Dealing with Quiet Quitting: Tips for Employers

John, known for his commitment and high performance at work, began showing signs of disengagement. Initially an active participant in team meetings and a volunteer for extra projects, he gradually limited himself to the bare minimum required by his job.

This change wasn’t about laziness or a sudden lack of skill; it was a textbook case of “quiet quitting,” a phenomenon where employees disengage from going above and beyond, settling instead for doing just enough to meet their job descriptions. 

John’s story is not unique to any specific workplace but is a reflection of a broader issue in workplaces across various industries. The prevalence of quiet quitting is alarmingly high, with nearly six in 10 employees fitting into this category, according to the “State of the Global Workplace: 2023 Report” by Gallup. 

Recognising the signs of quiet quitting early can help managers address the issue before it impacts team morale and productivity.

Identifying Quiet Quitting: Key Signals

Here are the top 10 signals to watch for:

  1. Decreased Engagement in Meetings: Employees who once actively participated in discussions and offered ideas but now remain silent or disinterested during meetings may be showing signs of quiet quitting.
  2. Lack of Initiative: A noticeable drop in volunteering for new projects or stepping forward to take on additional responsibilities can indicate an employee’s disengagement from their work.
  3. Minimal Effort: Doing just enough to meet the basic requirements of their job, without the quality or care they used to show, can be a sign of quiet quitting.
  4. Reduced Collaboration: Employees who previously collaborated well with others but now seem to work in isolation or avoid teamwork may be quietly quitting.
  5. Avoidance of Extra Work: A clear reluctance to work beyond their contracted hours or take on tasks outside their job description, even when such efforts were common before.
  6. Change in Attitude: A shift from a positive and proactive attitude to a more negative or indifferent outlook on work tasks and company goals.
  7. Lack of Enthusiasm for Company Vision: Showing disinterest in the company’s future, its mission, or any changes in strategic direction, which they might have been excited about before.
  8. Withdrawal from Social Interactions: Quieter than usual, withdrawing from informal social interactions at work, or skipping company events they would typically attend.
  9. Ignoring Professional Development: A sudden disinterest in training opportunities, skill development, or career advancement discussions that they previously pursued.
  10. Increased Absenteeism: Taking more time off than usual, whether it’s arriving late, leaving early, or utilizing sick days more frequently without a clear reason.

But quiet quitting doesn’t often occur without a reason. Understanding the root causes can help managers and organisations address the issue effectively.

Why Quiet Quitting Happens

Here are some common reasons why employees might start quietly quitting:

1. Personal Preference

Not everyone aims to be at the top of their career ladder; some may prioritise a fair wage and a balanced life over career advancement. Personal circumstances, such as family needs or health issues, can also shift an employee’s priorities, leading them to scale back to work.

A significant number of workers prioritise work-life balance over career advancement, with 94% of employees deeming it important and 61% unwilling to accept a job that disrupts their work-life equilibrium. Notably, 56% of individuals wouldn’t trade their work-life balance for any amount of money. 

2. Poor Management Practices:

Ineffective communication, lack of support, and micromanagement can erode trust and satisfaction, prompting employees to minimise their engagement with their work.

Research shows that managers with the least effectiveness have three to four times more employees engaging in “quiet quitting” than the most effective leaders. Specifically, 14% of their team members were disengaged, and only 20% showed a willingness to go above and beyond. In contrast, the most effective leaders, known for balancing results and relationships well, had 62% of their direct reports eager to put in extra effort, with a mere 3% quietly quitting.

“Quiet quitting is usually less about an employee’s willingness to work harder and more creatively, and more about a manager’s ability to build a relationship with their employees where they are not counting the minutes until quitting time,” writes Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman in HBR.  

3. Lack of Recognition and Reward

When employees feel their efforts go unnoticed or unrewarded, their motivation to go above and beyond can significantly decrease. 

Research shows that only 11% of employees receive weekly recognition from their bosses. This is a huge growth opportunity because engaged employees are found to be 22% more productive and 21% more profitable than their disengaged counterparts.

4. Insufficient Work-Life Balance

Excessive workloads or expectations to work beyond standard hours without proper balance can lead to burnout. A significant portion of workers are experiencing burnout, with reports indicating that 52% of all workers feel burned out, an increase from pre-COVID levels.

Employees may start doing the minimum required to preserve their personal time and health.

5. Limited Growth Opportunities:

A perceived lack of career progression or professional development opportunities can make employees feel stuck and uninspired, leading them to withdraw their extra effort.

