The Times reports that “quiet quitting” is costing the economy £257 billion in lost output. A Gallup report suggests that only 10 per cent of British workers are putting extra effort into their jobs, potentially costing the UK 11 per cent of GDP. Organisations are a microcosm of wider society which means that the debate around motivation, engagement and quiet quitting is multi-faceted.

Quiet quitting is working only to do the minimum requirements of one’s job and putting in no more time, effort, or enthusiasm than absolutely necessary. No early starts, no unpaid overtime, no ‘going above and beyond’, no discretionary effort. I think its best described by Homer Simpson as “am bothered?” I don’t think it’s a new trend, we’ve just put a name on something that has become a little more prevalent since the return to work after the pandemic.

The CIPD say that work is occupying a less central place in our lives, an increasing number of employees feel that a job is ‘just a way of earning money’ a transactional view of work. Quiet quitters may be bored, burnt-out, disenchanted, or exhausted from juggling personal and professional priorities or they may be failing to engage with work because they feel that their employer has failed them.

What to do?

In August 2022 Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman wrote an article for Harvard Business Review where they suggested managers should examine their own behaviour. Ask yourself is: “Is this a problem with my direct reports, or is this a problem with me and my leadership abilities?” If someone on your team has quietly stopped putting energy and commitment into their work, guess what, it’s because they don’t feel rewarded for that energy, commitment and stress.

Don’t expect people to go above and beyond if you treat them like cogs in the machine. Nobody is going to put in a sixty-hour workweek or exert themselves for a job that does not care about them as a person. If you micro-manage, refuse personal or medical leave, clock watch, criticise, bully and harass your staff they’ll pay you back in kind, by not caring about anything beyond their pay cheque.

Treat your employees well, given them a voice, acknowledge their contribution, offer a career path and development opportunities along with fair pay and you are more likely to have an engaged and committed workforce. I believe most people wake up in the morning wanting to do a good job.  Good people want meaningful work and to feel they identify with their organisation and that they are making a difference in the world.

More to life than work

Work is a means to an end. That said we know that holding a job you enjoy, one that engages your enthusiasm, energy and commitment, that uses your skills and strengths and provides meaning and fulfilment is the ideal.

Going the extra mile for an employer uses mental resources and energy, if the result is that there’s little reward for doing so then quiet quitting may well be the first recourse. Not everyone is in a position to leave their role but quiet quitting means redrawing the boundaries and working strictly to the job description so as to dedicate time and energy to other aspects of life.

Since the return to work after lockdown employees are reframing how they think about work and career. One of the benefits of lock down, was an appreciation of spending more time with the family. In rejecting long working hours, unpaid overtime and dedication to an organisation many are choosing their personal lives and they don’t miss the anxiety and stress of being always ‘on message’. The pandemic made us think about work, life and family differently.

Good work for all

Studies show that feeling valued at work is linked to wellbeing and performance (APA); evidence shows a link between engaged and happy employees and fewer sick days, higher productivity, enhanced creativity, and positive workplace relationships. Good employers should be aiming for a culture that promotes engagement:

  • Encourage a culture of transparency and openness where employees can share concerns and aspirations, speak their truth, receive timely, constructive feedback and feel valued and heard.
  • Recognize achievements, celebrate success, acknowledge the contribution and hard work of the team with financial and non-financial rewards to motivate employees and foster a sense of belonging.
  • Support work-life balance with flexible work arrangements and benefits to enhance job satisfaction and loyalty.
  • Offer growth opportunities, this is what top performers really want, tailored professional development and clear career paths that reward commitment.
  • Build a positive culture that offers an inclusive and supportive environment, show workers the organisation is genuinely concerned for their welfare and encourage them to seek assistance if they are disengaged.

Our lives don’t and should not revolve around work, so if someone on the team has quietly stopped putting energy and commitment into their work, guess what, it’s because they are getting the same pay, same recognition, same everything but without the stress.

It’s a leadership problem

In addressing engagement it’s important to recognise that leaders must show that their commitment to organisational values and employer brand is real and tangible. Employee engagement is a function of leadership, corporate culture and relationship building and we need to be more creative in our approach to work.

If you haven’t already read it, I urge you read Dan Pink’s book Drive. He identifies the three drivers of engagement: autonomy, mastery, and sense of purpose. I don’t believe job design is so difficult that we can’t embrace these three factors.

Solving the quiet quitting epidemic requires a careful consideration of organisational design and job design with a view to enhancing employee engagement investment in professional development. We need to focus on using an approach that acknowledges the expectations and aspirations of the workforce will be different for each employee and will be role specific.

If leadership really wants to see energy, effort and commitment they need to earn the trust and demonstrate care for the wellbeing of their people and offer recognition, reward, feedback and development opportunities.

 

References:

APA https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2012/03/well-being

De Neve, Kaats & Ward, Workplace Wellbeing and Firm Performance, University of Oxford Wellbeing Research Centre Working Paper Series, May 2023

Harvard Business Review. “Quiet Quitting Is About Bad Bosses, Not Bad Employees.”

Michael Moran

Michael is CEO and Founder of 10Eighty. He is passionate about helping people maximise their potential and believes everyone should have job satisfaction and a successful career. He helps organisations design jobs and career paths that maximise employee engagement. As an avid reader/commentator on the world of work and sport, he regularly draws parallels between the two. You could describe Michael as a budding author with “The Guide to Everlasting Employability” already under his belt, and technophile who’s created 2 career management apps to help people manage their careers.

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