Learning & Development

Quiet Quitting: A New Threat to Office Productivity or a Sign of Needed Change?

A new generation of workers is renouncing hustle culture—going above and beyond workplace expectations—and embracing the philosophy of “quiet quitting.” Any sort of alleged “quitting” can easily cause upper management to feel unsettled. But is this trending phenomenon a sign of employee laziness, or is it a call for workplace reform?

With more than 15 years’ experience in human resources, I believe business executives can benefit from having a deeper, more nuanced perspective of this movement.

What Quiet Quitting Is

While the phrase “quiet quitting” is new, the circumstances that led to it are not. For many years, employees have felt overworked and underappreciated and, as a result, unmotivated. The difference now is that we are openly talking about these issues. Proponents of quiet quitting desire a proper work/life balance that protects their mental well-being. This is not unreasonable. We, company executives, must find ways to aid our employees in achieving work/life harmony without their resorting to negative attitudes about work. While the perfect balance between work and one’s personal life may be impossible to attain, we can strive for harmony based on accountability and respect.

What Quiet Quitting is Not

Quiet quitting does not indicate an employee is lazy or disloyal to the company. Instead, it usually means the employee has reached a point where his or her personal objectives no longer align with the company’s, so the employee begins to prioritize other aspects of life. Not “going the extra mile” doesn’t necessarily mean the employee has poor performance. Not all employees have to be rising stars or top performers; a well-functioning team should comprise different types of people, and not everyone can be top talent.

Who Quiet Quits?

The characteristics of quiet quitting have been evident long before the phrase itself became popular. The difference now is that due to the Great Resignation and other effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, upper management is being confronted by these workplace challenges more directly. While the symptoms of burnout and career dissatisfaction have been normalized and largely ignored by previous generations, Millennials and Gen Zs are destigmatizing conversations around the negative effects of hustle culture. And ultimately, whether or not these issues are openly discussed, no one is truly capable of siloing these concerns from their work life.

Recognizing and Mitigating the Effects of Quiet Quitting

To recognize the signs of quiet quitting early on and ensure job satisfaction across all areas of a company, I recommend that managers check in consistently with their direct reports. The supervisor/worker relationship must be maintained through frequent communication and trust-building, and company culture must support this by championing values like honesty and transparency. Once a good rapport is established, managers can be proactive in providing employees with the resources needed to do their jobs in a sustainable way. Employees should also be empowered to give their managers feedback so that everyone has a stake in creating and maintaining a healthy, productive workplace. Even if a company offers great pay, benefits, and career advancement, that doesn’t automatically mean all its workers are engaged, appreciated, and motivated. We need to be open to employee feedback and be willing to change.

One of the ways my company, Jobsity, fosters trust and employee satisfaction is by having a remote workforce. While a remote work structure may seem counterintuitive to some, if done well, it can enable trust and honest communication companywide. Mutual trust and successful remote management go hand in hand. Supervisors trust workers to complete their projects in a timely manner, and workers are empowered by this trust. Employees are also able to create a work environment that’s best suited to their job responsibilities and can coordinate their professional and personal activities more effectively. These things prevent burnout and, by extension, quiet quitting.

Future Outlook and Impact

Another trend has emerged in response to quiet quitting: quiet firing. This can look like a company ostracizing employees by excluding them from meetings, projects, or other endeavors without a clear reason. Quiet firing can also take the form of management being inaccessible, uncommunicative, or overly negative in their feedback. The purpose of quiet firing is to drive the “quiet quitter” out of the company. When employees feel undervalued by their company and managers respond poorly by “quiet firing,” this can create an unfortunate, vicious cycle to see who caves first: the worker who formally quits or the company that fires the worker.

Ultimately, the best way to handle quiet quitting is to communicate proactively, be open to feedback, and foster mutual trust. This way, no employee leaves a company feeling unvalued, and management doesn’t have to navigate high employee turnover.

Paola Martinez is the Vice President of People Operations at Jobsity, a staff augmentation firm that operates in 14 countries with more than 400 employees.