Are your employees Closet Quiet Quitters?

Quiet quitting: have you heard this buzzword being touted around recently and wondered what it means or whether it applies to you?

It’s really a catchy soundbite label for an age-old phenomenon in the workplace – the idea of an employee not actually formally quitting their position, but losing the motivation to go above and beyond; putting in the bare minimum required and becoming a lot less productive as a result.

The likelihood is most of us will have experienced the feeling of quiet quitting at some point, even if we didn’t recognise it as such.

A time when you’ve just not felt that enthused by your work. Your team doesn’t inspire you, there’s little to motivate you to push yourself – perhaps you think your manager is a clown. It can be a toxic situation where relations are clearly tense, but more often it’s less obvious. Maybe you’re just not quite the right fit for the organisation or the team – or they are not the right fit for you.

Sometimes quiet quitting can be triggered by a lack of recognition – when an employee is giving a job their all and getting little recognition. Or their ideas are being ignored or passed off as someone else’s. It’s easy to see why this would push someone to a passive-aggressive position of “well in that case I won’t bother”. In other cases, quiet quitting might be a less conscious behaviour prompted by an employee burning out or finding hard to achieve work-life balance. They simply don’t have the time, energy, or headspace to go above and beyond.

As W&P’s wellbeing executive Catherine puts it, she has come across cases as a Mental Health First Aider where “employees would feel very hurt by the fact that they put their all in and yet it never seemed enough. They were expected to work all hours and be at the business’s beck and call”.

One individual said: “At the point where I was the most disengaged, I felt like a number, not a valued member of the team or company. I decided to just to my job and no more and tried not to care as much. All my ideas and suggestions just seemed to be shrugged off or someone else took them and got the thanks for it.”

So how can you tell if this is how one of your employees is feeling?

Ask yourself these few short questions – if you answer yes to more than two, you may well have a Quiet Quitter on your hands…

– Does my employee disengage on a regular basis – not just having one ‘off day’ but consistently appearing unenthused and disinterested?

– Does my employee deliver the basics I require of him/her/them, but never go above and beyond or show initiative?

– Does my employee attend meetings but rarely speak up or actively participate?

– Does my employee opt out of non-necessary activities, tasks or conversations?

– Is my employee isolated from their other team members?

– Are other employees complaining of increased workloads, as they pick up the slack for the quiet quitter in their midst?

What can you do to address the situation, or even better avoid it in the first place?

Whilst some quiet quitting might be the result of an individual’s circumstances out of your control, most of the time the disengagement is triggered by aspects of your organisational culture, and your leadership.

And there are various things you can do to address this:

  • Help the quiet quitter(s) first: sit them down and talk to them; try to get to the bottom of their behaviour. Conduct this chat sensitively avoiding too much blame (after all they’re not actually breaking any rules…) with your best listening and positive conversation skills in action. Take action on any issues they raise or expectations they have that are not being met.
  • Address the culture or behaviour (and, correspondingly, your leadership style) that has triggered their disengagement. Invest in your people – developing them, giving regular positive feedback and recognition, fostering a culture of trust, openness and support. Give people credit for ideas and celebrate their successes.
  • Monitor employees’ workloads to avoid stress and burnout – be aware of their personal circumstances as well as their to-do lists.
  • Be careful when hiring – vet your candidates for a track record of conscientiousness, diligence, and drive.

Clearly, quiet quitting is not a new phenomenon; nor is it ever going to disappear. But it is our responsibility as leaders to know about it, to recognise and it to try to remedy or (even better) prevent it in our own teams. After all, no one wants unhappy people aboard, and no one wants a quiet quitter to become a ‘loud’ or ‘active’ quitter, bringing down other team members and ultimately jumping ship.