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Quiet quitting: should we be curious or concerned about this emerging trend?

In amongst the viral recipes and endless dancing videos, TikTok in 2022 has also given us quiet quitting.  

Is this just another social media trend? Or is it something managers and leaders should be worried about? Whether you’re curious, confused or concerned about the impact of quiet quitting, we take a deeper look at the trend and the forces behind it. 

Quiet quitting explained

At a high level, quiet quitting is when a person stays in their job but only does the minimum requirements of the role. They start work at 9am, log off at 5pm and don’t take on any work in addition to what is absolutely required. It’s a withdrawal of sorts with the individual stepping away from expectations of going above and beyond. 

Anna Hebron, Managing Director of Anna Hebron & Associates Pty Ltd explains that Gallup employee engagement research might have some insight into the prevalence of quiet quitting. 

“The Gallup research shows that about 20% of employees are actively engaged,” she says. “A similar number is actively disengaged. This type of disengagement is very toxic and can spread within the workplace. That leaves close to 60% of employees who sit in the middle. They are neither engaged nor disengaged. This is where we tend to find the quiet quitters.” 

In Australia and New Zealand, the Gallup research shows that engagement is lower than in many other regions across the globe. Anna says that employee engagement has been declining over the last 10 years. 

“Compounding that decline is the pandemic and this other concept of the great resignation,” explains Anna. “People are reshuffling and rethinking work life balance. People are searching for more. They want more meaning, more connection and more purpose. Quiet quitting can come about when they aren’t getting that.” 

So what?

Is this rejection of expectations a bad thing? Or can organisations and employees learn and benefit from quiet quitting? 

Anna says that there are pros and cons for both individuals and organisations. 

“There was lots of evidence that people took on more during the pandemic, particularly with remote working,” she says. “People were working from home and really didn’t have that demarcation between work and home. In a way, stepping back and reclaiming some time is not necessarily a bad thing. 

“As leaders, we want people to be healthy. Working 24/7 is not sustainable. It can lead to burnout, disengagement and other mental health issues. It’s a positive thing for an employee to want to reclaim more time and balance.” 

On the flip side, Anna says that quiet quitting can have implications for an employee’s future career progression and prospects if they are disconnected or disengaged. 

“It’s a double edged sword,” she explains. “It can depend on the motivation behind it and how it’s perceived. Are they disengaged? Are they checking out? Or do they simply want to shake off the expectations of the corporate hustle culture?” 

What employees want

If employees are rejecting traditional models of corporate culture, what is it that they are seeking instead? Anna says that employees – particularly younger employees – are searching for more than the traditional employment contract. They want more than to be paid for doing their job. 

“People want to be valued,” she says. “They want to bring their whole selves to work and be appreciated for who they are. They want to be able to do work with purpose and meaning. They want to know that their contribution is actually doing something and creating value.” 

But is this also good for business? Interestingly, research by The Corporate Rebels uncovered the characteristics that define a fun organisation. These are factors like prioritising purpose and values over profit, supportive leadership styles and radical transparency across the organisation.  

“When an organisation embodies these ‘fun’ characteristics, they are able to more effectively engage employees,” explains Anna. “From there, innovation goes through the roof. And with it, so too does their profit.” 

For young people, there is a level of uncertainty around their future. Many of the jobs that exist today won’t in the future. Automation is increasing and they are conscious of that. They are also more conscious about environmental issues and social responsibility than the generations before them. This is also playing into the shift in what they are looking for from work. 

“Money isn’t as important for people now as it has been in the past,” adds Anna. “Flexibility is now more important. People want to go to the gym or do their volunteering or fulfill their caring responsibilities while still engaging in work. Learning and development is also important so we need to allow people space and time to continue learning. The more we can embrace and foster the concept of curiosity and continuous learning in the organisation the better.” 

Stepping into the future

Is quiet quitting something to view as simply a passing trend? Or is it an opportunity? Anna says that ultimately it’s about upskilling leaders to have quality conversations with their employees. 

“This isn’t just a once a year tick-in-the-box performance conversation,” she says. “It’s actually about having really regular and meaningful connected conversations, particularly in remote environments. We have a duty of care to ensure that our employees are heard, respected and that we’re offering them a way to find purpose and meaning at work.”  

People are now looking for a different relationship at work. They want a relationship that’s more connected, more personal and one that speaks to their values. Remote and hybrid working has been embraced. There’s more flexibility and there’s also more opportunity for people to create the roles and jobs that they want. 

“Position descriptions are often outdated from day one in a role,” says Anna. “This leads to a disconnect when people say that they aren’t working in their job description. How can we leverage that and give people an opportunity to create jobs they love and they’re good at? Of course, there’s a governance element and the role needs to sit within the deliverables and outcomes of the team and organisation. Outside of that, there is a huge need and opportunity to tap into people’s individuality and individual capabilities to really get the best out of people.” 

Anna says that if nothing else, it’s an opportunity for organisations to step back and make an honest assessment of how they are connecting with their employees. Quiet quitting may be a social media trend but it’s worth looking across the organisation and actively finding ways to increase engagement and connection. 

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