How to Know if Your Employees Are ‘Quiet Quitting’

“Quiet quitting” has become a much-discussed work culture phenomenon this year. The topic has stirred much debate about what quiet quitting actually means and, more importantly for employers and managers, how to recognize the signs that it’s occurring.

What is quiet quitting?

Companies have long valued employees who go above and beyond their job descriptions by staying late, taking on additional responsibilities, not using up sick days, etc. However, quiet quitting—which is the concept of people only committing to their job duties without extra effort—has captured the imaginations of people on social media in recent months.

In fact, quiet quitting has become such a popular topic that Gallup even conducted a poll on it. The organization published its findings in September, saying quiet quitters “make up at least 50% of the U.S. workforce—probably more.”

“The name quiet quitting is new but the concept is not. People have struggled with apathy and burnout in the workplace for years. It’s a common occurrence,” Kelsey Wat, a career coach and founder of TGIM Careers, told Newsweek.

Man stretching at work
This undated stock image shows a man leisurely stretching at work. “Quiet quitting,” the idea that an employee is doing the bare minimum amount of work at their job, has become a popular concept in recent months. Experts spoke with Newsweek about signs to look for when trying to spot a quiet quitter in a workplace.

Jim Morgan—Vice President of Business Development & Workforce Strategies at MRA, an employer association that offers HR services and talent management—told Newsweek that “from the employee’s point of view, today’s labor market certainly offers staff members the opportunity to do the ‘bare minimum’ because they know what employers are up against. And some will.”

What are the causes of quiet quitting?

Stress is the biggest factor cited by many workplace experts. Wat said that the coronavirus pandemic only intensified the pressure workers feel.

“I think both burnout from the pandemic and people rethinking their priorities has been the largest cause of the movement,” she said. “I would imagine someone’s work environment not demonstrating the support that they needed to be successful during the pandemic also plays a large factor in checking out and becoming apathetic about work.”

What are the signs of quiet quitting?

“It’s important to differentiate quiet quitting from slacking off. A lot of the discourse describes it as the former, when really it describes meeting expectations and working smart not hard,” career success strategist Jennifer Brick told Newsweek.

Brick added, “When quiet quitting is done the right way, it should not be noticeable; the team’s output should be the same, however work that is of low importance or redundant is scaled back or eliminated, which actually makes the team more effective.”

But just because quiet quitting is hard to detect doesn’t mean it’s impossible not to pick up on.

“There can definitely be signs that someone is checked out of work or is approaching burnout,” Wat said. “However, I think these can look different from person to person.”

1) Less Work Effort

“Because of a culture of over-achievement, one sign is when a top-performing employee who consistently exceeded expectations scales back their work effort,” Brick said. “They are still meeting expectations, and maybe even still exceeding in some areas, however the amount they are going above and beyond on shrinks.”

2) More Negativity

“You might see lower engagement or disinterest in projects or events that once interested them,” Wat said. “You may also see increasing cynicism or negativity.”

Wat continued, “That being said, for those who are using quiet quitting as a way to set healthy boundaries and back down from overworking, I would imagine you’d see the employee setting healthy boundaries and engaging in better communication with their employer about their work schedule and capacity.”

3) Employee Becomes Less Social

“Another sign is the team member is opting out of afterwork activities and extra projects,” Brick said.

Bored office worker
This undated stock image shows a woman playing with a paper airplane in an office.

What can employers do about quiet quitting?

When asked how employers can recognize quiet quitting in employees, Jim Morgan responded via email, “I think I would turn your question around and ask, ‘How do you know they are NOT Quiet Quitting?'”

“The challenge, and the solution, for employers is to create a culture where employees enjoy coming to work, like what they are doing and the people they are doing it with, and take pride in the company they work for. Employees that are engaged, satisfied, and motivated will not quit on you,” Morgan said.

Wat said it’s important to consider why an employee may be quiet quitting. She said, “employers have to choose not to react punitively to employees setting boundaries that are appropriate within the confines of what they are paid to do.”

If an employee is indeed quiet quitting due to burnout or a toxic work environment, it’s not too late for an employer or manager to renew the person’s enthusiasm.

“The most important thing I encourage leaders to do if they suspect their employees are quiet quitting is to review workloads to ensure no one is being overburdened. Several of my clients who have quiet quit have been doing the work of two to three people, while slackers on the team have gotten away with doing nothing,” Brick said. “The other thing I encourage leaders to do is to focus on building a positive team culture. People don’t quiet quit jobs they are passionate about at companies where they feel valued and see potential to have their efforts rewarded.”

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