How to Combat the Rise in ‘Quiet Quitting’

Posted in Organizational Development

UPDATED April 2023

Late last year, a new idea was introduced into our work lives: “quiet quitting.” The opposite of hustle culture, the quiet quitting trend is about doing the bare minimum to get by. Disaffected employees flocked to social media to proclaim they had decided to disengage from their work and start coasting. Alarmed leaders and HR teams started asking questions: What is quiet quitting? What causes employees to stop caring? What are the warning signs of quiet quitting? And perhaps most importantly, how can organizations protect against it?

Is “quiet quitting” real?

“Quiet quitting” – the practice of employees purposely doing the bare minimum to stay employed and nothing more – went viral after a TikTok was posted by software engineer Zaid Khan in July of 2022. “You’re no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life. The reality is, it’s not,” said Khan, “and your worth as a person is not determined by your labor.”

@zaidleppelin On quiet quitting #workreform ♬ original sound – ruby

Khan’s video on quiet quitting went viral with millions of views and nearly 500k likes at the time of this writing. It was covered by every major news outlet and organization, from Rolling Stone to the World Economic Forum.

The idea of employees deciding to simply “phone it in” and join the quiet quitting trend strikes fear into the hearts of organizations that are counting on employee energy to fuel their success. A 2022 SHRM study found that 51% of HR professionals are concerned about the quiet quitting trend.

Of course, this is really nothing new. The trend has employers frantically looking for signs of quiet quitting, but in many ways, this is just a new term for a problem that has been around as long as work itself. Gallup has been warning about low engagement rates for decades – and despite incremental improvement, it has remained a pervasive problem.

Still, there’s no doubt that the experience of the past few years – combined with the shifting priorities of a new work generation – has amplified the quiet quitting trend. According to Gallup’s recent research, up to 50% of the current workforce is made up of quiet quitters. It’s gone hand in hand with historic drops in productivity and high voluntary resignation rates that have combined to make employers very anxious.

There are a couple of contributing factors here. One is a renewed focus on well-being and flexibility at work, sparked by the pandemic. Life-work balance has been on the minds of employees for a while – but when many suddenly shifted to working from home, they had a greater opportunity than ever to reevaluate the priority of work in their lives.

Another is generational change. Generation Z is entering the workforce in rapid numbers now, and as Oliver Wyman has reported, Gen Z are far more likely to be transactional and aren’t as driven to hustle and achieve as prior generations. “Unlike millennials,” that report observed, “Gen Z members don’t want Xboxes and rock climbing walls in the office. They want to clock in and clock out, and aren’t interested in small talk or fraternizing with co-workers over beers.”

Why you should be concerned about the quiet quitting trend


To be clear, no one is arguing against a healthy work-life balance.

We don’t want employees missing out on family events and special moments because their nose is stuck in email. And we don’t want them to suffer burnout and health issues because they’re working themselves too hard. So we’re most certainly not attacking the tenets of working reasonable hours and having manageable expectations.

No, employers are scanning for signs of quiet quitting because of the ‘bare minimum attitude’ that comes along with it.

  • An employee who is only doing the bare minimum doesn’t go out of their way to help their co-workers.
  • An employee who is only doing the bare minimum doesn’t try to make meaningful contributions or help change small things that could make a big difference in the company’s success or profitability.
  • An employee who is only doing the bare minimum doesn’t contribute to a healthy workplace culture. In fact, they usually detract from it.

The truth is that quiet quitting doesn’t just affect a single employee’s output; it creates a work environment that brings everyone’s morale down. After all, why should your best employees strive to do their best when their co-workers are barely pulling their weight?

What are the signs of quiet quitting?

How can you spot signs of quiet quitting in your workforce? Here are just some of the warning signals that might indicate you have a growing quiet quitting risk on your team:

  • Higher rates of absenteeism, stress, and sickness
  • Low eNPS and engagement survey scores
  • Cynicism and negativity from team members
  • Less communication, connection, and friendships among team members
  • Decreased participation in meetings and discretionary team activities
  • Decreasing employee referral rates for job openings
  • Low productivity and missed deadlines
  • Fewer suggestions and ideas from team members
  • Slow email response rates

How to solve a quiet quitting problem


Looking for ways to protect against quiet quitting in your organization?

