4 ways to get quiet quitters back on board
The “quiet quitting” debate has exposed an aspect of work that few want to acknowledge: sometimes, it’s a choice between setting boundaries or burning out. But what can managers do to win back their quiet quitters?
Compared to most HR-adjacent buzzwords, quiet quitting is a juggernaut, resonating with a wide range of audiences well beyond the confines of LinkedIn. The current popularity of the term can be attributed to a video posted by TikTok user @zaidleppelin back in July – an app that’s not typically known for its HR-adjacent content or influence among people management circles.
In the 17-second clip, our narrator ruminates on the value of “going above and beyond at work” and tells the viewer that "your worth is not defined by your productive output”. The content creator’s sentiments evidently struck a chord – the video has racked up over 500,000 likes and over 6,000 comments, while also sparking a dynamic debate among HR professionals about a term that, while relatively new, describes a phenomenon that has arguably been around for as long as human beings have been in employment.
What is quiet quitting?
There’s no fixed definition of quiet quitting, but one major misconception is that it has anything to do with the act of resigning from a job. Quiet quitting is more of a philosophy that rejects burnout and hustle culture.
It describes the eureka moment an employee has when they weigh up the positives and negatives of taking on additional responsibilities at work and decide that going the extra mile is no longer worth the stress. In most cases, the employee continues to perform their assigned duties but disengages from the wider company culture, sticks exclusively to their contracted work hours, and prioritises their work-life balance.
According to Fortune magazine, around half of US workers are quiet quitting at work.
The concept of going above and beyond the demands of your job description has been romanticised for generations, often viewed as a noble and reliable pathway to recognition, promotion, and career progression. Most people can agree that hard work, collaboration, and flexibility are valuable and admirable qualities, and most advocates for quiet quitting don’t argue otherwise.
The issue is that many workers are finding that they are rarely rewarded for going above and beyond, and that taking a step back and restricting their workload is the only way they can regain some control. A recent US survey found that 63% of workers feel unappreciated by their employer on a daily basis, while nearly a third of UK workers feel the same way.
The act of quiet quitting can therefore be hugely liberating for employees and improve their wellbeing. While being in a position to tolerate your job doesn’t sound particularly aspirational, for a lot of people, it’s an infinitely better choice than over-investing in work for little return or undergoing the stress of searching for a new job. It enables them to use their leisure time (and hard-earned money) to do as they please – whether that’s spending more time with their loved ones or pursuing enriching hobbies and interests. Making these necessary adjustments can help workers develop a healthier relationship with work.
While the act can be liberating, quiet quitting can also pose a risk for employees. There can be a fine line between disengaging from surplus responsibilities and developing an apathetic attitude towards work in general. Learning to say “no” is a valuable skill for any individual, but if they don’t have a sense of passion to ground them, they may develop a habit of declining projects, including those that could help advance their career, develop their skills, or even unlock new, unknown passions. The long-term impact of this could involve missing out on promotions, falling behind on their work, or in extreme cases, dismissal.
It's also important to note that not all employees are able to quiet quit. Women and people of colour already face barriers throughout their careers, including significant gaps in pay and promotions, that often force them to work twice as hard in order to receive the same recognition and opportunities as their peers.
According to a recent UK report, people of colour are “less likely to apply for and be given promotions” in the workplace, and "more likely to be disciplined or judged harshly”. In the US, Black workers make up just 5% those at senior manager and vice president level. Globally, women occupy just 24% of senior leadership positions, and are more likely pick up the burden of office housework – tasks that support the organisation, but won’t lead to promotion or contribute to the employee’s performance evaluation. Think organising office parties, scheduling meetings, taking minutes during meetings – all in addition to their regular workload. Each of these factors can compromise a woman or person of colour’s ability to disengage from work without facing disciplinary action.
The burden of burnout
Quiet quitting is ultimately a last-ditch attempt to avoid burnout, which employees are experiencing at alarming levels across the globe. A recent study by Asana looking at knowledge workers across seven countries found that approximately 70% of people experienced burnout in the last year. With this in mind, managers should remain vigilant for signs of disengagement among their teams.
Are you managing an employee you believe to be quiet quitting? Here are four ways to get them back on board.
1. Consider why they’re quiet quitting
The warning signs of a quiet quitter can include anything from a steep drop in productivity, to frequently arriving to work late or leaving early, to a failure to attend meetings.
An employer’s instinct may be to address these behaviours through disciplinary action. But considering the extraordinary, emotionally demanding times we’re living (and working) in, and the widespread disengagement among employees we’ve highlighted, it’s worth taking an empathetic approach when you notice these signs in an employee. Give quiet quitters the benefit of the doubt and consider why they might be disengaging from work, as well as what you can do to support them.
2. Give them space to communicate
Try initiating conversations with the disengaged employee and create an open, non-judgemental space for them to share what’s on their mind. If they’re less invested in their role due to a work-related issue, clearly explain that you’re willing to come to a solution and ask them to suggest how they would like to see the issue resolved.
Of course, you may find that the cause of their disengagement is personal issue that’s entirely separate from their work life. Nonetheless, this presents an opportunity to offer support to the employee, who will likely appreciate your concern.
3. Recognise their achievements
Recognition is a powerful way to combat employee disengagement and attrition. According to one study, 79% of employees who quit their jobs cite a lack of appreciation as a key reason for leaving.
Showing an employee your appreciation can be as simple as a public shoutout (whether that’s in a company newsletter, during an all-hands meeting, or any other company-wide correspondence), or as elaborate as a promotion. Whichever method you choose, be sincere and let your employee know they have an important role to play in the organisation.
4. Be serious about wellness
More and more, organisations are publicly declaring the wellbeing of their employees to be a top priority. While this is always encouraging to see, these types of initiatives often work best when they’re enshrined in company policies.
Consider incorporating specific policies that aim to preserve work-life balance. These can include stipulations such as not taking calls or emails outside of work hours or making it mandatory for employees to make use of all their allotted holiday. Some companies are going as far as offering wellbeing days, which allow employees to take a day of paid leave in order to look after their mental and physical health.
Putting these kinds of initiatives front and centre of your employee value proposition (EVP) will do wonders for your employer brand. An organisation that takes employee wellbeing seriously – as opposed to just paying it lip service – is highly attractive to candidates, particularly those who understand all-too well how it feels to burn out.