Quiet quitting isn’t a fly-by-night viral trend on social media. It’s a lifestyle response being adopted by millions who are struggling for a better life. Due to wage stagnation and year-over-year inflation, many feel life is harder now and more expensive, and they simply don't want to be in survival mode any longer. In other words, quiet quitters are rejecting the demands of hustle culture.
The term ‘quiet quitting’ refers to employees who don’t go ‘above and beyond’ at work to put in more effort than absolutely necessary. The increase in this phenomenon was highlighted in a report published earlier this summer by the London School of Economics and is more prevalent than some think. A job satisfaction survey of 2,080 UK professionals published this year found that up to two-thirds of UK professionals have ‘quiet quit’ their jobs. The survey also found 25% of those polled admitted they would be keen to change jobs in the next 12 months. Additionally, a 2022 Gallup survey estimated that half of the U.S. workforce consists of quiet quitters. If Gallup’s estimate is accurate, that equates to 80 million workers.
Quiet quitting is higher among Gen Z employees but is prevalent across all generations. For these employees it seems silly to continue to put in extra work and loyalty without reward or recognition, so they disengage from full effort, especially when expectations have doubled but pay hasn’t. Many see quiet quitting as a self-preservation strategy to avoid burnout. Spurred by defiance to ‘hustle culture’, they are rejecting putting their own mental health below performance goals.
Many workers are still burnt out from the pandemic. They are worried they can't achieve the same amount of upward mobility as family and friends. They don’t have issues with working hard. They have an issue with not getting paid for working hard. They can't support themselves, much less a family on their salary. Thus, the myth of the dream job, the dream house, and the dream family are slowly dying.
In a Gallup survey, only 32% of workers came across as engaged, while another 18% were disengaged, meaning that they made no secret of their job dissatisfaction. The remaining 50%, Gallup theorised, could be classified as quiet quitters.
It's no surprise then that this disengagement is impacting productivity. The Institute of Labor Economics reported on the significant decline in labour productivity in a study released this summer. Overall, the UK workforce reduced hours by 36 hours per year in 2022. Given the 24,568 million full-time workers in the UK, this equates to over 55 million discretionary hours lost to the labour market per year. The decline in hours worked in the UK is even more notable, as it exceeds declines in the U.S. by 50%.
Some business leaders have responded with an equally defiant tactic called ‘quiet firing’, which is making a job so unrewarding that the employee feels compelled to resign. This passive-aggressive drudgery of quiet firing will not be the solution to re-engage millions of employees. It will take positive, proactive, engaged leaders who are tapped in to the emotional, psychological, and financial needs of their employees to overcome quiet quitting.
Are leaders the cause?
One of the biggest contributors to quiet quitting is poor downward management, along with burnout, loss of interest, and stress. This highlights the need for managers to deliver better feedback, better goal setting, and better performance management to employees. Poorly communicated and confusing employee feedback can lead to a demoralised employee, a decrease in their productivity and can cause them to put up barriers to change.
The situation remains that many managers do not know how to relate to individual employees, and simply don’t put in the effort. Leaders should be questioning – “What have I done to employees to make them feel like they can't give their best effort? Is this a problem with my direct reports, or is this a problem with me and my leadership abilities?”
Leaders need to help employees feel cared for
Society has changed, companies have changed, and technology has changed. What worked in the past isn’t going to work now. Quiet quitters are changing workplace norms. They want to engage in the workplace, but in a way that is convenient and palatable to their lifestyle. Therefore, work culture and leadership styles must undergo a metamorphosis. Managers and employees need to be more honest about what people are willing to give. Unfortunately, most cultures are not yet near a social acceptance for open communication between business leaders and the working class, which causes a further divide.
Leaders assuming that an employee’s job is their top priority would be a wrong assumption. Honest, two-way, conversations help to relieve the frustration of misaligned expectations. Treating work relationships like a conversation instead of a speech that dictates ‘this is how it is going to be’ is a crucial step forward.
The quiet quitting workforce is looking for cultures based in respect. They are re-evaluating what truly matters, which is a necessity for overall wellbeing. So, from their point of view they are not quitting, they are taking care of themselves. For them, it’s not about giving up; it’s about finding purpose in work and fulfilment in life. People want a voice, and they want their voice heard. Good leaders recognise this and seek to understand and empower employee’s unique contributions.
Better performance management can reduce quiet quitting
Leaders need to accept responsibility for employee satisfaction and realise that success looks different for each person. Too many managers take the “one size fits all” approach to leadership which is lazy and can perpetuate quiet quitting. If leaders would shift their perspective to employees working ‘with me’ instead of ‘for me’ then a playing field of respect can be established.
Managers should remember that it’s a relationship, and they need to learn how to work through the relationship together with each party looking for tailored ways to grow. The governing principle at play here is “work smarter, not harder”. Quiet quitters want to put effort in a place where it produces a valuable return. They conserve their best efforts for something that pushes the organisation, and their career forward, assuming that good work will be rewarded in good companies.
Good companies invest in their employees, and good leaders design the team so that they stay working. When leaders actively support and help employees to figure out a path that highlights their authentic skills and talents then expectations are better managed and there are more aspirations to stay and grow with the organisation.
Towards better engagement
Insightful leaders leverage each employee’s creative and cognitive style for better engagement. Some of the most beneficial knowledge a manager can possess is what makes their team ‘tick’ and gets them to say “Yes!”. Understanding the types of inputs, processes, and outputs that ignite each employee and make them want to engage is pivotal to job satisfaction and building better teams.
A tool that has helped build effective teams for over 45 years is the Kirton Adaption Innovation (KAI) Inventory. Created by Dr Michael Kirton, it is recognised world over as one of the most robust and insightful measures accessible to employees and organisations.
KAI provides insight into how people solve problems and interact while making decisions. Some people like rules and routines to follow, others like to be more free-spirited, vary routines and don’t like too many constraints. The KAI is on a scale from ‘most Adaptive’ (wanting lots of structure, rules, and detail) through to ‘most Innovative’ (wanting little structure, few constraints and prefer to take a big-picture view). The majority of us like a moderate amount of structure and information – how much defines your individual, personal style of thinking.
This keen understanding improves team dynamics, while reducing stress and improving output. Appreciating differences in creative thinking styles allows for more effective leadership by enabling individuals to work in their preferred style, not accommodate the style of the leader.