In a survey, an overwhelming 76% of workers indicated they might leave their jobs due to insufficient career advancement opportunities. This feeling is especially prevalent among younger employees, with 37% of Gen Z and 25% of Millennials actively searching for positions with clear paths for growth, which is higher compared to older generations.

6. Feeling Undervalued

If employees believe their compensation does not reflect their contribution or market value, they may reduce their effort level to what they perceive as fair for the pay they receive.

Research has highlighted that feeling fairly compensated is more influential on employee engagement than even the actual amount paid.

7. Mismatch Between Job Expectations and Reality

A significant discrepancy between what employees were promised during the hiring process and their actual job can lead to disillusionment and a withdrawal of effort.

A Glassdoor survey revealed that 61% of employees found some aspects of their new jobs to be different from what they had anticipated, highlighting how widespread this issue is.

It’s essential for organisations to deliver on the promises made to employees about what to expect from company culture as well, as a failure to do so leads to disengagement and quiet quitting.

8. Lack of Autonomy

Overly rigid structures or lack of decision-making power can stifle creativity and initiative, leading employees to disengage from taking extra steps.

​​Lack of autonomy can lead to decreased job satisfaction, reduced engagement, increased stress, limited creativity, higher turnover, impaired decision-making skills, and lower productivity​, according to Gretchen Spreitzer from the University of Michigan who studied 20 years of workplace empowerment research.

9. Toxic Work Environment

A workplace that harbours a culture of negativity, discrimination, or lack of teamwork can drive employees to disengage and protect their well-being by quiet quitting.

According to recent findings from the American Psychological Association’s 2023 Work in America Survey, nearly 20% of employees have faced toxic work conditions, which can include anything from failure to act on employee feedback to ignoring work-life balance and treating employees inconsistently or unfairly. 

10. Burnout

Chronic stress and overwork without adequate recovery time can lead to burnout, where employees reduce their engagement to cope with exhaustion.

As we navigate the evolving workplace landscape, the surge in “quiet quitting” prompts a crucial examination: Is this phenomenon a novel response to current work dynamics, or the resurgence of an age-old trend under a new guise?

Why it’s becoming popular right now

This concept is not new; workers have long navigated periods of disconnect or disenchantment with their roles, opting to limit their investment in work to what is strictly required. 

Today, the digital age has made workplace issues more visible and given employees a bigger platform to share their experiences through social media and online forums. This has led to more conversations about work-life balance, mental health, and job satisfaction.

1. Reassessment of Work-Life Balance after COVID-19: 

The global health crisis prompted a widespread reassessment of priorities, with many valuing personal well-being and family time over career advancement. 

A survey from Ipsos found that at least 20% of Americans reevaluated their work-life balance as a result of the pandemic, indicating a significant shift in priorities towards personal well-being.

2. Generational Shift with Gen Z

Gen Z’s entrance into the workforce has brought a fresh perspective on employment, characterised by a strong preference for meaningful work, mental health, and a balanced lifestyle. 

Gen Z’s approach challenges traditional work models and contributes significantly to the rise of quiet quitting, as they seek to align their jobs with their broader life goals and values.

Gallup reports that remote workers, particularly Gen Z and millennials under 35, show higher levels of disengagement at work. 

It’s a serious issue with substantial costs if not addressed.

The Cost of Ignoring Quiet Quitting

Gallup’s research suggests that the global economic impact of low employee engagement is significant, costing around US$8.8 trillion, which represents 9% of the worldwide GDP.

“Discretionary effort” refers to employees willingly putting in extra work beyond their basic duties. This additional effort can significantly boost an organisation’s productivity. For example, if ten employees each contribute 10% more effort, the collective increase in productivity can be substantial.

Just a minimal investment in employee engagement, by just 10%, can significantly enhance a company’s profitability, up to $2,400 per employee annually​.

Beyond financial costs, quiet quitting can lead to impaired career growth for employees, increased stress for both employees and employers and a general decline in workplace morale and mental health. These effects can jeopardise business goals, profitability, and the overall health of a company’s culture​​.

But you can now use data and technology to spot early signs. 

Leveraging Data and Technology

The use of data, AI and People Analytics platforms enables organizations to identify patterns, trends, and signals that may indicate disengagement or a lack of productivity among employees, allowing for timely interventions. 

“Once someone has their bags packed to leave a company it is hard to get them to change their mind but it’s important to give employers a fighting chance to retain their employees,” says Sathianathan, founder of Interplay, which uses predictive analytics to predict when an employee’s engagement is fading.

