How to spot signs of Quiet Quitting, according to experts

File picture: Pexels

File picture: Pexels

Published Aug 21, 2022


"Quiet Quitting" is taking the workforce by storm, but you might not have noticed.

The term is a bit of a misnomer, because quiet quitters aren't walking away from their jobs. Instead they're renouncing hustle culture, quitting "the idea of going above and beyond at work," as TikTok user zaidleppelin said in a July post that has amassed more than 3 million views and helped popularize the phrase. The trend is resonating strongly with those Gen Z and Millenial knowledge workers who are fighting to rewrite the rules of the workplace.

Here's what's managers should know, according to experts.

- What is Quiet Quitting?

Kathy Kacher, founder of Career/Life Alliance Services, said that "quiet quitting" is a new term for an old concept: employee disengagement.

But it's arriving in a moment of "unprecedented burnout," Kacher said, coming in on the heels of the "Great Resignation," which saw an average of nearly 4 million employees leave their jobs each month in 2021 amid clashes over flexibility and a widespread re-evaluation of how work should fit into their lives.

And it's also gaining steam at a moment of peak tension between managers and employees, as many companies prepare for another push to bring workers back to offices.

- And what is the point of Quiet Quitting?

Quiet quitting is an act of "self-preservation," Kacher said, at a time when employees feel like employers are asking workers to "do more with less."

"I think people are finally saying, 'You know what? I'm going to do less with less," Kacher said.

By some definitions, "quiet quitting" equates to doing the bare minimum at work; others cast it more as a recalibration of boundaries.

"If some one is giving their best in 40 hours and then want to spend rest of time for living isnt terming/labelling that behaviour quiet quitting derogatory?" a HomeAway employee asked earlier this week on Blind, an anonymous corporate messaging board.

"Quiet quitting: doing what you're paid for," one Palantir employee responded.

But whatever the definition, the goal is the same: untangling employees' identities from their jobs and leaving them with more time and energy to invest elsewhere.

- What does Quiet Quitting look like in real life?

Signs of quiet quitting look like "classic indicators of diminished motivation and low engagement," according to Joe Grasso, senior director of workforce transformation at Lyra Health.

That might be decreased productivity or "withdrawing from the team, limiting communication and interaction to only what's required," Grasso said. It could manifest as employee "cynicism or apathy" about work, or staying silent rather than sharing input.

"It may also show up as complaints from colleagues about the silently quitting employee," Grasso said. "Colleagues may feel frustrated by having to pick up the slack or feeling shut out."

These signs "should sound alarms for any manager to intervene quickly," Grasso warned.

"Much like quiet quitting is becoming a trend on social media, it could also become an infectious attitude in the workplace as employees start to compare notes and recognize that they are having similar experiences about work taking more than it's giving," Grasso said.

Oftentimes, quiet quitters are putting up more boundaries at work and "saying no more instead of yes," according to Natalie Baumgartner, chief workforce scientist at Achievers, an employee engagement company.

But some might also be letting their attention shift, focusing on projects that "aren't really in the scope of their job," Baumgartner said.

While managers might interpret that as being "non-compliant or unprofessional", Baumgartner said it's another sign of workers - sometimes not even consciously - looking "for ways to feel less burnt out, more motivated and more engaged."

- How should managers respond?

Employers first need to recognize that quiet quitting is about "more than just setting boundaries," according to Michelle Hay, global chief people officer at Sedgwick, a business solutions firm.

"It speaks to the tired and frustrated feeling that many are experiencing on the tail end of the pandemic," Hay said. "People are reassessing their priorities, and social disconnection can be part of this shift."

To better understand how employees are feeling, Hay said organizations should "frequently" survey staff, going beyond productivity scores and seeking comments that help managers understand "the full picture of engagement."

HR departments should conduct in-depth onboarding and exit interviews to get a sense of what motivates employees and what drives them to leave.

Managers can help create a culture that is more resilient against burnout by encouraging employees to take breaks during the day and to use their vacation and paid time off during the year, Hay said.

Managers can lead by example when taking time off by not responding to emails when they're not working, Hay said. And once an employee logs off for the evening, managers should avoid sending late messages that are not urgent "to incentivize employees to completely disconnect from their computers."

"Many started taking "workactions" during the pandemic and working remotely from different locations, but employees need to take time away from the computer to avoid burnout," Hay said.

While wellness-related perks like office yoga and mental health days have grown in popularity during the pandemic, leaning too heavily on "fleeting benefits" can lead employers to overlook the fundamentals of the work experience, according to Grasso of Lyra Health.

It's critical that managers foster a workplace environment that is "psychologically safe," Grasso said, so that employees feel comfortable asking for help without fear of retribution.

"Employees who are quietly quitting are also likely the ones who have been silently suffering in a psychologically unsafe environment," Grasso said.

Other meaningful changes come from making workloads more sustainable and making sure employees feel a forward sense of progress, beyond just career development opportunities, Grasso said. People are fulfilled by gaining new skills and experiences, by having greater control over their jobs and by feeling genuinely appreciated.

"Employers need to offer opportunities for advancement and create a culture where people feel like they're encouraged to put work in perspective versus make work their entire lives," Grasso said. It's important to recognize that people can be engaged and motivated at work without needing to revolve their life and identity around it."