What is 'Quiet Quitting' and What Can HR Do About It? - Netchex

Spreading like fire on social media, “quiet quitting” has moved beyond TikTok and into everyday work environments. The term should be on every HR professional and manager’s radar. 

HR staff can minimize quiet quitting by keeping workers motivated and communicating about problems. Look at quiet quitting as an opportunity to improve your company culture and get everyone more engaged.

Quiet quitting… What is it? Where did it come from? What are some signs? And how should HR address it? 

What Is Quiet Quitting?

Quiet quitting has always been part of the relationship between companies and employees. A bit of a misnomer, the term “quiet quitting” refers to employees doing the bare minimum of what’s required at their job as sort of a backlash to unfairly high responsibilities and expectations. Instead of working harder to go “above and beyond,” frustrated employees are satisfied with something more akin to coasting through.

Where did quiet quitting come from? 

Though TikTok has brought it into the public mind in recent weeks, the general idea of quiet quitting isn’t new. You can find examples of “quiet quitting” in 90’s movies like “Clerks” and “Office Space.”

The term “work to rule” describes when groups of employees do the bare minimum as a form of job action or “rule-book slowdown.” Whereas working to rule may be part of a unionizing effort, quiet quitting is more likely the choice of an individual employee.

Why is it suddenly such a buzzword?

Not so long ago, “the great resignation” was the big topic of discussion among employers. But many workers never had the option to quit while searching for more fulfilling employment.

For workers, quiet quitting is a way to set boundaries and renegotiate their work-life balance. With lessons learned during the pandemic and employees in high demand, workers are more secure in their jobs, like they can test boundaries without getting fired.

What is “quiet firing” and how is it related?

Just like employees, companies can do the bare minimum for unwanted or underperforming workers, increasing their workload without increasing pay. Without actually firing an employee, you could give them the least popular assignments and subtly exclude them from social events.

Of course, quiet firing presents a big liability issues for a company, especially if employees argue they were discriminated against. But the fact remains that both employees and their employers are expected to do more than the bare minimum.

Why are employees quiet quitting?

If your workers are quiet quitting, then the reasons certainly go deeper than “because it’s popular on TikTok.” NPR looked into the economics behind quiet quitting and got the perspectives of people in different industries and circumstances. 

Mental health

For most Americans, the ideas of hard work, going above and beyond, and doing whatever it takes to get the job done are ingrained into our everyday way of thinking. More recently, it seems like everyone needs a side hustle (or three).

Professional success is often closely connected to your sense of self-worth. All of this leads to overworking, burnout, and more stress. This leaves workers looking for an out whenever they hit the wall. 

Workplace boundaries 

Employers can ask a lot of employees, moving benchmarks and raising quotas without raising compensation. Workers can struggle with loneliness and burnout, working extreme hours without proper boundaries between work and personal life. Even smaller expectations like email response time can have a negative cumulative effect.

Salary and pay concerns

Inflation is rising faster than wages, which means that many workers will have a harder time paying regular expenses. The modern workplace tends to expect the same amount of work and effort from employees and managers at each level of the pay scale.

Workers are asked to take on more responsibilities without extra compensation. This is frustrating for workers as it places them between a rock and a hard place. 

What are the signs of quiet quitting?

Each instance of quiet quitting can be different, since it’s often an individual choice. Many symptoms of quiet quitting, like clocking out exactly at 5pm, may already be routine for other workers.

Watch out for a sudden and unexplained drop in individual productivity. Does that employee stop taking initiative and avoid replying to emails? Just because an employee refuses to perform optional tasks or attend after hours events, that doesn’t mean they’re quietly quitting.

What can HR do about quiet quitting?

Be careful about responding to quiet quitting, because there may be good explanations for recent changes. A drop in productivity might be the result of faulty equipment or new procedures. Some employees might be distracted by issues in their personal life, unaware of how it’s affecting their workplace performance or demeanor.

Contact and listen to employees

You won’t be able to guess what an employee is thinking without talking to them. Make sure you’re reaching out with genuine concern and an open mind, not focused on lecturing them. Some employees may be more candid if feedback can be given anonymously.

Improve employee experience

Many employees simply don’t feel appreciated for their hard work. Increasing salary isn’t always an option, but you can easily add new ways to recognize employees. Company swag, recognition certificates, and special parking spots can give a real morale boost.

Make sure employees have easy access to benefits plans. Look for perks and benefits that you can add at low cost for your whole workforce.

Mental health resources

Mental health care can be challenging for employees to access on their own. Get started with these five tips for supporting employee mental health and make the mental wellbeing of workers an ongoing priority.

Foster a sense of purpose

How does your company make a positive difference in the world? Depending on your industry, you may be able to provide free or reduced-cost service to non-profits in your community. Check out the benefits of a workplace giving program to support causes that motivate employees.

Improve company culture

Morale problems like quiet quitting might be caused by toxic environments. Use anonymous reporting and routine employee reviews to identify problems with supervisors and co-workers. 

When issues are reported, make sure that they’re actually addressed. Policy changes should be enforced and assessed for effectiveness. Sexual harassment in the workplace is universally condemned, but many companies still struggle to respond appropriately.

Establish boundaries and encourage work-life balance

If employees feel like your company is setting unreasonable expectations, then you might really have a communication problem. Or an over-zealous supervisor might be pushing too hard. Set clear boundaries for expectations and resist the temptation to constantly move goals. 

Encourage and support windowed work for remote employees to improve work-life balance. Make PTO hours accessible with clear policies and self-service scheduling software.

Develop and motivate workers

Even if you can’t offer raises, employees want to continue growing in their career. Encourage employees to develop new skills with extra training. Use a Learning Management System to cross-train employees in relevant fields.

In too many industries, the fastest way to advance your career is hopping between companies, increasing the cost of training as well as resentment among long term employees. When your most talented and motivated employees seem to be quiet quitting, they may just be distracted by applying for jobs elsewhere.

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