Everyone’s talking about quiet quitting. But what is it and what can we do about it?
By now, you’ve probably read at least five different articles on quiet quitting. It’s blown up on the internet over the last couple of weeks. Plenty of people have come forth to discuss work ethic, mental health and their own experiences with burnout. As much as this topic resonates with weary employees around the world, it’s also bristling the feathers of business leaders and individuals who are accustomed to traditional ways of working.
But here’s what I think: quiet quitting is just a symptom of a much larger disease, and speaks more about the values of the employer than it does the employee. Here’s why.
Quiet quitting: A jab at employers?
You probably don’t need another explanation of what quiet quitting is. But just in case you’re still unsure, here’s a summary: employees are setting clear boundaries between work and personal life. They’re no longer opting to go above and beyond to prove their worth. Instead, they’re clocking off on time and choosing to keep within their written job scopes.
Some employers are up in arms about it. And I guess we can’t really blame them. In the wake of ‘the Great Resignation’, quiet quitting seems like a jab at a festering wound. Or yet another excuse for the new generation of young workers to skive at work.
Lazy, unprofessional, and entitled are just some of the words used to describe quiet quitters. And there’s been plenty of discussion as to how employees should uphold their end of the bargain in the workplace. However, is quiet quitting a sign of poor performance or a way for employees to weasel out of a hard day’s work? Not quite.
Often, quiet quitting is a last resort
Some think quiet quitting normalises individuals giving the bare minimum at work. But the truth? It’s actually a coping mechanism for current employees who are working hard but burning out due to a lack of support.
“There’s a stark difference between quiet quitting and having a bad attitude towards work,” explains Dan Teo (not his real name), a producer at a local production house. “Unlike a lazy person, we still give it our all. We’ll even go the extra mile to deal with urgent matters. But now we’ve also chosen to set boundaries where we can, to take care of our families and personal lives.”
Why quiet quitters are actually hard workers
Haziq Hadad (not his real name), a freelance art director, shares how the blurring of lines between work and rest caused him to reevaluate his priorities. “In my last year working at a non-profit organisation, I was experiencing burnout – though I wasn’t aware of it then. I overexerted myself and was even working while on vacation. When my travel partner pointed it out, I realised I’d let it get out of hand. That’s when I decided to take a step back and take better care of myself. Eventually, it led to my resignation as well,” he says.
Similarly, research executive John Lye (not his real name) shares how quiet quitting helped him regain control over his life when extra working hours took a toll on his health. “For months, it was an endless cycle of taking on additional tasks that impacted my ability to complete my actual work. This resulted in more work being brought home daily. And because I was always tired, my productivity was affected,” he says. Eventually, in order to keep going, he began prioritising only his main scope of work to give himself time to rest.
If anything, this demonstrates employees are coming into companies driven and wanting to give their best. There’s usually a period where they have no qualms about charging ahead and putting in the time, effort and hours to help their company succeed. But even fire needs to be fed. When workers aren’t given the support they need to continue performing, they burn out.
Don’t treat the symptom, treat the disease
When I was discussing the phenomenon of quiet quitting with a close friend, she posed a good question. Why are workers choosing to quiet quit, when they can just… quit? Are quiet quitters holding up a spot in a company that another highly-driven person can fill? Some individuals online have even stated they won’t hesitate to fire a quiet quitter to hire from a pool of more enthusiastic workers.
It’s a valid concern. But I’ve realised this question overlooks the main issue. Yes, you can replace a quiet quitter with someone you deem to be more driven and passionate. However, at the end of the day, you’re only treating a symptom of the overarching problem, not the disease itself. That is, your company’s inability to empathise, support and respect the human needs of those who keep your business running.
“At the heart of any employee who’s quiet quitting or underperforming, is something going on at a deeper level that needs to be addressed,” says Chantal Travers, director and owner of Emperor’s Attic. “This goes beyond perks, pay and basic coaching. It speaks to long-term cultural shifts that are needed.”
Think about organisations that experience high turnover rates. Eventually, even the most bright-eyed, bushy-tailed workers will tire when their boundaries are constantly crossed. And you’ll be forced to deal with quiet quitters and unmotivated employees yet again.
“Quiet quitting is a sign that a company needs an introspective overhaul. This is how employees can achieve a sense of loyalty, satisfaction, and accomplishment for long-term success,” adds Aparna Sundar, Konmari consultant at Global Mindful Journey.
Let’s focus on thriving, not surviving
We’re already knee-deep in articles, social media posts, and forums discussing quiet quitting. But where exactly do we go from here? I believe the answer lies in employers recognising that they’re dealing with human beings. People who are struggling with real needs and varying priorities.
“There’s a seemingly simple solution to the elusive goal of creating an environment where everyone feels valued. Clear and open communication, and seeing employees as people first,” says Sorelle Henricus, founder of Executive Writer.
“Companies that are consistently ranked as great places to work all put the wellbeing of their employees first. Studies have shown that while compensation is important, being heard and feeling truly valued outweighs the financial reward for many employees,” she explains.
What does this look like in practice? It can be conducting frequent pulse surveys to stay in tune with employee sentiments; creating safe spaces to talk about concerns; actually addressing areas where workers need support; and establishing mental health policies.
“This is how we create a culture and work environment where employees can thrive. Especially when many have only just survived,” Chantal says.
Yes, dealing with quiet quitting is an onerous task. But it can also be the catalyst to create healthy working environments that everyone deserves to be a part of. Employers, I believe the ball is in your court.