In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, with lives and worlds turned upside down, people continue to be forced to adapt in many areas of life. Kids may be back in school, but opportunities to socialize have not yet recovered, businesses continue to adjust their policies for remote work and the economy is on a worrisome trajectory.
A trend that emerged in the height of the pandemic — and that some say has since morphed into “quiet quitting” — was the mass-exodus of employees in April 2021 to April 2022’s Great Resignation. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 71.6 million people quit their jobs during the period, which works out to an average of almost 4 million people leaving their jobs per month.
So, what was behind the Great Resignation? According to Pew Research Center, the top three reasons cited by Americans who left their jobs in 2021 were:
- Lack of advancement opportunities.
- Low pay.
- Disrespect in the workplace.
In the wake of the Great Resignation, a new trend is reportedly making waves across the psyche of U.S. workers: quiet quitting. According to Gallup, quiet quitters comprise at least half the U.S. workforce.
What is quiet quitting?
The concept behind quiet quitting isn’t new. It refers to silently revolting against the hustle mentality of exceeding work expectations and instead doing only exactly what is proscribed. The term has gone viral largely due to massive exposure on social media, where it has spawned an array of definitions, but the quitting aspect is always nonliteral in meaning.
Today’s focus on quiet quitting suggests people’s eagerness to liberate themselves from an unhappy job or career-centric mindset is a novelty. But life changes such as parenthood, health crises and finances have long prompted people to reevaluate priorities.
What’s different now is that grappling with the pandemic and its fallout has been largely a shared experience. People everywhere have had to make decisions that required reassessing their priorities, which is why the notion of quiet quitting seems to be resonating.
The harm of quiet quitting as an employee
The concept of quiet quitting suggests that employees who want to resign but cannot, can adapt detaching and doing the bare minimum. The aim becomes evading attention by doing just enough while avoiding work that could be left to someone else.
But what about a person’s natural tendency to want to do better? Most employees prefer to feel a sense of pride and achievement in their work. When an individual decides to check out through quiet quitting, it’s not just bad for the employer, it’s bad for the employee too.
A mediocre job performance has the potential to close the door on future opportunities. It can also put the quiet quitter at loggerheads with high performers, who may see them as dead weight. Pressure to maintain the status quo can lead the employee to question the fairness of their performance to teammates, and how their quiet quitting is perceived.
How employers can prevent quiet quitting
Online discussions of quiet quitting are rampant. But in real life, in-depth exchanges among employees, managers, HR and the C-suite are infrequent and unlikely to touch on the topic.
Quiet quitting can only be addressed by confronting the problem directly through meaningful conversation. But that can’t happen if you play the blame game.
Before initiating a conversation about quiet quitting, leaders should reflect on these questions:
- Do you view employees as partners or as cogs in a wheel?
- Do your decisions reflect the business’s stated mission?
- Could burnout be affecting morale?
- Do you provide leadership development?
- What does performance mean to you?
The role of managers
Talk to employees and learn about their work issues. You don’t have to agree, but you do need to understand their perspective. Consider what you can do to ease their burden or what tools could help them work more efficiently. You are the link between that employee and the company’s higher management.
The role of higher management
Higher managers still need to keep aware of what’s going on with the rank and file. Find out what it’s like to work on the front and middle lines. Consider the perspectives of management and employees. Quiz mid-level employees to learn more about the people working for the company. For instance, how many salaried employees work extra hours without receiving a bonus or some type of remuneration?
The role of the C-suite
Executives need to be aware of morale at the ground level and communicate that information up to the top. Leaders who consistently blame employees for their work struggles should not be taken at their word. Pay close attention to high-ranking executives who lack people skills; they may be excellent with numbers but wreak havoc on headcount.
With productivity a primary concern, especially as talks of a recession grow louder, quiet quitting could pose a bigger threat to businesses than the Great Resignation. Ensuring that employees feel they can safely vocalize issues before they get to the point where they opt to quietly quit is key.
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