What is quiet quitting?

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Your employee’s attitude to work has changed. Let’s call her Maren. You don’t understand what’s happening but it seems that she's less engaged than before. Is this a case of quiet quitting? To find out, you need to know what it is!

Keep reading to get an overview. We’ll also provide some tips for how to deal with the Marens, Jasons and Danielles in your circle who may also be quiet quitters.

How does quiet quitting happen?

Quiet quitting does not mean a person leaves their job. They are mentally quitting–—which is why it is described as silent. It’s conveyed in a number of behaviours. For example, quiet quitters:

  • Meet the minimum job requirements but put no extra time, effort or enthusiasm into their tasks, a phenomenon that is referred to as the bare-minimum culture
  • Stop taking initiatives
  • Say no to any overtime and stick to the official schedule
  • Stop helping colleagues if doing so involves extra work
  • Refuse optional meetings
  • Slow down, often to protect themselves from stress
  • No longer accept responsibilities that are not part of their job description

In other words, quiet quitters keep their jobs and salary, but choose to be less involved than before.

Quiet quitting: Making noise in the media

The expression “quiet quitting” became popular in 2022 in TikTok content. Other social and traditional media then began addressing this issue in articles on labour market trends.

You’re probably saying to yourself that this phenomenon has been around for a long time. However, the trend appears to have become more widespread.

Regardless of trends, quiet quitting is a reality that we need to learn about and prevent.

Why do people disengage?

Let’s look at what might have caused a wave of quiet quitting.

  • As we all know, the pandemic transformed the work world. Since 2020, many Canadians have changed jobs. In fact, articles refer to the great resignation  (This hyperlink will open in a new tab).: Twenty-eight per cent of workers in Quebec changed careers in the following two years.
  • Inflation and the spectre of a recession may be reasons why people quietly quit rather than leave their pay cheques and benefits behind.

The decision may be due to personal reasons as well. People may want to...

  • Take time to find work-life balance
  • Fulfil themselves in other aspects of their lives such as recreation or projects
  • Protect their mental health from burnout by giving less priority to work and the resulting stress
  • Passively resist their employer’s expectations or a particular situation such as the requirement to always do more with less resources
  • Manage their energy due to a difficult situation such as a divorce, sick relative, etc.
  • Protect themselves against a job where learning and growth are limited
  • Respond to a lack of recognition or other factors
Here’s an example

For months, Sam worked overtime on a series of projects. Many times he made himself available in the evenings and on weekends.

His manager did not tell him that the effort was appreciated, which led him to wonder if she had even noticed.

Disappointed and bitter, Sam decided to stick to the bare minimum. He didn’t know but he was joining the ranks of quiet quitters.

If his supervisor had been aware of this loss of motivation, she might have been able to intervene and make things right.

How can quiet quitting be prevented?

If you lead a team, you can take action to deal with or even prevent quiet quitting.

Be a good listener

Meet with your employees, preferably one-on-one, to listen to their concerns and understand their level of engagement. How can you support them? Offer them your help and show that you are looking for solutions.

It’s possible you won’t be able to meet with everyone in the short term. Surveys can give you some answers. Use them as tools to renew motivation of your employees.

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Be transparent

Are you asking your team members to work longer hours this month? Tell them the real reasons.

If you ask them to do tasks that are not part of their duties, explain why. Make it clear that you will not make this a habit and that nobody will take their efforts for granted.

Employees who understand your reasons and good faith will be more inclined to make the desired efforts.

Share your vision and work together

It’s important to maintain the team’s mission and vision. What goal are you striving for? Are your employees aware of this? Ask them how they see the organization's future and how they would like to contribute.

If you clarify your shared mission, the work will become meaningful, which is a powerful motivator!

Cultivate recognition and reward effort

When we’re stressed or tired, we sometimes aren’t aware of the contributions that the people around us are making. This is a problem. The lack of positive reinforcement and recognition from colleagues, supervisors and managers is a breeding ground for quiet quitting.

Rewarding effort is also important. Did Maren agree to do overtime this month? You could offer her some half-days off when the workload allows it, if it doesn’t put a burden on the rest of the group.

When returning to your job means putting your heart into it

Quiet quitting occurs when someone’s heart is not in their job. Take your team’s pulse often and do your best to mobilize your employees and keep them mobilized. It’s good for productivity, useful for building loyalty among your people and creating a positive work climate. What more could you ask?