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Quiet Quitting - What's the big deal?

Written by Annette Cairns on .
Quiet Quitting - What's the big deal?

If you search ‘quiet quitting’ you could spend an entire working day (or more) reading article after article about how it’s the death of productivity; a post-pandemic disaster which silently spells certain doom for businesses.

Quiet quitting is a term used to cover employees who have consciously decided to just do the bare minimum, reducing the extra work tasks, no longer offering to go above and beyond expectations, and simply going through the daily motions, doing just enough to keep their jobs safe. It’s become such a phenomenon that it’s recently been added to the Collins Dictionary words of the year.

Global polls show that around 50% of people in the US are ‘quiet quitting’ and whilst there aren’t any clear-cut statistics showing numbers of people in the UK, social media hashtags and web searches are reportedly on the up, pointing to a similar trend here.

Logging on but checking out?

The business impact of quiet quitting isn’t so much about the potential of staff leaving, but about the disconnection and disengagement in the workplace. And the impact of this on a business is felt not just in the culture, vibes and sickness rates, but in the knock-on effects of customer satisfaction, profitability and financial statements.

“Highly engaged business units realize an 81% difference in absenteeism and a 14% difference in productivity. When taken together, the behaviours of highly engaged business units result in a 23% difference in profitability.”

* Gallup

And this is where quiet quitting becomes a little controversial. There’s absolutely nothing wrong in an engaged and motivated employee doing what they are contractually obliged to do. There is nothing wrong in them wanting to have a work/ life balance which means they don’t put in additional hours that encroach on their personal time. There is nothing wrong in them wanting to focus on their wellbeing and health, meaning they may well say no to the glamorised trend of ‘grinding for success’.

The key point here, is whether your employees are still motivated and engaged during the time they are working, or if they have checked out because they are unsatisfied in the workplace and therefore performance also suffers. Disconnection in the short term means lower productivity in the form of errors and absenteeism, and if not addressed, usually leads to leaving even if it is 12-18 months down the line. Identifying this disconnection is the real issue behind the ‘quiet quitters’ trend.

Re-connecting with the quiet ones.

Amidst incredibly uncertain times for businesses, including recession and the cost-of-living crisis, focusing on this challenge is getting tougher. Identifying quiet quitters and working with them to turn things around takes skill and time, which in many cases is a step too far for already stretched managers and HR teams.

Hybrid working, still challenging to ‘get right’ after all this time, has no doubt played its part, with a physical disconnection across business teams causing communication issues at a number of levels. I came across an interesting read lately; a Microsoft report which reveals that while 87% of employees felt they were productive, 85% of bosses said hybrid working made it difficult for them to be confident of that.

This sums up what I think we’re seeing in ‘quiet quitters’ and unhappy teams across the workplace. A downward cycle of trust, recognition, communication and productivity which gets eroded over time when employees are unable to connect well with their team and managers.

Communication is the real work of leadership.

With all of this in mind, where to start in fixing the issues?

One of the key areas for business success at a personal and organisational level, is great communication. Not just efficient emails and processes, but really great listening and understanding. Picking up on verbal and non-verbal cues from a team and being able to have challenging conversations with confidence is a real skill. It’s a fundamental part of the work I do with managers and aspiring leaders, helping them to understand themselves and their team better.

Firstly, leaders need to have the skills, knowledge and behaviours to effectively manage themselves and their teams. Many people are new to management roles or are having to adapt to managing a remote team. We can’t expect success unless we give our leaders the tools to perform well. If we remember the old saying that “Employees quit their boss, not their Job”, it reinforces the need to have effective and resilient leadership across a business, to help engage employees for better performance.

Having a skilled leadership team will help to reconnect with the ‘quiet quitters’. Leading by example with resilience despite the uncertain future, leaders can demonstrate effective hybrid working practices, give recognition for performance rather than presenteeism, and build trust that comes from good communication.

All of this helps to bring together an effective and engaged team, who might choose to not read their emails past 5pm, but who give 100% when they’re logged on.

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