Employee engagement

The Real Problem with Quiet Quitting

Kyndall Elliot
September 23, 2022
Table of Contents
Free Trial! No credit card required.
Get started with a Free Trial to see how effective & engaging our platform is. You'll get the full Bonusly experience like any paid user would. Invite teammates, & start recognizing & rewarding today!

Practically overnight, the term “quiet quitting” was clogging up our LinkedIn feeds. What many thought was just another one of those “short-lived social media trends” has turned into a concept that demands reflection.

In fact, half of U.S. workers identify themselves as Quiet Quitters.

But is it a trend that will eventually disappear like oversized shoulder pads from the ‘80s, or is it here to stay? Is quiet quitting actually a problem? And, how do HR and people leaders address the challenges that sparked the quiet quitting movement? Read on for answers to these questions and more.

Managers are at the forefront of the Quiet Quitting movement. Download our 2022 People Manager Report.

What is quiet quitting anyway?

The term was originally coined to represent employees doing no more than what is outlined in their job descriptions. These workers are likely already disengaged from their workplace due to burnout, lack of recognition, bad management, or a combination of all three. This was exacerbated amid the pandemic when segments of the population, like frontline and essential workers, were expected to work long hours with little to no recognition for doing so.

However, there’s another side to the story. Quiet quitting advocates don’t really see a problem with the term. Is it really about quitting your job, or simply quitting going above and beyond? As Danielle Cohen notes in The Cut:

The main confusion seems to be what any of that has to do with ‘quitting,’ as opposed to just … meeting your job expectations?

An example of a Quiet Quitter could be someone who clocks in at 9:00 am sharp and shuts their computer down at 5:00 pm. They’re no longer motivated to work extra hours to get a project across the finish line by the proposed deadline, nor are they willing to do something outside the scope of their responsibilities. In general, the Quiet Quitter does no more and no less than is required. 

Is that so bad?

Well. Yes. But maybe not for the reason you're thinking.

Sad Employee 2

The real problem with quiet quitting

This phenomenon needs to be addressed because it signals a larger problem: employees are struggling. New research from Gallup shows that disengagement is on the up; nearly half of American workers are unengaged at work, and another 18% are actively disengaged. And we know that low engagement leads to low productivity and high turnover, which can be detrimental to your bottom line. 

This is something that absolutely needs to be addressed.

But first: how did we get here? 

We may be tired of The Great Resignation, but a lot of these challenges came into focus in 2020. People have always searched for meaning and purpose in their work; this was perpetuated when the pandemic surfaced. In fact, Gartner surveyed more than 3,500 workers around the world, and 65% said:

...the pandemic had made them rethink the place that work should have in their life. Fifty-six percent said it made them want to contribute more to society.

Employees are not “coin-operated machines”—the idea that a worker provides services in exchange for a salary is a thing of the past. 

What management may have failed to realize (and is now trying to address) is that feeling a sense of purpose, progress, and belonging at work is critical to employees. Moreover, trust must be built and consistently reaffirmed with good leadership. Performance reviews must be fair and take a holistic view of the person’s achievements. Raises need to be given when appropriate to show employees are a valued part of the organization. Recognition should be given often to signal perpetual appreciation. 

Watch now: Finding Purpose at Work: Why Intrinsic Value Matters

A new report by McLean and Co says employees with manageable stress levels at work are 3.7x more likely to be engaged. They also purported that employees are 44% less likely to experience burnout when organizations offer frequent and meaningful recognition. 

And, guess what? Employees are stressed. Nearly half of U.S. workers say their job is “very or extremely stressful.” Harmful work cultures and lack of support from management are to blame. 

With all of this in mind, what do you think occurred? Cue: quiet quitting. 

sad employee

Solutions for managers and HR leaders

So, how can we address the challenges underpinning quiet quitting?

1. Encourage your employees to reinforce boundaries 

Work-life balance matters. Many fear they might cause disappointment or seem unwilling to be a team player if they don’t say yes to every request. It can be tempting to consistently agree to last-minute assignments, but according to business psychologist Stacey Staaterman, this isn’t sustainable: 

You run the risk of overworking yourself when you say yes too often. Too much work can lead people to disengage and feel incapable of doing their work. This leads to a lack of confidence in the workplace and feelings of burnout.

Your manager won’t know if they are asking too much of you if you don’t communicate and enforce your boundaries. Employees shouldn’t feel rushed and pressured to constantly deliver on last-minute requests—the quality of the work suffers, and there’s the danger that they’ll become Quiet Quitters as they become increasingly overwhelmed with tasks. Empower your employees to set their boundaries and make a safe space for them to communicate any issues.

2. Give your employees the tools they need

Nearly 70% of Americans feel that the bulk of their workday is taken up by monotonous tasks— tasks that could be automated to free up more time and creative energy and help them work smarter, not harder.

For example, picture a customer service team at an organization that has been asking upper management for a ticketing system. Currently, all issues are handled via email between five people with five different inboxes. Employee A has to check with Employees B, C, D, & E every morning to ensure nothing is slipping through the cracks. If someone goes on vacation, their tickets are inaccessible for days or weeks at a time. Sometimes Employee C has meetings throughout the morning and can’t communicate the relevant information well into the afternoon, interrupting Employee A’s focus time in the afternoon. 

