How managers and HR can combat quiet quitting

HR experts weigh in on quiet quitting and how to handle the phenomenon.

Quiet quitting, lack of work motivation, work boredom or morality, exhaustion or burn out from hard work without recognition concept, unhappy businessman sleeping while working at busy workplace.

There’s been a lot of talk about quiet quitting and quiet firing these days, especially as a large chunk of the workforce finds itself in remote and hybrid working environments over the last few years.

Ragan recently sat down with Reynaldo Ramirez, co-founder and management consultant at Thrive HR Consulting and Jason Walker, Chief People Officer and co-founder at Thrive HR Consulting. We discussed the origins of quiet quitting, the effects on organizations and what leaders can do to combat the practice.

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Ragan: For those who may not be are not as familiar with the concept of the quiet workplace altogether, can you explain quiet quitting, and how it’s different from the traditional methods of quitting a job?

Jason Walker: Well, quiet quitting is a lot different than just quitting the job. I mean when you traditionally quit, you’re like “I’m out of here. Here’s my two weeks. See ya sucker,” and you’re out. Quiet quitting is basically a very passive, aggressive form of upset with your job. Meaning, “You know what, I’m just shutting down. I’m not responding to emails. I’m not answering calls. I’m not going to do anything, and I am protesting. Essentially, I am on strike because I don’t like what I’m doing.”

Basically, you’re quitting in place while you’re still getting paid, but you’re not working.

Reynaldo Ramirez: I think also it’s kind of doing the bare minimum. I mean a lot of times when you have a role, you’re expected to do certain things but you’re also expected to go above and beyond. I think that the quiet quitting is like saying, “I’ve been beaten up so much over the last several years that I’m just shutting down. I’m going to do the bare minimum to keep my job, hopefully, and maybe I’ll do other things for my mental health, or my physical health and that’s going to take importance over everything else.”

How prevalent is this right now in the U.S. job market?

RR: It’s prevalent when you see all of the things like minimal effort. There seems to be a pattern happening that this whole quiet thing really comes down to — employees being engaged and being connected with their manager and their company. If that’s not happening, you’ve got these issues that pop up, and these are challenges that organizations have had for many years. Now they’re just being recycled with different names.

JW: But you’ve got to remember that there’s only so much you can push at quiet quitting because your manager or your manager’s manager is going to be like, “Wait a minute. I haven’t seen anything from Tom. He’s not turning in any copy. We’re looking at the login records, and he’s never opening his computer laptop. We can’t get any work out of him, and he’s completely absent in his job.”

At some point it’s going to catch up, and you’re going to get noisily fired. If you’re going to go all in on quiet quitting, you’re going to get fired. However, I mean, if there’s a place where people can kind of fit in the middle, doing fewer emails, being less responsive, taking a longer lunch break, and logging in later, they’re doing that.

Quiet quitting is about reducing the amount of work, which is more of what people are doing as opposed to just completely shutting down because that’s a recipe for not having a paycheck.

You just mentioned some of the signs of quiet quitting are less engagement and productivity. What can employers do to identify and address these signs that they are seeing?

RR: Well, there are a few things. One, like Jason said, is a slower response time to emails or not answering your Teams or Slack chat. Another example would be not being present at meetings or not showing your face in Zoom meetings. It’s about identifying the folks that are just not being present, and not really focusing on the job. But it takes a little bit of effort and observation by the leader to identify the signs.

JW: Whenever we talk about why everybody is so quiet, that’s part of the problem. If you’re a manager, you should be out there engaging with your team. Asking them how they are doing, what’s going on, how they feel about things, how’s the job going. To counteract quiet quitting, leaders need to be very vocal with their team and talk with them about what’s happening. That’s the best way of being able to figure out what’s going on quite quickly and nip it in the bud. That you’re connecting with the team is the most important part.

What are some of the potential consequences of quiet quitting for both employees and employers beyond the lack of a job over time?

