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Quiet Quitting: What Does it Have to Do with Employee Engagement?

  • 7 min read
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By now, you’ve probably heard the term “quiet quitting.” If you’re anything like me, it’s been hard to avoid hearing about quiet quitting over the past month – stories about the workplace trend have been all over LinkedIn, NPR, the Economist, and the Wall Street Journal. There is even a Wikipedia page about it.

If you’re also anything like me, and you had to Google quiet quitting to give some context to the widespread discussions, you learned that quiet quitting isn’t about silently tiptoeing out the back door and resigning without giving notice (which is what I initially thought). Quiet quitting is about remaining employed but only doing the bare minimum to avoid getting fired and nothing more.

The term gained popularity after a TikTok video was posted by user @zaidleppelin in July, where he stated, “I recently learned about this term called quiet quitting, where you’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond. You’re still performing your duties, but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life. The reality is, it’s not, and your worth as a person is not defined by your labor.” The video quickly went viral, with over 3 million views and almost 500,000 likes.

So, is quiet quitting a bad thing? It depends on how you define it.

Many describe the trend as simply burnt-out workers establishing boundaries to protect their mental well-being and spend time on what matters most. Michelle Hay, Global Chief People Officer at Sedgwick, told the Washington Post that quiet quitting “speaks to the tired and frustrated feeling that many are experiencing on the tail end of the pandemic. People are reassessing their priorities, and social disconnection can be part of this shift.”

Others describe quiet quitting as a more rebellious act of sticking it to a bad employer. Workplace thought leader Adam Grant tweeted, “Quiet quitting isn’t laziness. Doing the bare minimum is a common response to bulls**t jobs, abusive bosses, and low pay.” TikTok user @rod posted a video of himself looking smug with the caption, “Millennials realizing we are entering our ‘corporate villain era’ where our jobs aren’t our whole personality, and mental health is first. Update your resumes, folks.” The video has over 240,000 likes. Commenters chimed in with overzealous agreement, saying, “We owe the companies nothing. They may have created the game, but we’ll play it how we see fit.” “My new motto is ‘I don’t care,’ and it’s SO FREEING,” and “Show this TikTok to the leadership of every company to invoke fear.”

Not surprisingly, many employers have a less than favorable view of the quiet quitting phenomenon. Generally, a quiet quitter is not engaged, and disengaged workers are less likely to be proactive and offer creative solutions to work challenges. They’re more likely to have higher rates of absenteeism and turnover. Perhaps worst of all, a disengaged employee can influence others in the workplace, negatively affecting the entire organization’s culture.

No matter how you look at quiet quitting, one thing is for sure—employee engagement plays a role in the trend, and the number of engaged employees in America is declining. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for increased work stress and burnout, and according to Gallup, in 2020, 36% of U.S. employees felt engaged at work, while in 2022, that number dropped to 32%. Those who are actively disengaged make up about 18% of the U.S. workforce, the highest since 2013. The statistics are even more alarming for younger workers; the number of engaged employees under 35 dropped by six percentage points from 2019 to 2022. According to the Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial Survey, 46% of Gen Z (ages 25 and under) and 45% of Millennial (ages 26 to 41) respondents said they feel burnt out due to the intensity and demands of their work environments. As younger generations are quickly becoming the majority of the workforce, the increase in burnout and lack of engagement is a prevalent issue that employers can’t afford to ignore.

The social media chatter about quiet quitting has brought about a new focus on the importance of employee engagement. The notion that employees must reassess their priorities and allow their work to take a backseat to preserve their mental health is valid; those boundaries can help reinforce engagement. In fact, there are ways employers can encourage and even mandate work limits. For example, some employers have banned sending emails outside regular business hours. Others have a practice of turning off the lights at 5:00 pm sharp, and all employees must leave the office at that time. Many employees have a hard time closing their laptops at the end of the day or leaving on time, and these strategies can force employees to reclaim their work-life balance.

Other ways employers can prevent and address disengagement include:

  1. Conducting an Employee Engagement Survey. A well-crafted employee engagement survey can take the pulse of an entire workforce to identify engagement levels and find weak points in the organization’s people strategy. Be sure to communicate to employees the intent of the survey, the findings, and the concrete action items that HR will take as a result of the findings. Employees are more likely to feel engaged when they feel heard by their employer.

  2. Leadership training. Disengaged managers usually lead disengaged teams. Check in with middle management and boost their engagement to ensure the sentiment trickles down throughout the organization. Additionally, managers should be trained on the following subjects:

    • How to have direct and frequent communication. Leaders should applaud desired behaviors and address poor performance promptly to ensure employees know exactly where they stand. Weekly one-on-one meetings can provide a suitable platform for these crucial conversations. This is especially important in a remote environment where conversations must be scheduled in advance and tend to happen less organically.

    • Building trust in the team. There are many ways managers can gain the trust of their employees, such as following through on commitments, being consistent with expectations and communication, and advocating for the team to others.

    • Goal setting. Employees feel more engaged when they understand why their work matters and how it helps propel the larger organization forward. Goal setting can also aid in career path discussions and help employees prepare for where their career is headed next.

  3. Support employees’ mental health by providing resources. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is to provide employees with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). If your organization doesn’t already have an EAP, consider purchasing coverage, as the cost is minimal and the benefits are vast. Confidential EAP services include counseling sessions, legal and financial advice, eldercare services, wellness services, substance abuse treatment, and adoption assistance.

  4. Carve out time for fun. Organize happy hours, scavenger hunts, potlucks, barbeques, or a virtual variation of these activities to encourage employees to let their hair down and bond with coworkers in a relaxed setting. In a 2022 JobSage survey of 1200 American workers, 95% of surveyed respondents say having a friend at work makes them happier. 92% say friendships at work impact their willingness to stay at a company. Company events can help facilitate these critical work relationships.

Quiet quitting is a trend that should not necessarily cause employers concern unless employees are defiantly objecting to contributing to their team. In that case, management may need to intervene and have a challenging conversation with the actively disengaged employee. Otherwise, if employees seem unmotivated or uninterested in their work, the employer should focus instead on ways to improve employee engagement.

Did you know Archbright can deliver an employee engagement survey to your employees? And partner with you to analyze results and identify ways to boost engagement? These services, and many more such as an HR Hotline and a robust HR and Safety Resource Library, are available to Archbright members. For more information on membership, contact info@archbright.com.

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Lindsey Sosa

Lindsey Sosa joined Archbright in 2018 as an HR Consultant working with members on various HR assignments. In order to further pursue her passion for writing and HR compliance, Lindsey became Archbright's HR Content Manager in May 2021. In this role, she maintains the HR content in the Resource Library, writes blogs and articles, and stays up to date on constantly evolving HR regulations. Before joining Archbright, Lindsey worked as an HR professional across a variety of industries ranging from high tech to local government.