What Is Quiet Quitting?

Employee at computer desk dropping papers into wire trash can.

The first time I saw the term in a news article, I was intrigued and wondered, what is quiet quitting? Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen increasing mentions of this “trend in the workplace” as if it is something new. What is new about quiet quitting is the name. The idea of people setting boundaries at work is as old as work itself.

What Is Quiet Quitting?

The term quiet quitting is great branding because it gains attention, but it is misleading as a description of workplace behavior. At first, I thought it referred to someone quitting the job without notice, but it has nothing to do with turnover. Rather quiet quitting is about an employee setting limits to their contributions at work. A quiet quitter might limit the number of hours worked or the scope of tasks they might do. It is about achieving balance between work and nonwork, and about seeking fairness in how their talents are utilized. None of these ideas are new as their elements are found across different workplace concepts.

Different Flavors of Quiet Quitting

Employment is a balance between the needs of employees and their organizations. The right balance can make the best use of employee talent while providing a rewarding and supportive environment. Some organizations do a good job of achieving that balance, whereas others focus primarily on organizational requirements to the detriment of their employees. Under those conditions, employees are likely to lose engagement and motivation, thus limiting their contributions. But the balancing act between employee and organization is complicated, as every employee is different with their own aspirations and needs, and every organization has its own demands and requirements. There are a number of issues that need to be considered that are relevant to the idea of quiet quitting. Just a few include:

  • Employee Engagement. Employees differ in their motivation for work, with some highly engaged and others not so much. Some enjoy their jobs and are willing to expend effort beyond minimum requirements. Others lack engagement and might go through the motions, doing just enough to get by. There are many things that organizations can do to drive engagement. The first thing I think about is leadership, as treating employees with kindness and support can provide a foundation for growing engagement.
  • Illegitimate Tasks. Leading job stress researcher, Norbert Semmer, came up with the idea that it is stressful for employees to be asked to take on tasks that they feel are not part of their job. This can occur when those tasks should be done by someone else (e.g., a nurse being asked to clean a room) or serves little purpose and should not be done at all. Employees who experience repeated illegitimate tasks are at risk for burnout and loss of motivation.
  • Psychological Contract Breach. Professor Denise Rousseau introduced the idea that employees have beliefs about what their obligations are to their employers. A psychological contract breach occurs when employees find themselves asked to do things that are beyond what they were led to believe would be their role. This can result in push back or “quiet quitting” when an employee resists adopting new requirements or taking on new tasks.
  • Work-Family Balance. As western societies have seen a rise in both number of dual-employee families and single-parent households, more and more people have become concerned with their work-family balance. In other words, people are setting boundaries between their working time and family time. Many employees are unwilling to give up weekends for work, and many are unwilling to work overtime. Such employees can be highly productive during work time but make themselves unavailable during time set aside for their families.

Avoiding the Problem of Low Engagement

Each individual is unique, and reasons that they might set boundaries for their contributions can differ. One might feel stressed by being asked to do things that they consider unreasonable, whereas another is dealing with difficult family circumstances. Management skill is required to best utilize the talents of individuals while meeting individual employee needs. This means hiring people with the talents needed for a particular job, making expectations clear from the beginning, and being flexible in allowing employees to juggle work and nonwork demands. Leaders need be be clear in what they expect, empower employees to influence their roles, and support employees in dealing with work and nonwork demands. Achieving a balance between employees and organizations can go a long way to minimize what has come to be termed quiet quitting.

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2 Replies to “What Is Quiet Quitting?”

  1. This is exactly why HR Leaders are focusing on fostering employees’ commitment INSTEAD of measuring their engagement.

    ➜ In the words of Josh Bersin:

    “The word ‘engagement’ often limits our thinking. It assumes that our job is to reach out and ‘engage’ people, rather than to build an organization that is exciting, fulfilling, meaningful, and fun.

    Plus we aren’t just looking to get people ‘engaged’, we want them to be ‘married.’ That is, fully COMMITTED.”

    ✳️ Quick infographic for those who are interested in this alternative approach: https://newwave.pub/Infographic

    What are your thoughts

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