Quiet Quitting and Employee Engagement

Quiet quitting has been in the news a lot recently, but is it really something to be concerned about and how can employee engagement help buck the trend?

quiet quitting

What is quiet quitting?

The term quiet quitting first appeared on TikTok where posters promoted the idea that ‘work is not life’ and it doesn’t define you. The mainstream media has picked up on the term and it has recently gone viral.

According to Harvard Business Review (HBR) the definition hasn’t quite been tied down yet, “Some people think ‘quiet quitting’ is about doing the bare minimum, while others think it’s more about renouncing hustle culture, while still others think it’s about reclaiming work-life balance.”  Alternatively, HRD Connect has identified two variations: “No longer doing extra or more than your job requires or, explicitly going slow and doing less than required of your job but not so little that you get fired”.

Whatever the definition, the result is that people are refusing to carry out unpaid overtime and declining to take on any extra work that is over and above their remit.


Why are people quiet quitting?

HBR found, in the messages they were receiving about the topic, that “people who define themselves as quiet quitters are really struggling. They want to do a good job. They want to feel engaged in their work. But they’ve reached their limits”.

Alternatively, in a recent article about quiet quitting [Quiet quitting: why doing the bare minimum at work has gone global], the Guardian, mentioned the Gallup workplace report for 2022 which “showed that only 9% of workers in the UK were engaged or enthusiastic abut their work, ranking 33rd out of 38 European countries”.

Ultimately quiet quitting is about disengagement. Disengagement can occur for a number of reasons including, but not limited to:

  • Inadequate pay
  • Negative relationship(s) within the organisation
  • Lack of progression opportunities
  • A feeling that senior management lacks empathy
  • Bad organisational culture
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • No recognition for going over and above
  • Outside influences – e.g. anxiety due to war, inflation, pandemic etc.
  • Changes being made without consultation
  • Not having the equipment and tools people need to do their job well

Quiet quitting may have particularly struck a chord with people because the pandemic combined with the great resignation have meant that workloads have increased – and with it, working hours. Stress and burnout have become widespread.

Not only that but since the pandemic, people have become more considered about what they want from life.  They are questioning why they should go over and above to get work done, getting stressed and spending less time with their families in the process, when they see no recognition or reward in return.  They are wanting to find jobs that align with their values both in terms of what they are doing and how they are treated within the organisation. In some instances, the way management handled the pandemic means that they see them differently, now resulting in a disconnect.


Is quiet quitting even a negative thing?

Quiet quitting is not necessarily a bad thing. The fact that people are quiet quitting doesn’t automatically correlate with the quality of their work or their general performance. However, it can sometimes be an indicator of a problem within the organisation as alluded to above.

Actually, much wider questions need to be asked. If people are giving their all and doing their job well within the job specification and within their contracted hours, why isn’t it called being successful in a role – rather than quiet quitting?:

  • Should people generally be expected to work over and above their job specification?
  • Are job specifications accurate?
  • Are management expectations unrealistic – are their expectations being managed?
  • Does senior management encourage a culture where it’s enough to do contracted work?
  • Is there something within the company culture that needs changing?
  • Should the organisation actually be employing more staff to deal with any extra work?
  • If working hours are 9-5 why expect people to work longer?
  • If people are required to work longer should contracted hours be increased and advertised with the roles?

Most engaged people are happy to go over and above occasionally, because they are invested in a reciprocal relationship, but it shouldn’t necessarily be a long-term expectation.


What can be done about quiet quitting?

Quiet quitting is only negative if expectations are unrealistic and there is a negative culture within an organisation. When all is said and done organisational culture is set from the top. It’s up to top management to provide a positive example of the type of culture they want to see in the workplace. This should filter down through the rest of the company and will set the tone for a company-wide ethos.

Whether someone is no longer doing more than the job requires, or explicitly going slow and doing less than required (but not so little that they get fired), one of the best things an organisation can do is undertake a regular evaluation of organisational culture and employee experience. Employee engagement surveys will give an insight into the general feeling in the organisation and will help gain an understanding of why people might be disengaging and quiet quitting. A strategy can then be produced and implemented for re-engagement.

If the general feedback is positive within the organisation but there are concerns around individuals, or departments, and why they may be quiet quitting then communication is key. One to one’s with an external third party is a useful tool in determining any issues. Alternatively, 360-degree feedback can also be helpful in terms of identifying managers that may need some extra support and/or coaching on management styles.


If you would like to know more about how The Survey Initiative can help your organisation improve company culture and employee engagement call us on +44 (0)1255 850051 or email: info@surveyinitiative.co.uk