Quiet quitting may not be answer to work-life balance and that’s why employers need to do more

Quietly quitting employees are not technically resigning. They are setting a boundary. Picture: Pexels

Quietly quitting employees are not technically resigning. They are setting a boundary. Picture: Pexels

Published Oct 13, 2022


Employers might turn the tide of apathy by refocusing on employee engagement and well-being.

Quiet quitting, or doing just enough to get by at work, is an increasing global trend.

Saying “no” to going above and beyond and disliking the “hustle culture” at work follows a change in people’s perceptions toward their relationship with their jobs that was spurred by remote working during Covid-19 lockdown.

Younger “Gen Z” workers are engaging in a trend that has gained popularity on social media, TikTok, and which, according to organisational behavioural expert Dr Natasha Winkler-Titus, head of the Leadership Development Programme at Stellenbosch Business School, may have a negative impact on employees’ career prospects as well as the culture and performance of their organisations.

But what about their mental health?

Quietly quitting employees are not technically resigning; rather, they are setting a boundary. To rebalance their work-life balance and safeguard their mental health, they are establishing limits.

Work-life limits are beneficial and essential. Yet some may view quiet quitting as a passive-aggressive strategy rather than a more proactive, assertive strategy.

“It is a signal to employers, to focus on employee engagement and well-being and to create a supportive environment where employees feel they have a voice and are being heard.

“Employers that don’t focus on and enable discussion about improving mental health and employee well-being, risk a disengaged workforce or losing employees to companies that offer better wellness benefits,” Winkler-Titus said.

Positively engaged workers are thought of as the antithesis of burned-out workers since they are more invested, devoted, energetic, and psychologically tough. Customer happiness and corporate success are positively impacted by a highly engaged staff.

In the Covid-19-induced lockdowns of 2020, the percentage of South African employees working remotely increased from 4% to over 40%, raising awareness of the possibility of greater autonomy and flexibility in how and where we operate.

“This, combined with the mental health impact of the pandemic, prompted people to reflect on the meaning of life and where work fits into it. Expecting people to just return to an old form of ‘normal’ in the workplace creates discomfort and is a factor in employees quietly quitting in order to keep work and life apart,” she said.

Missing meetings and deadlines, meeting performance standards only minimally, arriving late or departing early, isolating themselves from the team culture or staying away from team and social activities, and displaying less dedication, passion, or enthusiasm for their work are indications of the quiet quitter.

This can have a detrimental effect on interpersonal connections at work as other team members take up the slack, and it can be perceived as a bad attitude that prevents career advancement. This is in addition to diminished performance and productivity.

“Some of these behaviours are performance-related and should be treated as performance issues, but much of it really has to do with engagement. High levels of engagement are linked to performance and well-being, but when employees don’t have a voice and feel disempowered, they become demotivated. Supportive management is fundamental to the success of performance management – when this is lacking, employees disengage,” she said.

Employee engagement occurs on a cognitive, emotional, and behavioural level and is related to fulfilling obligations under the “psychological contract” that workers have with organisations, also known as “the unwritten contract” of perceived promises and expectations within the employment relationship.

“Employees are more inclined to leave the company or simply depart quietly when this contract is broken,” Winkler-Titus claimed.

Employers would better understand what employees value and what it takes for them to feel respected and valued for their work if they engaged in open dialogue with their staff about their expectations, what motivates them, and what they need to improve their engagement.

Companies should promote and serve as role models for a healthy work-life balance, and they should also ask staff members for input on their workload and the projects that most excite them.

To make sure that employees see a worthwhile future with the company, performance assessments might include conversations on career objectives and growth, as well as possibilities for upskilling.

There is nothing wrong with putting in extra effort at work, especially if it helps you get that dream job or promotion. For many people, their work gives them a genuine sense of direction.

Whether or not quiet quitting is the best course of action, it seems that individuals are starting to see their value, and it’s hard to deny the role that the greater discourse about mental health has played in this. Something must change.

Read the latest issue of IOL Health digital magazine here.