Key takeaways

  • Quiet quitting is when employees disengage from work by performing only the duties outlined in their job descriptions and nothing more.
  • Disengaged employees can decrease company productivity and profits; Gallup reports low engagement costs the global economy $8.8 trillion.
  • You can minimize the number of employees quietly quitting by examining your company culture, respecting employee boundaries, providing transparent expectations, and investing in employee growth.

Dec. 21, 2023: Jessica Dennis updated the layout to current standards, added key takeaways, linked to relevant pages, explained the difference between the different “quiet” terms in HR, and added images for context.

What is quiet quitting?

Quiet quitting is a new name for a longstanding problem in an evolving work landscape. It has nothing to do with actually quitting. Rather, it describes when an employee does exactly what their job description states without taking on extra tasks. Some of these above-and-beyond actions might include:

The term quiet quitting entered our vocabulary in 2022, but you’ve likely experienced employees doing only the bare minimum in their roles long before. Some of the signs of employees quietly quitting mirror those of employees experiencing burnout, such as diminishing performance and work enthusiasm.

Although it may seem easier to ignore the signs, failing to address quiet quitting can have long-term consequences, such as negative company culture, lower retention, higher turnover, and increased costs for recruitment and training.

In fact, Gallup’s 2023 State of the Global Workplace indicates that nearly six in every 10 employees are quietly quitting, costing the world’s economy $8.8 trillion. Tackling the causes of workplace quiet quitting helps your company’s bottom line and demonstrates to employees your commitment to their wellbeing through healthy work expectations.

What’s with all the “quiet” terms?

Quiet quitting is just one term in an increasingly long list of “quiet” concepts in human resources (HR) and business. Most entered our vocabulary following the rise of quiet quitting. To understand the various concepts, check out our list below.

Quiet firing describes when an employee is continuously and unfairly passed up for an earned promotion or raise that aligns with their contribution to the company.

Quiet hiring is when employers hire contract workers or upskill current employees to fill key positions or projects rather than hire employees externally.

Quiet cutting is when employers reassign employees to different positions — often ones with undesirable compensation, titles, or duties — rather than lay them off or fire them. The goal is to cause reassigned employees to quit so companies will save on costs associated with severance pay or unemployment claims.

A word of caution: the quiet-cutting strategy can damage your brand and reputation. It can even lead to workplace retaliation claims and cost you more in future legal fees.

Quiet ambition is when employees choose not to follow traditional growth expectations for their roles. Instead, they work to achieve their version of professional success, such as maintaining a healthy work-life balance or working only to save enough money to start their own business.

How managers can address quiet quitting

Quiet quitting holds lasting, relevant implications for manager-employee relationships. Quiet quitting invites managers to examine the company culture, have honest conversations with their employees about job expectations, respect employee boundaries, and provide room for employee growth.

1. Examine company culture

Company culture is a north star for employees’ attitude toward work. In fact, a 2022 SHRM study found that 60% of HR professionals attribute quiet quitting to company culture. Company leadership should examine several areas that affect employee morale, including company values, rewards and recognition, and management styles.

Company leadership should be clear and consistent with how they articulate company values and make those values apparent at every stage of recruiting, onboarding, and talent management.

Executives, managers, and HR should also assess the ways they recognize, promote, and evaluate employees to ensure a more equitable workplace. It’s unfair to assume or expect that an employee will go above and beyond their job responsibilities. Managers should celebrate employees who do exactly what their job asks of them and do it well consistently. 

Employee engagement tools, such as Assembly, include ways to give employees praise for what they do. 

Assembly displays a recognition newsfeed with an employee named Jessica receiving praise from The Assembly Team for signing up.
Assembly offers a recognition workflow that allows employees to praise and award trophies to their peers, increasing morale and camaraderie. Source: TechnologyAdvice

2. Respect employee boundaries

Employees also value work-life balance now more than ever. So, it’s no wonder that employees — whether burnt out, enforcing their boundaries, or both — are sticking to the tasks in their job description to stay happy and healthy.

Despite this, hiring crises in certain sectors mean staff are often stretched thin. Employees are frequently asked to do more with fewer resources or perform work-related activities outside of normal work hours. 

As a result, employees are experiencing burnout at a higher rate than pre-pandemic times. In fact, a McKinsey Health Institute report states that 28% of U.S. employees are experiencing burnout. 

Analytics can reveal inequities among team members in terms of workload and time and help prevent employee burnout. Project management software tools, for instance, indicate which tasks are assigned to whom and how much time each task takes to complete.

In addition, most software and apps include notification and timezone visibility settings to ensure employees don’t receive messages outside of regular business hours. Even with these settings, it never hurts to remind employees to respect each other’s time by refraining from sending emails or messages late at night.

3. Have honest conversations about job expectations

A solid understanding of job expectations — on both the employee’s and the manager’s end — goes a long way in assessing how an employee is performing, be it over, under, or at the expected level.   

A manager should converse openly with employees who consistently underperform against their job requirements. The goal of these conversations should be a better understanding of what resources or support employees need to succeed at their job.

Forms of support might include extended leave, flexible work hours, training, or a role switch within the company. Analytics dashboards in performance management software can tip off managers to an employee that may need some assistance.

In the opposite scenario, if the employee consistently does more than what is asked of them, and they do it well, there are a number of things the manager could do besides praising them for their hustle:

  • Adjust the employee’s title and pay to fit the range of duties they perform.
  • Delegate the over-and-above tasks to the appropriate staff.
  • Outsource those tasks to freelancers or contract workers.

Employee engagement software helps facilitate honest conversations between managers and their employees. For example, Leapsome enables managers to regularly schedule one-on-one meetings with direct reports to foster consistent feedback cadences.

Leapsome displays a create a new meeting pop-up window with fields to title the meeting, select a meeting frequency, and sync it to your Google or Outlook calendars.
With Leapsome, you can schedule and sync meetings with your Google or Outlook calendars for easy access.

4. Provide room for employee growth

Regardless of how an employee is performing, managers should prioritize short-term performance discussions in addition to regular check-ins with their employees. These meetings are a chance to discuss employees’ goals and identify opportunities for growth. 

In fact, growth opportunity factors into employee satisfaction and can help reduce turnover. A 2021 report reveals that 45% of employees are more likely to stay with employers that offer professional development opportunities. 

Charting out career pathways for employees can make the promotion process more transparent and equitable. Career pathways should contain specific goals an employee can work toward if they want to move up in the company.

Performance management software such as Workday’s talent and performance management product helps managers and employees establish baseline metrics for performance and removes a lot of bias from promotion and raise decisions.

Check out our video overview of Workday below.

Replace fear and assumptions with trust and transparency

As many employees continue to work remotely in a distributed workforce, it’s easy to wonder what employees are really up to during the workday. Quiet quitting, which is a scary way of saying someone is setting firm boundaries with their work, has become the new scapegoat for managers who already grapple with remote and hybrid work structures.

However, it’s important for managers to shape a company culture that prevents quiet quitting from becoming an issue to begin with — one that respects employee boundaries, promotes honesty, and provides room for equitable growth. 

Managers should utilize a variety of HR software that help support a healthy, engaging company culture. These include employee engagement software, performance management software, and project management software.

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