Working in HR, you will have likely heard of ‘quiet quitting’ over the last few months. 

The term describes when an employee mentally and emotionally checks out from their job, doing the bare minimum to get by whilst not actively contributing or going above and beyond. 

Quiet quitting as a phrase became popular thanks to social media, with trending videos on TikTok gaining prominence for the idea with many, often Gen Z and millennial, workers aligning with the idea. 

But what is quiet quitting, how big is the problem, and what can organisations do about it? 

What is quiet quitting?

Quiet quitting encompasses a range of behaviours that correlate with disengagement. That is, when an employee feels like they’re no longer valued, feel burnt out from prolonged periods of heavy workloads, or are generally unhappy with their job and terms, they begin to dial down their efforts and mentally check out. 

Those either actively or passively choosing to ‘quiet quit’ may do so because of a lack of career growth, poor pay or feeling burnt out. And the pandemic has caused a major shift in how many employees want to position work in their lives, with many reconsidering what matters most to them and how they wish to spend their time. The Great Resignation was one of the results of this recalibration, and perhaps quiet quitting is another. 

Is quiet quitting new?

Whilst the term itself has only this year gained popularity, the behaviours that contribute to quiet quitting are nothing new. 

Employee engagement data from Gallup shows that levels of engagement within the US workforce have dropped for the first time in a decade, with a decline starting late last year after the turmoil of the pandemic on the world of work. Pre-pandemic, the percentage of US workers self-reporting as engaged in their work was 36%, dropping to 32% this year. Those actively disengaged (the most harmful cohort in any organisation) rose from 14% to 17% over the same period. 

Gallup shows that healthcare workers, and those working remotely the majority of the time, saw the sharpest falls in engagement levels, with key reasons why including a lack of clear expectations, the right equipment, opportunities to do their best work and no shared mission or connected purpose with their organisation. 

The rise of quiet quitting and fall in employee engagement are likely intertwined. Whilst the levels of disengaged and actively disengaged workers has risen, these quiet quitters have been around for many years. Perhaps now we simply have a more user-friendly term to describe the phenomena. 

Why quiet quitting matters

Quiet quitting matters to HR, organisations and entire economies because the behaviours associated with it are detrimental to productivity, growth and profitable success. 

Workers who are checked out and coasting aren’t contributing as much as they could. Research also tells us that disengaged workforces are more likely to experience worse health, see lower customer satisfaction levels and even increased occurrences of accidents in the workplace. 

Engaging employees before they begin to quietly quit 

Employee engagement is a key metric of success for both HR departments and organisations as a whole. Businesses with high levels of staff engagement see higher productivity, better problem solving, more collaboration and loftier profit margins. Conversely, firms with lower levels of staff engagement will see productivity falter, churn rates increase and morale drop too. 

This is not new information for HR and people leaders, and the same approaches to tackling disengagement will likely be effective at stopping productive workers becoming quiet quitters:

  • Ensure employees know what their responsibilities are, and how they contribute to the wider purpose and mission of the organisation 
  • Recognise and reward great contributions
  • Invest in honest and effective internal communications 
  • Create the right conditions for great work to take place
  • Adopt the right technologies, platforms and equipment 
  • Pay a fair wage 
  • Focus on training, development and career progression 
  • Survey your employees regularly, and listen to their feedback, suggestions and concerns 
  • Invest in the physical, mental and financial wellbeing of your people 

Improving the situation 

There is no magic bullet to improving employee engagement, or indeed stemming the flow of quiet quitters. This is why the onus on HR departments over the last two decades has continued to grow, and HR now regularly takes a seat at the top table. 

Engaged teams thrive and contribute. Disengaged employees, including those who are quietly quitting, do not. 

Whilst the areas that contribute towards an engaged workforce are wide-ranging, key themes including staff wellbeing have grown in importance – especially since the pandemic. 

At Phase 3, we’ve created a free guide to improving staff wellbeing and retention, with advice on how to reduce burnout and develop a healthy approach to flexible and hybrid working. 

Download your copy right here