Blog Post

Quiet quitting is not the problem

The phrase “quiet quitting” has really struck a nerve.

Ever since its arrival via a TikTok video, people can’t seem to stop talking about it. It’s even given birth to some spinoff terms like “quiet firing.”

The reactions to quiet quitting vary widely.

The most common I’ve encountered range from an eye roll to “that’s nothing new, we just used to call it mailing it in.” This is usually accompanied by some disparaging comment about the younger generation’s work ethic.

And then there’s the response from the cynical human resources professional who simply says, “We already have a name for this. It’s called disengagement.”

The thing these responses have in common is that they all miss the point. Quiet quitting isn’t some sort of generational moment where Gen Z is trying to rebrand some experience and claim it as their own.

It’s a cry for help.

Work isn’t working for an awful lot of people. This isn’t new. What’s new is that these employees, like the one who posted the original video, are brave enough to talk openly about what’s happening and share it with others (often on social media).

I think what’s really happening is that they are sending up a flare hoping that someone with the power to change things might see it and do something to help.

We all need to pay closer attention to this conversation.

What does quiet quitting mean?

For those of you thinking, “It’s neither quiet nor quitting,” let’s dive into what quiet quitting means to those who are doing it.

Quiet

The quiet part of this discussion certainly feels ironic given that the term became popular thanks to a viral TikTok video.

When you look more closely, the quiet in “quiet quitting” doesn’t mean that we’re not going to talk about it. Quite the contrary. It’s going to be talked about, just not to those at work who have the power to do something about it.

For a variety of reasons, these employees have lost faith that anyone at work cares about their struggle. Or worse, they don’t feel safe even to raise the issues for fear of backlash or losing their jobs.

Quitting

Why do they call it quitting?

In many cases, these employees feel overworked and under-appreciated. They don’t have clear boundaries between work and non-work time and are on the brink of burnout.

They are rejecting what they perceive as “hustle culture” to try to find more balance and reclaim more personal time.

More tangibly, they are saying they plan to do just enough work to keep their job. In other words, they intend to find the line where their performance is just enough to meet minimum expectations.

Unfortunately, they have come to believe that simply showing up to work and meeting your minimum expectations is equivalent to quitting.

This should feel like a reality check as you read it.

The antidote to quiet quitting

Now to the bigger question, what can we do about quiet quitting?

One thing that nearly everyone agrees upon is this: quiet quitting isn’t a new phenomenon.

It's just the newest label given to what we in HR call “disengagement.” What makes this time different is the amplification of the employee’s concerns by social and other media.

It’s not just being talked about in meetings at work. It’s being talked about everywhere.

It feels more urgent today than ever to take meaningful action to re-engage these employees. And the key to doing so boils down to one word: Clarity.

In both the short and long run, creating greater clarity with your employee about what is expected and what they should expect from their experience of work is vital if you want them to re-engage and stick around.

There are two significant ways you can begin creating more clarity for employees starting now.

1) Make sure employees have crystal clear performance expectations

When leaders do an adequate job of setting performance expectations and managing to those expectations, quiet quitting is not an issue.

Having people on your team who choose only to meet minimum expectations isn’t a problem if those expectations are properly communicated and managed. The idea of minimum expectations only exists in an environment where there is a lack of clarity.

Everywhere else, they are just “expectations.”

Put another way, if your employee is guessing about how much they can get away without doing and still keep their job, that’s a failure of management. This lack of clarity about what’s expected is a primary cause of quiet quitting.

2) Create greater clarity about what the employee can and should expect from their overall experience

Uncertainty is the enemy of employee engagement. This is thanks to our human nature. When we are uncertain or don’t know what’s going on in any area of our lives, we make up our own stories. And in those stories, we tend to assume the worst.

We all do it. For example, where did your mind go the last time you received an email from your boss that simply said “We need to talk before the end of the day today”?

If you are like most of us, your first thought was, “What did I do?” I’m guessing you didn’t assume it was good news.

Creating an engaging employee experience requires creating clarity throughout. It means ensuring employees have clear answers to important questions like:

  • Am I valued for my contributions?
  • What career development options exist for me?
  • Am I paid fairly?
  • Who can I count on for support?
  • Am I making progress in my role and career?
  • Does my manager really care about me?

Without clarity, any one of these questions can lead an employee down a path towards quiet quitting (or worse, for-real quitting).

Clarity is the antidote

The key to getting your quiet quitters to quietly (or not so quietly) re-engage boils down to clarity.

While clarity isn’t often easy or quick to achieve, it is always important. If you care about cultivating a more positive and engaging relationship with your employees, investing in the skills and tools required to make it happen is a necessity.

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