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Employee Engagement

What Is Quiet Quitting And What Does It Mean For Businesses?

Written by
Charlotte McIntyre

A new phenomenon has burst on to the work scene in recent months – or should we say been quietly ushered in?

Enter: Quiet Quitting.

What is Quiet Quitting?

Quiet quitting is when an employee actively makes the decision to stop going above and beyond what is written in their job description. They don’t actually quit their jobs; rather, they reject the longstanding notion that work is the be all and end all of a person’s existence.

It appears that Gen Z are increasingly concerned with achieving balance between work and personal life, which has led to a ‘trend’ of quiet quitting. It’s certainly nothing new, but thanks to a recent TikTok video, quiet quitting is gaining attention, and it signals to employers that our view of work is changing and will continue to do so.

Having gained over 400K likes on the platform, the video from user zaidleppelin depicts a young man sitting in a subway station with a voice-over explaining the concept: “You are still performing your duties but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life.”

Quiet quitting, at its core, is about setting boundaries for yourself in work and enforcing them. It refutes the notion that a person should burn themselves out in the name of work. Which doesn’t sound too unreasonable, right? After all, we were born to do more than just work. In fact, it’s vitally important that we do more than just work in order to feel fulfilled and continue giving our best.

Quiet Quitting And Employee Engagement – The Impact

Employee engagement is a big concern for employers the world over. Since the pandemic, attitudes towards work, and work-life balance, have changed drastically, which is hardly surprising given the huge impact of COVID-19. This is compounded by a generation of individuals who aren’t backwards in coming forwards about their needs, wants and expectations of an employer. And, like fire, it’s catching.

This shift in the way we want to work, and the way we view work, has been reflected in the working practices of some of the biggest organisations across the globe – particularly big tech.

In February 2021, Spotify announced a new work model called “Work From Anywhere”. In short, the policy gave employees the autonomy to decide where they worked and enabled them to choose where they wanted to live globally. Eighteen months later, the company further announced that it experienced lower turnover compared to pre-pandemic levels and increased diverse representation.

But location flexibility is only part of the equation when it comes to employee engagement, retention, DEI and productivity, as clearly demonstrated by the phenomenon of quiet quitting.

A quick look into the comments of the aforementioned TikTok video sheds further light on the subject:

“I quiet quit 6 months ago and guess what, same pay, same recognition, same everything but less stress.” writes one user.

“I quiet quit my job this year and it reduced the stress I got from work significantly.” says another.

“Started doing this when I had kids. They gave me a sharp focus that myself, my family and friends are my life, not my job.”

Sure, location flexibility is great. After all, it’s been talking point for employees and employers since 2020, particularly as we thrashed out working from home amidst lockdowns and uncertainty.

But it’s clear that the workforce of today, of here and now, have very different expectations of work now. And what motivates them isn’t necessarily having the opportunity to work from home but more flexibility, regular recognition, less stress, better pay, and improved work-life balance.

Is Quiet Quitting A Bad Thing?

That’s the big question.

A quick look at initial reactions to the quiet quitting trend show a pretty mixed bag.

From an employee perspective, the notion of ‘quiet quitting’ isn’t quite as extreme as it sounds. It’s merely about setting boundaries and sticking to them.

From an employer’s perspective, the notion of ‘quiet quitting’ suggests employees are doing the ‘bare minimum,’ which could be read as ‘underperforming’. Naturally this would be a key concern for businesses.

But if an employee doesn’t take the initiative to go above and beyond, are they doing a bad job? Or are they just doing their job as it outlined in their job description? The job they are getting paid to do? Is it fair to suggest they do more without proper renumeration or promotion?

Perhaps the problem isn’t quiet quitting (read: setting healthy work-life boundaries) at all. Perhaps the problem is that quite a lot of people who are quiet quitting are also disengaging from their work, which has much wider reaching implications.

Reframing Quiet Quitting

As mentioned, quiet quitting isn’t a new thing. It’s just another way of saying ‘work-to-rule‘ which is when employees do no more than the minimum required by their contract, and precisely follow all safety or other regulations.

The perceived problem with this (for businesses) is that if employees no longer go above and beyond (i.e. working through their breaks or out of hours), then productivity decreases. And when productivity decreases, it’s not great for business.

But what’s the trade off?

Workplace burnout is becoming increasingly common, and it’s caused by:

  • Lack of control, autonomy or flexibility
  • Unclear or unrealistic expectations
  • Lack of support
  • Work-life imbalance
  • Heavy workloads

The mental and physical toll of burnout on employees can be devastating, leading to fatigue, insomnia, alcohol or substance misuse, a weakened immune system, heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, according to Mayo Clinic.

Burnout also ends in employees having no choice but to take time off work, which impacts productivity significantly.

The issue is that for too long it’s been an expectation of employers that employees will go above and beyond as standard. With the benchmark set so high, it invariably leads to those contributing factors mentioned above: unrealistic expectations, unmanageable workloads, long hours, unclear expectations, etc.

Using carrot and stick methods of motivation rather than intrinsic has led the employer-employee relationship to be primarily transactional. And somewhere along the way, the balance got skewed. Employers started to take more and more and more, and employees had no choice but to give in response. Which leads us where we are today.

