Even if you’re not an active TikTok user, it’s likely you’ve heard the term Quiet Quitting. The phenomenon has been the subject of news segments, articles, and a popular speaking topic on the conference circuit. You can even find enough t-shirt options on Etsy to build an entire wardrobe out of quiet quitting wear while gaining valuable insight into what it looks like in today’s pop culture.
There is some internet debate about when the term originated. Some are crediting economist Mark Boldger for first referencing the term at a conference in 2009. Before it really caught steam, Bryan Creely, a corporate recruiter and career coach, posted a video explaining a seismic shift underway in the corporate workplace. Those who had grown up in the hustle culture with an incessant need to work, work, work were shifting their focus from climbing the corporate ladder to prioritizing work-life balance. Employees in the lead seat during the tough hiring times were starting to do the bare minimum to maintain their position, and companies desperate to hire were saying the minimum amount was better than no amount. And then the term took on a life of its own when TikTok user @zaidleppelin posted a video describing quiet quitting and denouncing hustle culture. In one month, it got more than 3 million views, according to KnowYourMeme.com.
After it went viral, everywhere I turned people were talking about it and asking our Omnia team to comment on it. At first, I mistook the meaning of it based on misguided assumptions, which I’m often prone to jump on. I thought it meant “quit and stay,” which was a term an executive at my former company would say back in the early 2000’s referring to people who were doing less than the bare minimum — those who had completely checked out but hadn’t officially quit. The more I dug into it, though, the more I realized it was quite different and something to pay more attention to. Although I still see it as a viral reaction to an age-old problem, the core of the issue is people are quiet quitting because they aren’t engaged, motivated, or feeling valued. It’s not limited to a certain generation, and it’s not a leader vs. employee issue. And yet it is pervasive, and we need to address it if we want to have thriving businesses.
The data on quiet quitting is concerning. A recent poll from Gallup indicates that quiet quitters make up 50% of the workforce today. Many quiet quitters fit Gallup's definition of being "not engaged" at work — people who do the minimum required and are psychologically detached from their job. This describes half of the U.S. workforce. According to Gallup, everyone else is either engaged (32%) or actively disengaged (18%). The actively disengaged are also known as the “loud quitters" who spread their dissatisfaction broad and wide, aiming to bring others along in their disengagement. So not only do we need to be concerned about quiet quitters but also about the loud quitters in your workplace who could intensify the problem.
Clearly this is a trend that can’t be ignored. As leaders, we need to address it head on, and it begins with our own self check.
According to a recent study by SHRM, managers were 2x more likely than individual contributors to be looking for a new job. Corporate managers are rapidly burning out and finding their jobs 10 times harder than before the pandemic. Leaders are struggling across the board with staff retention, hiring, and team performance.
Front line managers are the key to driving performance, team dynamics, culture, and engagement. In small and medium-sized businesses, managers wear multiple hats and are typically asked not just to manage all aspects of their team’s work but also to perform many of the same functions themselves. It’s no wonder that front line leaders are tempted to quiet quit themselves. If you’re facing this yourself, here are some ways to address it.
The first step is considering what is causing us to be dissatisfied or disengaged with work. Is it an overwhelming workload, insufficient resources, conflicts with colleagues, a values misalignment between you and your organization, or something else? Whatever the cause, identifying and putting a name on it is the first step so you can plan from here.
When we’re feeling disengaged ourselves, we can quickly go down a slippery slope of feeling the “ain’t it awfuls.” One way to overcome this is to adapt a growth mindset over a fixed mindset. Individuals with fixed mindsets view challenges as constant and unfixable. They operate from a mindset of scarcity vs. abundance. This can’t be changed overnight, but there are some great books and courses on this topic to help develop a change in attitude. Through development of a growth mindset, leaders can combat complacency and stay motivated at work.
One reason you could be facing your own motivation challenges is that you are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Take some time to re-prioritize and focus on what really matters. Be realistic with yourself about goals and timelines. And practice work-life balance yourself. It’s powerful to model work-life balance for your employees. When they see you logging off at 5:30 and only emailing during company hours, you’re sending a strong message that boundaries matter and you respect your time as much as theirs.