Listen to and invest in your employees

If you don’t want employees to go quiet, you will need to encourage them to speak up. That means listening to employees. A recent IDG study conducted with Workday showed that tech companies that invest in employee listening are 71% more likely to improve operational efficiency and 89% more likely to improve productivity. It’s also important to act on what you hear. That same study found that by integrating employee sentiment data and feedback into operational decision making companies were 2x more likely to see productivity gains of 31-50%.

Prevent burnout

Employee burnout is on the rise and is a huge contributor to quiet quitting. According to 2023 Mercer data, the number of employees who feel at risk for burnout rose from 63% in 2019 to 81% in 2022. This rose to 89% for millennials and Gen Z. That report found top reasons for burnout included lack of support, perceived unfairness, workload, and increased emotional demands. To protect employees, ensure that workloads and deadlines are reasonable, and connect them with the organizational and emotional supports they need.

Don’t create a “hustle culture”

Remember in December 2022 when Elon Musk famously converted offices into bedrooms at Twitter and issued an ultimatum to employees commanding them to commit to working “long hours at high intensity” or leave the company? Yeah. Don’t do that. It’s arguable whether hustle culture (aka 996 culture) was ever even that effective, but it has become evident that toxic hustle cultures lead quickly to burnout and a sense of antipathy between leaders and employees that increases the rates of both quiet and active quitting.

Redefine tasks and connect them to opportunity

Many employees will quiet quit because they simply don’t see the benefit to themselves. This can happen when employees don’t have clear definitions of success. Maybe they aren’t clear what benefits come from acquiring skills or raising their hands for projects. Maybe they don’t see a clear pathway to advancement in your company. If you make the effort to clearly define tasks and outcomes – and to connect people to those who can guide them – you are more likely to have employees who feel it is worth their effort.

Encourage setting boundaries for work-life balance and well-being

This is a no-brainer, but no company can thrive for long in today’s labor market without attending to the physical and mental health needs of their employees. This includes setting healthy boundaries and offering flexible work where possible that respects people’s human needs. It also means establishing real human connections and also to creating a psychologically safe workplace where people have access to important emotional and informational support.

How to handle quiet quitting when you see it


Following the principles above should drastically reduce instances of quiet quitting in your organization. But what happens when you spot quiet quitting in action? Many companies turn to employee engagement tactics to try to coax their employees into applying themselves harder during work hours. This may look like:

  • One-off social or team-building events
  • Poorly-organized workplace “buddy systems”
  • Creating an artificial company culture without building the foundation for it first
  • Or the dreaded “IT monitoring, oversight, and regulation” option

These attempts usually fall flat because employees can sense that these tactics often lack depth and will practically be over before they begin. Instead, the key to successfully combating quiet quitting is in the how, not the what.

The way to handle quiet quitting is with empathy.

It takes empathy to recognize that, while some employees adapt well to change, some are struggling right now to find their identity and the role work has in their lives, and the ramifications of this can show up in many different ways.

Take a few seconds to answer these questions from your people’s perspective:

  • What information and support do your people need from you?
  • What are they motivated by and interested in?
  • How are their work schedules arranged, and what is their workload like?
  • How much can they handle at once?

… and then apply this exercise and these perspectives to your programs and shape your delivery around what your people need right now.

Keep your employee engaged

However you feel about quiet quitting, it is clear that we are in a new world. The old ways don’t work anymore, and it’s not a bad thing. It’s a chance for reflection for all of us.

When you begin to design your programs, start with empathy and human connection. You can help employees stay motivated and find the deeper meaning in the work they’re doing and the relationships they’re building with their co-workers – and quiet quitting will be in your rearview mirror.

So no, your worth as a person isn’t defined by your labor. But your teamwork and contributions will help to accomplish feats far beyond what a single person could ever accomplish alone.

Need help connecting your workforce and reducing quiet quitting?
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