Maybe there’s another way forward, in which we learn from quiet quitting and use those principles to guide the way we support employees to do their best work?

Where Do We Go From Here?

So what next? How do we balance what employees want with the needs of our business goals? How to we change the narrative from panic around quiet quitting to encouraging employees to uphold their boundaries while still feeling engaged in their work?

Embrace A People-First Culture

First up, there needs to be a mindset and culture shift at a foundational level.

This shift should move away from seeing employees as a resource to a people-first stance.

By that we mean embracing a philosophy that values people over profit. Which may seem scary at first, but when you realise that valuing employees as individuals, rather than resources, results in better productivity, more innovation and more profit, it’s clear that it works.

People-first organisations are empathetic and welcoming. They champion accountability and transparency. They encourage authenticity and have a clear set of company core values which are lived and breathed from the top down. They show appreciation and frequently recognise good work. They offer opportunities to learn, develop and progress. They safeguard an employees right to disconnect and value work-life balance. They hire based on culture fit, as well as talent, experience and qualifications. They appreciate the different perspectives that their diverse workforce brings to the table.

Offer True Flexibility 

It’s probably fair to say that the reason many employers are struggling with hybrid work models and the notion of ‘returning to the office’ is due to a tug of war between what businesses think they need to be successful and what employees want.

This disconnect results in friction. Employers feel they have to take a hard line to preserve the success of the business. While employees feel disregarded and unheard in their wants and needs.

Truth is, there’s no one size fits all when it comes to flexible working. That being said, we can still recognise the nuances that exist and create working models that go a fair way to meeting employees where they are.

True flexible working covers two components: schedule flexibility and location flexibility.

Location flexibility is all about where employees work, whether that’s at home, in the office, on-site, in co-working spaces or elsewhere.

Schedule flexibility is all about when employees work.

Flexibility in the truest sense covers both. But achieving it requires listening to what employees want, looking at the data, and aligning with business goals.

While some employees may be unable to work remotely due to the requirements of their role, it is still possible to offer them flexibility that meets their needs. It’s just a case of listening, strategising and executing.

Invest In A Digital-First Workplace 

A digital first workplace means moving away from the office centric ways of working which dominated the workplace until 2020. But that’s not all.

Digital-first workplaces aren’t just centered around where someone works but when and how. This requires employers to go beyond policies that stipulate how many days per week people can work from home and the office.

Instead, there must be a shift in operations, where in-person communication supplements digital to enable true flexibility, improved connectivity and, ultimately inclusivity.

This requires organisations to leverage digital tools, such as productivity, collaboration, employee experience and communication tools, that allow freedom of when and where people work. Rather than pouring resources into office buildings and desk plans, significant investment should be put into the digital infrastructure that supports productivity and collaboration.

A digital-first workplace includes robust policies, tools, processes, and infrastructure that enables flexibility within clear boundaries, rather than unstructured chaos.

Champion Work-Life Balance

The right to disconnect remains a hot topic in 2022. This notion, which as been recently enshrined in law in a number of countries, empowers employees to ‘switch off’ outside of their normal working hours.

Fundamentally, this comes down to work-life balance, which isn’t necessarily a clean 50/50 split between work and leisure but more about ensuring employees feel fulfilled and content in all areas of their life.

Employees need the support of their colleagues and leadership teams to defend their right to disconnect and strike a fulfilling work-life balance, work-life fit, work-life blend, work-life harmony, etc.

This can be achieved through:

  • Flexible and remote working opportunities
  • Focusing on productivity and performance over time
  • Encouraging regular breaks
  • Better task management
  • Leading by example
  • Encouraging employees to take regular annual leave
  • Providing support in relation to wellbeing, mental health, finances, child-care, etc.
  • Offering an EAP and/or health cash plan
  • Having clear communication policies and processes
  • Enabling asynchronous work and communication

This list is by no means exhaustive. Every employee is different, therefore their needs when it comes to work-life balance will be different too.

The point is, however, that the notion of quiet quitting revolves around employees not feeling like they have sufficient work-life balance. When this happens, they are more likely to ‘check out’ or disengage because they aren’t getting what they need from their employer.

Conclusion

Understandably, the idea of your workforce quietly ‘quitting’ is quite alarming. Employee engagement is a core challenge for HR and People Teams the world over. And quiet quitting is a direct result of low engagement.

The answer here isn’t punitive action, hardline approaches, micromanagement, or increased employee monitoring. Instead, a people-first approach is key to re-engaging employees in such a way that they are empowered to uphold their boundaries, strike a healthy work-life balance for them, and work flexibly – within a framework that upholds the core goals and vision of the business..

Here at Huler, we are passionate about a people-first approach to the workplace and we believe it starts with the employee experience. Everything your people feel, see, experience, and encounter throughout the employee journey (from recruitment through to exit) influences how they feel about work, their job and ultimately their performance.

Building personalised employee experiences that meet the needs of your workforce is a sure-fire way to increase engagement. That’s why we created HulerHub, the personalised employee experience platform that supports HR, People and Internal Communications teams to create engaging end to end employee journeys that meet employees where they are.

To learn more, book a demo of HulerHub and see it in action.

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