Quiet Quitting: What it is, Why it Happens, and How it Can Be Stopped

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1/30/2023

Quiet QuittingBy Judy Gaus, AEM Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Operations —

It seems every few months we hear a new phrase aimed at defining a workplace trend occurring at that particular moment. The Great Resignation came and went. So did The Great Reconsideration.

Now, it seems, we find ourselves in the era of quiet quitting.

I recognize “quiet quitting” has a few definitions and I focus on only one of those here. To me, the term quiet quitting is simply new packaging for a challenge employers have been navigating for ages.

Quiet quitting is when a staff member does the minimum to get by and nothing more. They’ve checked out, lost that spark, they’re no longer engaged. Any and all excitement to contribute to the larger success of the organization is gone. So, too, is a willingness to engage fellow employees and contribute to a strong workplace culture. And while the employee still fulfills a role, their full potential as an organizational asset seems out of reach.

In many ways COVID-19 brought this longstanding workforce issue to light, as the pandemic bred uncertainty and instability throughout companies across the country and around the world. Countless people lost jobs, changed roles and embarked on new career paths. That uncertainty about the future and diminished opportunities left others who remained employed entrenched in positions that offered little in the way of happiness or job satisfaction and they exchanged that for a semblance of security and normalcy.

While every employee and role are different, I believe the root cause behind much of the quiet quitting we’re seeing today is due to employees feeling overlooked and underappreciated. I firmly believe nothing impacts how employees think, feel and act more than the attitudes and actions put forth by organizational leaders. Employees contributing at full potential are recognized and appreciated for their efforts and valued as key contributors to organizational success. That should be the goal, at least, but actually achieving it is often a task easier said than done. So, how exactly do organizations ensure employees feel appreciated, remain engaged and avoid heading down the path toward quiet quitting?

Here are some considerations to keep top of mind:

  1. Recognize talent (and reward it). It’s no secret every organization seeks to bring in the right people for the right jobs. But what happens after talent is acquired is what really matters. Can employers engage employees, successfully demonstrate appreciation and communicate how the work being done contributes to “the big picture?” There’s no better way to stop quiet quitting before it starts than by being intentional and effective at workforce retention.
  2. Communicate clearly, constantly and collaboratively. It’s critically important for organizations to keep employees in the loop on organizational direction and communicate understanding and awareness of the opportunities and challenges at hand. Also, employers should encourage communication among their employees and create forums for interfacing with one another in fun, collaborative ways.
  3. Focus on employee development. Every employee – regardless of age, experience or background – wants to know what comes next for them in their careers. Actively discussing how direct reports can learn and grow in the organization should be a top priority for employers. Evaluating and suggesting training opportunities, encouraging professional development tactics, offering additional responsibility and facilitating increased visibility are among the most effective ways to help employees reach their full potential and remain engaged.
  4. Care. Express appreciation. Make employees feel valued. Listen to suggestions and be open to new ideas. Be quick to give credit and be supportive when employees stumble or fail. All are considerations organizational leaders should keep top-of-mind. Nothing builds more trust in the employer-employee relationship than when both entities recognize they care about one another. If care is missing from the equation, quiet quitting can – and often does – happen as a result.

So, what comes next after the quiet quitting era inevitably ends? It’s really anybody’s guess. So much depends on where the labor market is headed. If it continues to tighten over time, and we see fewer and fewer people in the labor market, where jobs and choices are plentiful, employers should expect to find employee engagement and workforce retention to be even greater organizational challenges. With more and more opportunities becoming available, and with the increased prevalence of remote work (at least in the short term), many in the workforce are revaluating existing priorities and preferences as they relate to current and potential job opportunities.

Even though “quiet quitting” is a top trend today, it’s really nothing new. It’s been an issue in the workplace for a long, long time, and it seems like a challenge that’s here to stay. If employers want to mitigate its impact, though, success hinges on how committed – and, perhaps more importantly, effective – they are at in optimizing engagement with employees across their respective organizations.

For more perspectives from AEM staff, subscribe to the AEM Industry Advisor.

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