Identify what motivates you and seek alignment. It’s highly possible on any given day you are engaged in tasks that don’t align with your strengths. If you’re a big picture, strategic thinker and you’re spending the bulk of the day in spreadsheets and data mining, it’s no wonder you’re miserable.
If you’ve never taken a behavioral assessment, now is the time. With the Omnia leadership style report, you can gain critical insight into your unique leadership traits and what motivates/de-motivates you. Once you have this insight, take a good look at your daily activities and redirect activity that others are better equipped to do. This is a win–win because you’ll be empowering members of your team to take on new things that can bring them joy and satisfaction — especially when it aligns with their strengths.
Once you’ve taken care of your own motivation and mindset, it’s time to address and combat quiet quitting with your staff. Here are some actions to take.
Make sure you’re not in denial or jumping to assumptions like I did. Take the time to ask your employees their views on quiet quitting and assure them it’s a safe environment to discuss it. If you’re feeling bold, you could even admit times when you’ve felt like quiet quitting. The key here is not to point fingers or place blame. There’s a reason this topic is trending. Acknowledging the reality of it with your employees is the first step in overcoming it, especially if you can get down to the root causes.
The only way to know if your staff is quiet quitting and identify the root cause is to develop a culture where people feel safe being open and where feedback is welcome. You can begin with an anonymous employee engagement survey. When you collect input and take noticeable actions toward improvement, you send a strong message that the company cares and is committed to creating a better work environment.
When I first started delving into the quiet quitting quandary, I polled a group of early career professionals ranging in ages 23-35. The energy and enthusiasm behind their multitude of responses was compelling! The common and most profound theme was how bored, misaligned, and underappreciated each of them feels in their jobs.
A staggering 9 out of 10 employees would take a lower salary for more meaningful work, according to research from BetterUp. Work with your team to set realistic goals that align with your vision and mission for the organization and that they can get enthusiastic about. Give continued feedback on their impact through recurring and consistent 1x1 meetings where you also discuss their concerns, job satisfaction, and progress toward career goals beyond the current role. Celebrate and reward their accomplishments along the way — don’t wait for year-end results and award banquets.
Work from home and hybrid work teams have blurred the lines between work and home, and there’s also a lack of comradery that office environments typically offer. This is another reason burnout and disengagement are rising. Learning something new is energizing — especially when employees can practice new skills side by side in a nurturing environment with their peers. Companies that invest in providing on-going professional development opportunities such as formal training programs, mentoring initiatives, and industry tradeshows and networking not only benefit from upskilling their staff, but the employees see it as a sign that you value them as individuals and are willing to invest in their succ
Every individual is unique when it comes to what motivates and inspires them. Just as it is important to know ourselves, it’s critical to understand the unique traits and motivators of your employees. Quiet quitting will never be addressed in a one-size-fits-all approach. This is where a behavioral assessment can also be helpful.
All Omnia reports include a section that outlines motivational strategies to use and demotivators to avoid for each personality style. For example, if you have an individual who is highly assertive (a tall column 1 on the Omnia personality assessment), they are motivated by performance-based incentives like commission, bonuses, and competitions. Individuals with a tall column 7 want the freedom to define their goals and achieve them in their own way. And individuals with a tall column 8 thrive with structured guidelines for work output, clear directions from management, and reassurance from management when expectations are being met. Understanding the unique qualities of the individuals on your team and adapting the way you set their goals, provide feedback, and recognize them fosters an environment where people feel valued and have the space to thrive.
Quiet quitting is a real issue that can have a significant impact on the success of your business. Don't dismiss it as a passing trend; take action to prevent negative consequences. Omnia is here to help. Contact our team to discover how our reports can assist you in evaluating your work preferences, recognizing the unique qualities of your team members, and coaching and developing them to achieve optimal success and growth. You’ll reduce the likelihood of quiet quitting and ensure that everyone is engaged and productive.