The “quiet quitting” trend gained attention because one quiet quitter wasn’t so quiet about it. Quiet quitting gained notoriety on TikTok in a July video by engineer Zaid Khan (@zkchillin), followed by an August Wall Street Journal article about it.
Though definitions vary, quiet quitting is the deliberate withholding by an employee of their full potential effort at work.
In the wake of quiet quitting, the phrase “quiet firing” emerged — the deliberate withholding by employers of raises, promotions, development, and leadership opportunities.
Of course, neither of these approaches to the employee-employer relationship is new.
The Gallup organization calls “quiet quitters” “actively disengaged workers,” and their percentage has, in fact, risen in the past two years.
But the “quiet quitter” label is new, enabling the concept to go viral on social media.
Technically, the phrases are misleading. Quiet quitting is explicitly undertaken as an *alternative* to quitting. So quiet quitting is not quitting. And likewise, for quiet firing — it’s not firing.
But quiet quitting and quiet firing represent a breakdown in communication. And that’s the biggest problem. The problem isn’t the “quitting” (that isn’t quitting) or the “firing” (that isn’t firing).
The problem is the “quiet” part.
Saying the ‘quiet’ part out loud
The implicit contract for employees goes something like this: I will spend as much time and effort as I can in my job in return for a salary, benefits, job satisfaction, and career advancement.
Traditionally, career-minded employees chose and were expected to go “above and beyond,” giving work 100% of their effort.
As a result, they often work more than the assumed 40-hour workweek in a competitive employment marketplace.
Quiet quitting happens when an employee feels used by a company and so, in self-defense, chooses to get back at the company. So instead of sharing the company’s purpose, the company serves only as a source of income and nothing more.
Some reports say that some quiet quitters don’t do so deliberately but have simply stopped trying so hard.
The reasons given in the flurry of reports about quiet quitting include lazy employees, workplace burnout, bad bosses, toxic workplaces, and other stresses.
The quiet quitting movement takes place against a backdrop of other trends that reveal general work dissatisfaction, including the “Great Resignation” and the effort (especially in the technology industry) to unionize.
While only some 10% of the American workforce is unionized, 71% of Americans told Gallup pollsters they approve of unions — the highest level of support since 1965.
But the Great Resignation is actually a positive trend.
Though painful for some companies in the short term, it represents employees taking action to find work and an employer where they can enjoy job satisfaction instead of remaining disgruntled.
Even unionization entails communication. That’s what a negotiated contract is — collective bargaining between labor and management that results in a shared understanding of what’s expected by all parties.
Whether you’re pro-union or anti-union, it’s objectively true that unions facilitate communication and result in a mutually documented understanding of expectations.
Quiet quitting is the opposite; it’s about unilateral decision-making by an employee that is not communicated to managers and company leadership.
Some commentators have argued that quiet quitting is a positive development because it represents resetting work-life boundaries and balance.
But that’s wrong. Non-communication in and about the workplace is a negative trend.
The other downside is that quiet quitting can go viral.
When employees start doing less, those still giving their all feel like they’re doing more work without additional compensation and could be inspired to join the quiet quitters.
Quiet quitting is also more prevalent among younger employees. 82% of Americans 65 and older believe employees should always go “above and beyond.” This drops to half among people who are between 18 and 29.
It’s time to get loud about quiet quitting
Despite rosy optimism about quiet quitting and firing in some quarters, its existence must be addressed. Here’s how:
- Open up the floodgates of communication between managers and employees about employee satisfaction, and drive clarity about how employees feel about their jobs.
- Document and specify job expectations, so everyone is on the same page about workloads, work hours, performance, and metrics for success and failure. This is also necessary for remote workers, who need to be effectively managed without reliance on “management by walking around.”
- Double the efforts around career development, job training, and the cultivation of leaders within the organization. Work harder to promote from within so employees know that being actively engaged results in additional compensation and responsibilities.
It’s time to address these trends through a new approach to management: One that involves a lot more communication, a lot more specificity about job requirements, and a lot more commitment to internal career development and advancement.
It’s time to communicate. So don’t quit on the quiet quitters.