Quiet Quitting: What it Means and When You Should Worry

By Doug Dennerline
Updated September 30, 2022
3 minute read

“Quiet quitting” is a new workplace term that has been gaining traction in the media and on TikTok — and it’s not something HR professionals should turn a blind eye to.

We know that by definition, quiet quitting is the idea of not going above and beyond at work. It is sticking to your job description, working 40 hours a week and doing nothing more than that. It’s refusing to let work stress you out. It’s the belief that work will not dominate your life. In many ways, it’s setting a clear boundary between work and your personal life and refusing to budge when “extra” is asked of you.

Quiet quitting is synonymous with healthy boundaries. So is this concept a good or bad thing? Should HR leaders be concerned? It boils down to the single-most valuable lesson the pandemic already taught us: managing employees is not what it used to be. Companies have to adapt. Now more than ever, we have to enable employees to succeed in a more autonomous and self-guided way, and part of that is integrating work into employees’ lives, not life into their work.

It’s paramount that business leaders put the welfare and health of their workers and their families above everything else. Every leader is doing their best to hire smart, motivated, talented people. Treating them with care and fairness can go a long way toward prompting people to give their all at work. If they have no purpose outside of work, motivation is guaranteed to be low. In fact, managers may find that their employees will be more engaged at work when they have interesting, fulfilling lives outside of it, when they have time to recharge, and when they can explore other interests.

It is completely reasonable to expect employees to give 100% and commit to their day-to-day responsibilities and broader goals. It is not reasonable when expectations come at the cost of an employee’s well-being. Work is about tangible outcomes and making an impact for an organization, which employees should be fully trusted to do. It is not about being glued to a laptop all day at the mercy of your boss. It is not one-size-fits-all. Achieving goals at work can happen anytime, anywhere.

If employees see that leaders and managers understand and accept the need for a reasonable work life, that can build a culture of trust and care. Isn’t it fair to assume that employees, in turn, would be prompted to give their all at work and go above and beyond from time to time?

If this was a more common philosophy within companies, to put the person first, quiet quitting would probably not exist. It becomes a problem when employees put their foot down to set clear boundaries, but are judged by managers or leaders for doing so. Or, from an employee standpoint, it’s a problem when lack of boundaries and balance turn into apathy and disengagement — and individuals fail to live up to their responsibilities and goals.

This scenario, when quiet quitting turns into employee disengagement, can be prevented or nipped in the bud. Every people manager should be setting and reprioritizing goals with their employees by having timely and meaningful check-ins and deploying frequent, real-time feedback with employee engagement surveys. This gives employees a full understanding of the contributions they are making and allows leaders to have visibility into how engaged or disengaged their workforce is and what they are achieving.

Quiet quitting is likely here to stay. If companies aren’t adopting a people-first philosophy, it will likely impact them the greatest. And if quiet quitting begins spiraling, HR leaders will need to evaluate their employee retention and engagement strategies. Above all, HR and C-Suite leaders should remain vigilant and see quiet quitting as a sign — and an opportunity — to adapt to an ever-evolving workplace.

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