Tasks like these become resentment points for employees who have to deal with them daily when they could be solved with a simple addition to a tech stack. If these small jobs were automated, employees could use the time they gain back to engage in creative and meaningful work that would elevate the work and the team as a whole. By freeing up bandwidth, managers are showing employees that they listen to their pain points, and are willing to work with everyone to solve them.  

If you're planning for a tighter budget and assessing your current tech stack or vendor partnerships, download our free HR Vendor Evaluation Scorecard!

3. Engage your team 

According to a recent Gallup poll, it takes more than a 20% pay raise to convince employees to leave a job where they feel engaged and valued. However, it takes next to nothing to poach unengaged workers. You may think your star performers are the most engaged; however, morale and engagement can fall among top performers, too.

A Corporate Executive Board survey found that "one out of three emerging stars felt disengaged from their companies." Another study discovered that high performers were significantly less engaged than low performers.

So how do you keep them engaged? Jean Martin and Conrad Schmidt shared the secret in their Harvard Business Review article, "How to Keep Your Top Talent":

It may seem obvious, but the solution is for senior management to double (or even triple) its efforts to keep young stars engaged. That means recognizing them early and often, explicitly linking their individual goals to corporate ones, and letting them help solve the company’s biggest problems.

According to another Gallup poll, employees who receive daily feedback from their manager are 3x more likely to be engaged than those who receive feedback once a year or less. Personalized feedback and recognition play a huge role in this!

4. Focus on “loud retaining” 

Some have been clapping back at companies and C-suite members when they call quiet quitting “one of the worst things you can do at a workplace.” Instead, organizations should create a culture of “loud retaining.” There are several examples of what this could look like. Here at Bonusly, we think it looks like this: 

  • 🎉 Celebrate your employee's successes! We mean it! If Jane did an amazing job on a project she worked several weeks on, be sure to communicate how this success affects her career path. If Adam fixed a bug at midnight so the system didn’t crash due to an influx of unexpected visitors, recognize him. If Sam gave you the report you requested mere minutes after you requested it, thank them for their quick turnaround. All of these small moments of recognition add up to a mountain of self-confidence for your staff enabling you to retain top talent and entice other top performers to your team. 
  • 🖼️ Reframe failure. Congratulate your team for trying something new, even if it is ultimately unsuccessful. Innovation and ingenuity stem from people who want to push the boundaries of what’s possible, and that’s not likely to happen if they’re hobbled by the fear of failure. Underline the fact that failure ≠ unsuccessful initiatives. Without the confidence that you can “fail fast”, work will become unoriginal and uninspired. 
  • 💬 Communicate! Too many employees become disengaged by miscommunicated or absent expectations. Make sure you meet with your team often. Listen when someone asks for clarity about responsibilities or a task. Don’t allow them to work in the dark without a light to guide the way.

5. Embrace Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion (DEI)

Data shows that a significant portion of folks from marginalized and underrepresented communities are interested in additional responsibility and leadership roles, but they are frequently overlooked for promotions. They are typically underpaid for the same job titles that their peers hold. Many individuals in this community also face racism and microaggressions in the workplace.

Prejudice that remains unchecked in a workplace hurts talent. Workers jump ship to teams and companies that are more likely to appreciate their unique skill sets. To avoid this, consider using equitable compensation best practices, hiring a chief diversity officer, or starting a DEI advisory group to address this problem before it takes hold of your company culture. 

However, you must get your entire leadership on board and commit to DEI to see real progress. 50% of respondents to an SHRM study who work at DEI-lagging companies say a lack of leadership commitment hinders their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, while just 5% of employees from DEI-leading companies say they have this issue.

DEI is a constant process in a company culture that should be addressed organization-wide and not just on specific teams.

data dei

6. Set realistic goals 

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. According to Forbes, nearly 70% of remote employees are experiencing work-from-home burnout symptoms. 

A strong antidote to burnout is ensuring that your team’s workload is reasonable. Sure, stretch goals can be motivating, and it’s important to be challenged. But it’s even more important to plan work that inspires your team and feels doable.

For example, the marketing team at Bonusly uses the OKR framework to define quarterly goals. We then use a variation of RICE scoring (Reach, Impact, Confident, Effort) to calculate which projects should be prioritized and which should be set aside. We also make sure to account for unplanned work, team meetings, and individual PTO. 

Remember: If a company is a rocket ship, the employees are the fuel that gets them to the stars. 🚀 Without the fuel, they’re never going to see liftoff. It’s important to energize, not deplete, your teammates, so they can accomplish big goals. 

The Takeaway 

Most employees are looking for work that aligns with their values. If work can bring more purpose and meaning to their life, it adds another layer of happiness on top of a healthy and fulfilling work-life balance. 

The Quiet Quitter isn’t a lost cause. It’s possible to bring them back from the brink with frequent recognition, and empathetic management. When given the opportunity, individuals will frequently rise to the occasion in recognition-rich workplaces with management that prioritizes the health and happiness of their workers.

Want more? 

If you are evaluating your current tech stack or vendor partnerships, we've got just the resource to help. With our free HR Vendor Evaluation Scorecard you can easily: 

📝 Track general notes from each vendor call
📩 Collect follow-up materials and contact information
🤑 Notate price per seat and annual costs
💯 Rate vendors based on your company's priorities and budget

Share this article