JW: There are two things that can happen that are detrimental. The first is that your efficiency wanes — your whole team or company is all less efficient. That’s problematic because you may generate less revenue, and if you’re generating less revenue, the company’s not doing too well. That’s not a good sign for anybody, because more people are going to get laid off if you’re not being efficient as possible.

The other thing that happens is that you really make your peers upset because your peers will have to carry the load. If Jason is slacking off and quietly quitting, and he’s not working, then Jon and Ray have got to pick up the slack, and so you get bad overall morale, because some people aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do. It’s just a vicious cycle when it starts to happen.

How can HR work with managers to create effective performance management processes that help prevent quiet quitting?

RR: Well, a couple of things. Whenever we put in a performance management system for a client, it’s not about the tools. It’s about the interaction managers have with employees. If you don’t have a good manager, one-on-ones with employees aren’t likely to happen on a regular basis. That’s the key. The other thing that’s important is that you are setting goals for that employee to achieve on a regular basis. They don’t have to be 12-month goals. It could be the next 30 days or “I want you to get these things done in the next 60 days.”

The third thing is, if managers are not having discussions with employees about their personal and career development, those employees are not going to get connected with the manager or the organization. If somebody is talking to me on a regular basis, giving me feedback on how I’m doing, telling me what to get done, but also talking to me about my career, how I can develop, and how I can become more valuable in my industry — that’s the key to a good performance management system.

JW: Yes, it’s really about training and giving them new experiences and new skills in the organization. The other thing is rewards both monetary and non-monetary. If you can promote people, that’s great. But if you can give people the things they need like flexibility in their job, that can be great too.

How can employers identify and address potential sources of workplace stress or burnout that’s leading to this quiet quitting? Are there any other examples?

JW: Well, you ask people how they’re doing literally. Some managers ask the same person to do all the extra work because they’re the person they always go to and trust the most. But then that person always gets everything dumped on them.

Managers need to disperse work out amongst their team so employees don’t get frustrated and burnt out. As managers, you’ve got to care about every single person on your team and keep that personal hands-on touch of working with everybody, seeing how they’re doing, and engaging with them. Quiet quitting isn’t necessarily an employee problem. It can be a management problem, not doing enough to engage your employees and make them want to be working for you and at the company. Managers need to take steps to reach out to their employees to improve the situation.

RR: Use your analytics. You know what percentage of the time employees are signed on, if they’re using the ERP system, Intranet or whatever. Look at that data and look at the trends over time to understand how employees are feeling about their jobs, their level of stress and burnout.

JW: We use a survey platform with an ecosystem within the tool where you can see the connections that are and aren’t working well between manager and employee and you can pick out the hotspots. HR can proactively dive in and tackle those hotspots where things aren’t working well or efficiently. Some of these engagement surveys are super great, and they can really help you identify the problem areas in the organization where people aren’t engaged.

How can employers implement some effective employee engagement and retention programs?

RR: We recommend always listening. Good survey tools and getting data from employees is important. And it’s not just the surveying, but then acting and sharing the results. Here’s what we’ve heard. Let employees know that their opinion matters. I think that those are big drivers of that engagement.

Also, take it a look at your compensation and benefits and total rewards program, because if you’re losing talent and they keep going to your competitor for a better compensation package, you may have a problem with your compensation package.

JW: Companies have realized that they need to be market competitive. If they’re not up to date on salary ranges and titles, they’re going to lose headcount to the competition.

It’s also about vision and getting people on projects that they’re interested in and making people feel included in a team. It’s about being inclusive and that psychological safety of, “Hey, I’m free to bring my best self to work.” Really driving those things and allowing people to be who they are at work, and then having good conversations, talking with them, giving them projects and things that they like. That is super important for engagement.

How can employers prevent quiet quitting moving forward and create a workplace culture that encourages open communication and feedback and engagement?

RR: It’s about ensuring employee/manager connection in regular one on ones. Making sure you’re talking to your employees about their career and their individual development. That’s huge whether you are an on-site employee, hybrid or remote. That manager/employee connectivity is huge to preventing some of the issues around quiet quitting.

Jon Minnick is a conference and awards events producer and workplace wellness writer. He’s generally not quiet about much. 

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