If you’re reading this, you’ve surely heard of “quiet quitting.” So let’s get this out of the way: the name is a misnomer and unrelated to the idea of employees being seditious, quitting, or slacking off. Rather, it refers to employees’ desire to buck burnout, get more recognition for their work and secure greater work-life balance. “Quiet quitting” is a poorly-chosen pseudonym for the prevailing fight against the harmful “hustle culture” philosophy — where employees do extra work without the extra pay or recognition — that’s been pervasive in the business world for decades.
But this story is not about the nuances of why that term is problematic or what the real idea behind it implies. Instead, we will discuss how employers can avoid a work culture where employees are burnt out, disengaged, unhappy, and have to set hard boundaries around their responsibilities.
The insights below are for every team leader — from VPs to first-time managers closest to the ground floor of an organization. Take for example that only 56 percent of employees think their company’s executives care about their well-being, but 91 percent of C-suite leaders think their employees believe they care about it.
Managers, in particular, should pay attention: HBR found that “least effective managers have three to four times as many people who fall in the ‘quiet quitting’ category compared to the most effective leaders.” These managers had 14 percent of their direct reports quietly quitting, and only 20 percent [of the direct reports] were willing to give extra effort.” But since culture is largely driven from the top down, executives should also implement and share these practices to spread healthy philosophies throughout the company.
With these tactics, leaders can not only improve employee engagement but see productivity increases as well.
It’s up to management to remind employees that their well-being comes first and foremost — that their work will always be there and should not come before their health and happiness. Also, reaching career goals is a marathon not a sprint.
43 percent of workers, on average, reported always or often feeling stressed or exhausted at work. Around 89 percent of those who either recently left their job or were planning to said they felt burnt out and unsupported. For employees that feel burnt out but don’t choose to leave, additional consequences follow:
In the same vein, not everyone has a desire to climb the corporate ladder. Career ambitions differ from person to person, and some are happy being individual contributors instead of managers.
Any desire a manager might have to give an employee additional responsibility should be preempted with a conversation to confirm the employee’s goals and an openness to the additional workload. During the conversation, make an effort to gauge how the employee feels without making assumptions. If your vision for their future career path differs, respect that. Never should anyone be guilted or forced into a leadership role. Just as important, no one should be given additional responsibilities if they don’t want them or if they don’t come with a title and pay that aligns with the new responsibilities and scope of the role.
Generally, conversations about advancement go best when managers express a genuine belief in an employee’s capabilities and potential. At the same time, the employee may say, “Thanks, but no thanks,” and that needs to be understood and accepted.
Unfortunately, many employees express their concerns to managers but those challenges are not fixed or worse, outright ignored. When this happens, team members see their manager as apathetic or oblivious to their needs. The result is the employee taking action by essentially taking no action and losing faith in the managers that are supposed to support them.
A solid remedy to these conditions is actively listening to your employees to validate their experiences and feelings to prevent them from checking out. Consider these stats:
To avoid your organization’s workers falling into these types of statistics, survey them anonymously. Regularly assess their thoughts on the culture, burnout and their perspective on their manager’s assistance (or lack thereof) that can contribute to quiet quitting.
Another common concern that leads to quiet quitting is that employees end up doing a lot more work than they were first hired to do. Indeed, many jobs often involve the occasional project beyond the responsibilities outlined in the initial job description, especially in startups or quickly growing businesses. But when the evolution happens too soon after a new hire starts, it can be very surprising and unsettling.
Don’t unintentionally pull a bait and switch on your employees. Be transparent about the potential for growth of the position during the interview stage or as soon as you know things might shift after a new hire is onboarded. Ensure you communicate the timeline for the change and make an effort to keep increased workloads temporary. The sooner you speak up the better. In cases where the increase is long-term, a pay increase should be considered, which we discuss in more detail in the next section.
If a role’s responsibilities change significantly, that change should be communicated to the employee as part of a promotion. When it comes to employees’ frustrations regarding pay, the real source of the issue is that workers feel inadequately compensated for the amount of work they do. In return, employees reduce their effort to better align with what they feel is fair. In many instances, these workers have asked for more pay to only be ignored. Or a promotion is always “promised” but never materializes. They may also remain silent about wanting more money because they think the employer will deny them.
Money aside, the heart of this issue is a lack of employee appreciation and respect. When not being adequately acknowledged and rewarded for their work (and sometimes overwork,) employees think the employer doesn’t accurately value their effort and sacrifice.
An equitable exchange of compensation for labor is an integral aspect of maintaining employee-employer trust. In cases of extraordinary results, compensation should be boosted to align with the extra effort. Part of building more trust also means keeping pay rates and total compensation packages aligned with market rates and current cost of living standards. Though we generally think of compensation (and how it’s used as a motivator) in monetary terms, it can also come through competitive benefits, flexibility and recognition.
Poor work-life balance and employers and coworkers disregarding work and private life boundaries have prompted the quiet-quitting era. When managers or coworkers call or email after hours expecting a response and interrupt vacations it’s intrusive at best. It’s also highly frustrating when managers reject paid time off (PTO) requests. When this type of repeated overstepping occurs, it leads to frustration and quiet quitting.
When the perception is that the company won’t respect and protect the employees’ personal time, they resort to the extreme end of the spectrum and enforce the boundaries they need on their own. Advocating for an employee’s right to personal time can significantly prevent quiet quitting. A few strategies to consider to prevent this:
Employee engagement is partly dependent upon recognition for contributions. When employees appreciate the value of going the extra mile, they are more likely to remain engaged. Communicate with and show employees the impact their work has on others, including their colleagues, the community, the company’s success and the greater good in general.
You can also give employees the tools and power to recognize each other for their impactful work. This approach is beneficial given that managers can’t be everywhere all the time and may miss some of their teams’ noteworthy efforts. Putting more recognition in employees’ hands can boost engagement even without manager input.
“Good recognition staves off burnout,” said Gallup Global Practice Leader Ed O’Boyle, when he spoke at WorkHuman Live 2022. “Lack of recognition kindles it.” When employees are recognized for their work, they’re four times as likely to be actively engaged at work and five times as likely to feel connected to their workplace culture.
HBR analyzed data from more than 113,000 leaders to find the top behavior that helps effective leaders balance employees’ productivity with their well-being. Trust was the top behavior that lent itself to high productivity and low quiet quitting. They found that trust linked to three key features:
Employees have the right to “quit quietly.” But even in these instances, the goal is to build a transparent work culture where they don’t feel afraid to have those conversations with their employer when they feel disengaged or ready to leave. It’s vital to create change from the top down and bottom up to build an anti-quiet-quitting workplace.
Quit quitting is largely a symptom of company culture and management practices that need to be improved. There’s a lot that leaders — from first-time managers to seasoned executives — can do to build a culture and best practices that encourage employees not to build steel walls around themselves. The strategies listed here are not groundbreaking or revolutionary — they’re simply ways to build a culture where employees are more engaged, happier and excited to go the extra mile rather than refusing to do so.