While ‘quiet quitting’ has emerged as a serious workplace issue over the last few months, it isn’t a new trend; rather, it’s long been a focus for human resources professionals, says Steve Pemberton, chief HR officer at Workhuman.
“In the HR community, we call that disengaged. . . . It’s just been rebranded as ‘quiet quitting,'” he says.
‘Quiet quitting’ is when employees make a concerted decision to perform their duties exactly according to their work contract, but they’re actually not giving their full commitment, so employers aren’t getting discretionary effort, innovation and loyalty — and employees are disengaged, says Pemberton.
Like every other part of the HR ecosystem, the coronavirus pandemic changed the relationship between employers and employees, he adds, noting many people are begrudgingly returning to the office full time, while some of their friends’ workplaces are embracing hybrid or fully remote working arrangements. “That’s a pathway to [employees] ‘quiet quitting’ and becoming disengaged.”
To Pemberton, ‘quiet quitting’ is a culture killer and can lead to bigger HR issues, such as lack of retention and increased recruiting costs. He believes the real threat to employers is that, if left unaddressed, employees who are quietly quitting may move from being passively to actively disengaged and encourage their co-workers to do the same.
An employer that fails to recognize employees’ personal responsibilities is a contributing factor to ‘quiet quitting.’ If employers aren’t creating an office environment that recognizes work-life balance has changed, the consequences can lead to an uptick in ‘quiet quitting’ and have an avalanche effect on the rest of the company, says Pemberton. The new work-life equation is centred around quality of life and how work fits into that, he adds, noting employees are seeking workplaces that recognize they have complicated personal lives, whether it’s taking care of children, elderly parents or both.
“The No. 1 predictor of my satisfaction at work is my relationship with my first-line manager,” says Melissa Nightingale, partner and co-founder of leadership training company Raw Signal Corp. “People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers. If I love my boss, I often have positive things to say about my workplace. If I really loathe my boss, it generally doesn’t matter how good the snacks are in the kitchen.”
Amid the rise of ‘quiet quitting,’ employees are asking for a better understanding of work boundaries and more attention to burnout, says Nightingale, adding managers need to be trained in this area and understand they’re responsible for motivating and engaging their teams, as well as ensuring those teams are appropriately resourced and staffed. “If those things aren’t happening, that is when you see ‘quiet quitting’ coming into play because employees are forced to do it for themselves.”
During the pandemic, employees have been asked to go above and beyond what a reasonable workload would be and many have decided they’re not going to do that anymore, notes Nightingale, suggesting employers ensure their employees’ jobs are structured for success from the beginning and that employees have a clear understanding of their responsibilities and workloads.
If employees want to sign off at the end of the day, it isn’t necessarily a bad sign, she adds, and if an employee shows up on time with enthusiasm the following day, they’re setting healthy boundaries and not quietly quitting.
However, some signs of ‘quiet quitting’ are unexplained absences and turnover, particularly among specific demographics, says Pemberton, suggesting employers regularly survey their workforce to determine any issues and direct their strategies accordingly. “If it’s more prevalent among employees who’ve been with the company for one or two years, that tells you that your onboarding practices need some work, so you might assign a buddy or a career mentor [to new hires].”
Other signs are more subtle, he says, such as turning off a camera during video-conferencing meetings or when employees aren’t actively participating. But he acknowledges many of the signs aren’t always detectable early on, which is why employers should survey, assess and review their workforce.
What’s really driving ‘quiet quitting’ is employees feeling a lack of being valued and recognized, notes Pemberton, adding there’s a direct correlation between employee recognition, how they contribute to a company and, ultimately, their decision to stay. He suggests employers set up a proactive process for recognizing and valuing employees’ contributions because it goes beyond simply addressing ‘quiet quitting;’ it can help employers identify talent within the organization and drive succession planning.