an organization to work for.

Knowing what it is that your employees are looking for in terms of meaning and compensation—both financially and in their personal lives—means that you’ll be able to employ the right strategies to combat the quiet quitting trend.

Why employees quietly quit

Numerous reasons have been cited for quiet quitting, not least of which is a lack of work-life balance. With today’s unprecedented levels of burnout, quiet quitting has become about self-preservation. Studies have shown that having work-life balance is key to mental wellness, yet few employees feel they have it.

The importance of sustaining a healthy work-life balance isn’t news to anyone, but COVID-19 caused many people to reflect on what they want from their jobs and employers.

The pandemic saw many people go above and beyond the call of duty for fear of retrenchment during the rapid downscaling of businesses. This ‘hustle culture’ resulted in burnout for many, which in turn spurned the quiet quitting trend. Amidst the Great Resignation, employees are acutely aware of employers’ hopes to retain their staff and that, if they ‘quiet quit’, they may be compensated—in whichever way they require—to stay in their roles.

Engagement, or rather lack thereof, is another factor driving quiet quitting. Research indicates that a third of employees report being highly engaged at work. Engagement is intricately linked to meaning; that is, those who derive little meaning from their work tend to actively disengage.

Studies have also found that up to 70% of employees feel that monotonous tasks consume their days—ones that could just as easily be automated—leaving little room for meaningful work that engages creative or strategic thinking to help the business move forward. Quiet quitting is, therefore, not so much about avoiding work as it is about creating a meaningful life outside it.

Company culture is another huge role player in the quiet quitting trend. Employees are more likely to quiet quit (or even actually quit) if the company culture is poor.

Simply put, if an employee is not engaged with their job, doesn’t find meaning in their work, and does not enjoy the workplace culture, you will be hard-pressed to get the best out of them.

Is this thing serious?

In short, yes. But it can be salvaged.

Quiet quitting is a real problem for businesses, and HR needs to take serious steps to nip it in the bud as soon as they become aware of it. Having employees performing the bare minimum can have serious consequences not only on the business’s performance but also on its reputation.

Quiet quitting can result in, among other things:

  • Reduced productivity: Disengaged employees are not as productive as engaged ones. Research has shown that organizations with low levels of engagement have 33% less operating income than those with highly engaged staff.
  • Frequent absences: If you’re not into your job or feel disconnected from it, you’re unlikely to want to be there all the time. Disengaged employees tend to take more unplanned leave than their engaged counterparts. HR must pay close attention to any spikes in unplanned absences, as it will alert them to potential disengagement issues.
  • Poor quality of work: A Towers Watson Global Workforce study found that disengaged employees make 100 times more mistakes than those who are engaged and spend less time actually working, instead succumbing to distractions like chatting to colleagues and taking breaks. They are also less likely to take pride in their work, which negatively impacts client delivery.
  • Poor customer service: Disengaged employees are typically not bothered to provide good customer service. If their jobs feel like a means to an end, they’re likely to treat your customers the same way. This results in a rise in customer complaints and poor fulfillment of customer requirements.
  • Skills gaps: Thanks to the Great Resignation, many organizations are looking to plug their skills gaps by upskilling their staff. Disengaged employees rarely look to enhance or develop their skills within their current organization.
  • High staff turnover: A Harvard Business Review study recently found that recognition has the biggest impact on employee engagement and that a lack thereof is the top reason employees leave an organization. In fact, 65% of employees do not feel recognized at work, and those who have already quiet quit are likely to eventually look for greener pastures.

How HR can support employees

If you’re noticing a trend of quiet quitting in your organization, don’t worry, all is not lost—yet. Underperforming employees can be motivated to change their behavior. It is important to take note of which employees feel undervalued, and why they feel that way. Often, instilling a sense of pride, purpose, and ownership in your staff will help them reengage with their work and when they’re thriving, so will you.

Here are some ways HR can support employees:

Know the signs

According to Gallup research, nearly 55% of employees born after 1989 are not engaged and are the ones most likely to quiet quit. They are also the age group that is most likely to experience burnout, highlighting the fact that successful businesses and employee wellness are intricately linked.

HR needs to keep a close eye on employee stress levels and make meaningful investments into employee mental health overall. Managers should be trained to spot signs of undue stress and help those employees who are taking strain. This will help foster a culture of care and connection.

Do regular surveys

Regular surveys can help HR track employee sentiment and engagement and alert them to any negative issues driving quiet quitting. Targeted feedback will quickly show issues such as increased stress levels or lack of adequate training.

Focus on recognition

Feeling un- or underappreciated at work is a major reason why employees disengage. It also fuels their lack of purpose in the workplace. Recognizing good work helps reduce burnout and encourages employees to continue performing well. HR professionals must encourage executives and managers to focus on recognizing and sharing employees’ efforts and letting them know how their achievements positively impact their colleagues and the organization. Employees should also be given the tools to recognize the work of their colleagues.

Meet relevant needs

It would be naïve to think that perks don’t play a role in engagement. Perks can often help drive purpose, but they need to be relevant to your employees to matter.

Remote and hybrid working are no longer newfangled concepts, and employees expect to enjoy the flexibility these models offer. The days of the strict 9-to-5 are gone, and so are employees who will put up with it.

Ping-pong tables and Friday afternoon drinks are no longer high on employees’ agendas. Often, things like paid time off and personalized support are preferred. It is wise to survey what benefits your employees are looking for—some might even surprise you.

Employees also need regular check-ins and meaningful, productive conversations around their work. This is one of the best ways to counter quiet quitting, and executives and managers need to initiate these chats. These conversations will not only help drive employee engagement, but they will also keep executives’ fingers on the pulse of their employees and help them strategize accordingly.

Believe your data

HR software with analytical tools will go a long way in helping you determine if you are at risk of quiet quitters. Has your staff turnover increased? Are your staff more absent than ever before? Have you given raises in line with inflation? Trends and patterns that indicate employee disengagement will quickly emerge in the data and could save you from the devastating effects of quiet quitting on your business.

Career management

Quiet quitting is often the result of employees considering changing jobs due to a lack of purpose. It is, therefore, a career decision. Helping your employees shape their careers within your company will see them less likely to disengage from their roles.

A LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report found that 94% of employees would choose to stay in their careers if they had access to career development. If your staff feels stuck in their roles with no room for growth, they will be unmotivated to do more than they should.

What it boils down to

At the end of the day, employees are only as committed to an organization as it is to them. If you want employees who are engaged and who offer great customer service that positively impacts your bottom line, you must find out what they need—and want—from you.

Quiet quitting doesn’t have to be the end of the road—for your business or your employees. When managed correctly, it can actually result in a much stronger and more engaged workforce that is committed to ensuring that your business thrives.