Maggie BleharSeptember 08, 2022
Topics: Employee Experience

Quiet Quitting: How to Think About It

What started with a single TikTok has turned into a viral sensation: quiet quitting. What is it exactly, and how should we respond?

JD, our VP of Marketing, joined Talent Experience Live for a frank discussion about this term, which has been used to describe everything from passive-aggressive workload withdrawal to a healthy ownership of work-life boundaries.

Scan the highlights below, or catch the full episode right here.

What is “Quiet Quitting”?

In the post that started it all, TikTok user Zaiad Kahn sums up quiet quitting this way: “You are still performing your duties, but you are no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be our life.”

Despite a recent flurry of attention, people have had this mentality since … well, probably since the dawn of employment. And for the record, “quiet quitting isn’t new. They just got a new PR agency,” said TA authority Tim Sackett.

Forbes describes quiet quitting as “limiting your job output and tasks to only those that are strictly stated in your job description — not taking on more duties and tasks than your current role specifies, and perhaps even doing the least you can to complete the job required, but doing that well.”

So, is quiet quitting bad? Not necessarily, said JD. From his perspective, quiet quitting can have positive outcomes, especially when managers recognize root causes and step in accordingly to help their employees.

How can you recognize someone who’s quietly quitting?

Employees who meet the current definition of a quiet quitter may just be doing their job according to their own work style and career goals.

JD and TXL host Devin Foster discussed a few examples.

1. The employee who’s more productive outside typical work hours

In the knowledge worker space, an individual employee may feel more focused and creative in the evening. They leave work a little early, but return to it later when they’re feeling more productive.

Because they leave early, do others view them as quietly quitting — or are they simply getting the job done on terms that work best for them?

2. The employee who sticks to job requirements

Maggie Perkins, an educator recently interviewed for a CNBC article, says her approach to teaching would be labeled as quiet quitting according to popular opinion. Although fully committed to her students, she takes on nothing extra — she isn’t volunteering for committees or coaching teams, for example.

Quiet quitter? Or someone who’s happy where they are in their career?

What about a bank teller who lives up to the cliché of keeping banking hours: clocking in by 8:00 a.m., performing the job as required, then leaving by closing time every day?

3. The team members who don’t push themselves

As Foster pointed out, on every team and in every organization, there will be employees who naturally hold themselves to higher standards and put forth more effort than others. Does that make everyone else a quiet quitter?

In all these cases, JD said that managers must look at individual productivity and efficiency compared to peers. Factors to consider include whether an employee’s specific tasks are more difficult than others or whether they’re working slowly on purpose in order to take on fewer projects, etc.

“As a leader, it’s my job to start engaging with that person, looking at their workload, and looking at their challenges,” JD said, to determine what, if anything, they need to succeed.

What is “Quiet Firing” and how are managers involved?

“There’s a lot of quiet things happening right now, but it seems like everyone’s being very loud about it on the internet,” Foster said. An example of this is a term gaining traction online in response to quiet quitting: quiet firing.

Quiet firing — when managers do the bare minimum for their employees — might feel like a natural response to quiet quitting. But if employees aren’t motivated to go above and beyond, here’s what managers should consider:

  1. Is the employee experiencing individual challenges? Employees who aren’t giving 100% might be facing tough circumstances outside of work, or they could be struggling with a specific project and need extra guidance.
  2. Could misalignment be the issue? Quiet quitters may be misaligned with the company. In some workplaces, for example, an 8-hour day might be the requirement — but 10 hours is the unspoken norm.

“Either way, as a leader, I have to get involved, I have to start asking questions,” JD said. “It could be personal challenges, it could be that they don’t feel they have the support in order to produce as much as they should be producing for a role.”

There may also be misalignment between what the company’s expectations are of a certain employee and what that employee’s expectation is from the company.

This is how quiet quitting can be positive, though, JD pointed out. “It allows us as leaders to work very closely with employees to have conversations around alignment,” he said. “You need to have alignment conversations. I can’t stress that enough.”

How does compensation play into quiet quitting?

“Compensation is a tough conversation to have, no matter where you are,” Foster stressed. But it’s a conversation that needs to be had, otherwise employees who believe they aren’t being adequately compensated or recognized can become quiet quitters in the negative sense of the term.

So, who’s job is it to bring up compensation? Both employees and managers, JD and Foster agreed.

Employees must talk to their managers about compensation with the understanding that they may not see immediate returns for the work they put in, Foster said. Think of it as exercising: results show over time.

However, JD argued that managers must also hold conversations with their employees to clearly define:

  • Company goals
  • What employees must contribute to help meet those goals
  • Reasonable expectations for compensation

Every organization is different, and it’s important for employees and their managers to have conversations, especially when misalignment on goals or roles arises. In general, however, knowledge workers should expect to put in extra effort and hours at times, and on the flip side, they should have the flexibility to pull back when needed.

When it comes down to it, it’s ultimately the employee’s responsibility to decide if they fit within their company. If they don’t, “you need to make that change,” JD said. “Take ownership of what you need from your career and your life. Quitting is not always a bad thing.”

Related reading: How to Improve Employee Retention

Is quiet quitting risky in our current economy?

Retention is a topic discussed constantly on TXL, especially during our currently tumultuous economy and possible looming recession. For employees who consider themselves quietly quitting (in terms of doing the bare minimum), it’s important to keep in mind that companies will look at performance when they need to make cuts.

JD shared the following criteria for employees to consider when deciding on their career path:

  • Reassess your alignment: Are you working at a start-up where everyone’s expected to wear several hats and give 150% … but right now, you’re feeling the pull toward family obligations and personal goals? You may be misaligned.
  • Get clarity on your role and expectations: Ask your manager if you’re unsure.
  • Have a conversation about compensation: Prepare for it first by tracking specific metrics that demonstrate your contributions.

“And as a manager and leader, if I’m seeing an imbalance in what I feel could be a challenge, it’s my responsibility — as it is every leader’s — to start having conversations.”

Related reading: What we can learn from the Big Quit

Everyone craves purpose

From JD’s point of view, there’s more to quiet quitting than the negativity surrounding media coverage. “I see individuals who want to work for a company they believe in and for a purpose they believe in — and really make an impact and a difference.”

At the end of the day, both the employee and manager must be open and honest with each other about expectations, and move forward accordingly.

To learn more about employee retention, check out our Definitive Guide to Employee Experience.

Maggie Blehar

Maggie is a writer at Phenom, bringing you information on all things talent experience. In addition to writing, she enjoys traveling, painting, cooking, and spending time with her family and friends. 

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