Over the past few months, the new buzz term became a divisive one for both employers
and employees, so Benefits Canada asked two human resources experts to weigh in.

Erin Reid, professor of HR and management at McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business

As North America teeters on the edge of a recession, many employees find themselves up against pressures to work long hours to keep their jobs.

For instance, Elon Musk, the new chief executive officer of Twitter Inc., recently told employees: “Going forward, to build a breakthrough Twitter 2.0 and succeed in an increasingly competitive world, we will need to be extremely hardcore. This will mean working long hours at high intensity. Only exceptional performance will constitute a passing grade.”

Read: Twitter ending remote working, additional paid days off

Explicit pressures to work long hours and simple assumptions that more time working improves performance are what today’s ‘quiet quitters’ are rising up against. But quiet quitters aren’t a new breed of employee; they’ve always been around. These are the people who draw clear boundaries around their time, do their jobs to the best of their ability, but don’t do more than their actual jobs. I know these people and you know these people.

Furthermore, research — including my own and that of colleagues at Harvard Business School and the University of Pennsylvania — shows those who set clear boundaries tend to be very high performers.

To understand why setting clear boundaries can increase people’s work performance, it’s worth thinking through what good work involves. To produce good work, people must be able to focus clearly on the task at hand, anticipate and solve problems and forge resilient relationships with others. Doing these things well, in turn, requires ample and predictable time away from work for restorative connections with friends and family, good food, fun, exercise, recreation and sleep.

Read: ‘Quiet quitting’ a rallying cry for more focus on work-life balance, employee engagement

Thus, rather than dividing workers into those who are quiet quitters and those who work long hours, the evidence suggests employers should consider how they can help all workers set appropriate boundaries that allow them to find restorative down time and do their best work when they’re at work.

Nita Chhinzerassociate professor in leadership and organizational management at the University of Guelph’s Gordon S. Lang School of Business

Through ‘quiet quitting,’ employees are saying no to the tasks that are outside of their job descriptions.

‘Job analysis’ — the task of designing and analyzing jobs — is the backbone for most HR decisions and an effective one identifies the work activities, human behaviours/requirements, job context, performance standards and tools required to complete the job.

Conducting a job analysis helps both employers and employees understand how and what they contribute to organizational goals. It helps employees identify where they’re positioned relative to co-workers, informs HR for selection and internal mobility decisions and identifies the parameters against which managers assess employee performance.

Is it important that someone in a specific job mentor new hires? That employees from one unit collaborate with others for certain job functions? That employees run a new set of reports and forecast areas of risks or opportunities? If such tasks are important, then we need to clearly recognize, hire for and reward these tasks explicitly in job descriptions.

Read: ‘Quiet quitting’ an opportunity for employers to help reshape the workplace

If those tasks were temporal and are no longer important, let employees know, so they can refocus on tasks that add value to the organization. Unquestionably, for employees who are already working at full capacity, updating job descriptions to add new tasks also requires removal of outdated or low value tasks from job descriptions.

Essentially, quiet quitting today is an alarm from employees highlighting that their job descriptions and task lists they’re formally assessed against aren’t aligned with their actual activities. It’s a collective call for managers and HR leaders to get in touch with what employees are expected and required to contribute to the world of work and redefine the parameters of the job. It’s time to go back to the basics and update job descriptions, through effective job analysis.