What is ‘Quiet Quitting’ and is Your Organization at Risk?

Quiet Quitting became a trending topic after it was first discussed on TikTok, but what is it exactly – and is your organization at risk?

Quiet Quitting is a bit of a misnomer; it refers to the phenomenon of an employee who basically does their job without going above and beyond in any meaningful way. To many, it might feel wrong to tag the word “quitting” to something that is, in effect, saying you’re just doing your job without putting in extra effort. What we do know is that the vast majority of employees come to work wanting to work hard and do a good job. They tend to go above and beyond when they feel it is needed and justified. It is when conditions in the work environment don’t enable that, when they feel taken advantage of, or when workload, stress, or burnout gets too great that less employees start placing less emphasis on going above and beyond.

While the “Quiet Quitting” terminology might be new, the idea isn’t. Organizations are full of all sorts of different types of people, and there have always been those content to merely fulfill the basic requirements of their job while others are driven to excel. In the Industrial-Organizational world, we refer to these behaviors as organizational citizenship. Behaviors of a good organizational citizen include things like taking an extra shift when someone calls in sick, suggesting an untapped market for a product, exploring ways to make your department more efficient, or offering to be a workplace mentor. The critical factor is that a good organizational citizen is doing these behaviors voluntarily. So when people talk about Quiet Quitting, they are talking about people who are no longer willing – or able – to voluntarily spend more energy or time at work than is absolutely necessary.

Historically, organizations have been filled with people who both go well above and beyond and those who prefer to clock in and out at set times and simply get their basic functions done.

What’s new about Quiet Quitting is the focus on people who used to exhibit good organizational citizenship but now aren’t; in other words, they used to do many things to help the organization thrive but for whatever reason, are no longer willing to go the extra mile. It’s that change that is the real threat for organizations today. When examining the issues causing quiet quitting the organization should first examine its policies and practices as well as the management team. Remember employees want to do a good job, only when conditions don’t support them does this lack of enthusiasm occur.

Organizations are right to be concerned about Quiet Quitting. While the media might be overblowing stories about this trend, it’s clearly enough of a risk for most organizations to take it seriously. And it’s not just Quiet Quitting; there’s also a phenomenon known as “Quiet Firing,” which when a manager or other leader passively ignores employees, doesn’t provide feedback, promotions, or pay raises, in the hopes that the employee will eventually quit. Both of these are extremely passive behaviors that are toxic to any workplace.

What can your organization do about Quiet Quitting?

First, examine your policies and practices which of them are creating the environment were quiet quitting can occur. Then look at how you support middle managers. It’s often the middle managers who are struggling the most these days. They may be overworked, burnt out, or feeling unappreciated. They might be simultaneously Quiet Quitting or Quiet Firing, or simply creating an environment where their direct reports are driven to Quietly (or even really) Quit. By focusing on middle managers you can get a handle on what is happening within your organization. The best way to do this is with 180 feedback assessments so these managers can get more productive and timely feedback. Managers who are thriving help foster an environment where others can thrive as well.

Employee Surveys are also a powerful tool to measure whether your organization is at risk.

Asking about discretionary efforts – the willingness to put in extra effort to help the organization – can highlight any red flags within a particular department or business unit. It’s also helpful to ask about manager relationships and team climate so that if there are any concerns, you can take actions to address them.

Ultimately, the goal of these various measurement activities is to ensure that your recognition efforts are effective.

You want all employees to feel valued and supported, especially where any voluntary work is concerned. Quiet Quitting is trending because too many people feel like their efforts just don’t matter. Organizations can respond by ensuring that employees get the recognition they need, especially those who go above and beyond. It’s important to ensure that any actions taken are consistent; employees know when they’re just hearing lip service without any sustainable change. By measuring employee attitudes, providing more opportunities for feedback, ensuring accountability and consistent improvement efforts, organizations can protect themselves from these passive yet corrosive behaviors like Quiet Quitting and Firing.


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