Data and technology can pinpoint why employees feel disconnected or show signs they might leave, like missing targets or feeling underpaid. Real-time data lets HR make timely, accurate decisions. 

The challenge is that this data is often spread across different tools. People Analytics platform like Peoplebox helps HR teams with a single source of truth for all People and business data so they can identify red flags before it’s too late and make data-driven decisions confidently.

Building on your ability to detect early signs, here are proactive strategies to address quiet quitting effectively.

Solutions and Strategies 

Gallup calls quiet quitters your “greatest opportunity” for growth and change, because just “a few changes to how they are managed could turn them into productive team members.”

Here are some strategies and solutions from experts to address quiet quitting:

SuggestionDescriptionImpactExpert View
Being transparent and honest about your work cultureClarify if a role demands extra hours beyond the typical workday. Simultaneously, it’s important for candidates to be honest about their expectations.This perspective challenges the stigma around wanting a more balanced approach to work, especially among older generations who may view such attitudes as lacking ambition.This transparency helps manage expectations on both sides, allowing individuals to find jobs that fit their desired work-life balance.
Simon Seek, author of “Start with Why”
Effective managementIn general, most people like their work, with more than 80% saying they enjoy it, according to a 120-country study by the Wellbeing for Planet Earth Foundation and Gallup. But they would like to change the way their manager treats them.
Building a trusting relationship with your reports greatly diminishes the likelihood of them quietly quitting. 
“Leaders must also help their team members manage constant time pressures by prioritizing daily tasks, reducing time spent in meetings, scheduling uninterrupted periods of work, and permitting frequent breaks.”  
Allan Schweyer, Chief Academic Advisor, IRF (Incentive Research Foundation)
Regular one-on-one’s
Have one 15-30 minute meaningful conversation per week with each team member. 
“Managers must learn how to have conversations to help employees reduce disengagement and burnout,” writes Jim Harter.

“Only managers are in a position to know employees as individuals — their life situations, strengths and goals.”
Gallup
Instil a sense of missionCultivate a strong sense of purpose within the team by aligning individual roles with the organisation’s mission and objectives.A strong sense of mission and purpose within an organisation can significantly enhance employee engagement and workplace satisfaction.“They need to feel that what they do makes a difference beyond picking up a paycheck.”
Jason Richmond, Author of “Culture Ignited: 5 Disciplines for Adaptive Leadership.”
Enhancing Work-Life BalanceImplementing policies that support flexible working hours and mental health days.Addresses employee burnout and promotes a healthier work-life balance, key factors in preventing quiet quitting.“True commitment to work-life balance is giving people permission to take other priorities as seriously as their jobs. In burnout cultures, people are expected to drop everything for work. In healthy cultures, people are encouraged to protect time for family, health, and leisure.”
Adam Grant, organisational psychologist
Recognition and Reward ProgramsEstablishing systems to recognise and reward employees for their contributions beyond monetary compensation.Boosts morale and acknowledges the efforts of employees, making them feel appreciated and more engaged.“[Managers] should take time every day to notice when teams and team members’ progress; then recognise and appreciate that effort, and celebrate success together.”
Allan Schweyer, Chief Academic Advisor, IRF (Incentive Research Foundation)
Conducting “Stay Interviews”Proactively meeting with employees to discuss their satisfaction and any potential issues.Unlike exit interviews, which aim to understand why employees leave, stay interviews are aimed at retaining them.“Stay interviews provide employers with an opportunity to address potential issues before an employee decides to leave, fostering a sense of acknowledgement, appreciation, and motivation.” 
Optima Office 
Building a Culture of Inclusivity and RespectDeveloping a workplace culture that values diversity, equity, and inclusion.Creates a sense of belonging and respect among employees, fostering a positive and supportive work environment.“For employees to go above and beyond, we need to design experiences for them that make them do that,” 
Jason Averbook, analyst and CEO/founder of Leapgen
Transparent Career PathingClearly outlining potential career paths within the organisation.Employees are more likely to stay engaged and strive for advancement when they understand how to progress in their careers.“Give employees the opportunity to pursue the development that they choose for themselves.”
William Arruda in Forbes

Conclusion

Addressing quiet quitting requires a proactive approach, leveraging technology and People Analytics to spot early signs of disengagement and catch it in the bud before it spreads into a big problem for organisations. 

Effective management, and providing work-life balance, recognition, and clear career paths can help employees feel heard, valued, and engaged.

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Dealing with Quiet Quitting: Tips for Employers
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