Quiet Quitting: Is anyone really working these days?

Quiet Quitting isn’t a New Phenomenon

Have you heard the term “Quiet Quitting”? You know, where people are said to have stopped working in their job but are still turning up and getting paid. They do just enough to get the money but they never go above and beyond. Absolutely no discretionary effort. It’s quite the buzz phrase and seems to be being bandied about everywhere you turn these days.

Although “Quiet Quitting” has been doing the rounds of late,it is not a new phenomenon. Back in the 1980s and 90s, the term “Quit and Stay” was very commonly used to describe people who would do the bare minimum at work.

During this period, there was a trend for poor performing organisations to downsize or, as they called it “rightsize.” Part of the rightsizing process was to offer redundancies, which the high performers gladly took, leaving all the non-performing, quiet quitters, to hold the fort. Many organisations never recovered after keeping the quiet quitters and releasing the high performers, who easily found new jobs.

The quiet quitters were never held to account and the managers were never skilled enough to have the Crucial Conversations. In some cases, this resulted in the ultimate demise of some organisations.

The Proof is in the Numbers

On one end of the population curve are always the group of people that will work hard and give maximum discretionary effort. It is in their genetic makeup to perform well and achieve. At the other end are the group that have no need to achieve and are happy doing the bare minimum. The percentages in these two groups rarely change.

The bigger, changeable percentage, lies in the middle of the curve. People who, given the right work culture and environment, will fully engage and perform well, but given the wrong conditions, will easily quit and stay. The fact is, most people work in hierarchical cultures and repetitive jobs, so they are not motivated to attend work, let alone perform well.

What most people desire are jobs, and bosses, that are fun and engaging. They go to work every day for the money, but they will only perform at a high level if they feel valued and their voice is heard. This is particularly true if they are working in an open and transparent culture where everyone is skilled and encouraged to speak up, and where the environment offers respect and psychological safety.

Unfortunately, workers today are faced with big cost of living rises while their employers are demanding more output, with little or no increase in pay. So, staff are overwhelmed, and one way to cope is to either resign and look for a better paying job, or do the bare minimum required to earn enough survival money. This rise in general stress has coincided with a rising brigade of quiet quitters that a recent Gallup study found is “making up at least 50% of the U.S. workforce”. Quiet quitting is a way out of the rat race, a way of coping, a way of maddening the bosses that show no signs of valuing the ideas and efforts of their employees.

Generational changes also appear to be shaping the numbers, with Gen Z and Millennials increasingly questioning the need to subscribe to the hustle culture where work must be your life. A recent survey of 1,000 employees by ResumeBuilder.com found that 25% of workers across all age groups say they are doing the bare minimum at work. This figure is higher in the 25 to 34 age group where 30% of people say they are doing the bare minimum, compared to 8% for those over 54.

Quiet Quitting Types

The studies and research show the size of the problem but the full reasons for quiet quitting are far more complex. It is no surprise that the modern phenomenon was born out of the COVID-19 global pandemic, which saw a mass shifting to the more enjoyable activities of remote working, and the record rates of quitting and staying while people are searching for a different place to work. These reasons, however, are probably too convenient and a little too simplistic. The pandemic may have been a catalyst, but the underlying drivers have always existed.

A small sample of the workers who easily gravitate towards quiet quitting include:

  • Workers who are continually made to feel subservient by authoritarian bosses
  • Workers who feel undervalued for their ideas and efforts
  • People close to retirement who stay to maximise their superannuation
  • Young people focused on getting qualifications in other industries
  • People who would leave but have family financial pressures and just need the money

In many instances, the reason such a large proportion of the workforce has quietly quit can be traced to poor management, poor communication and workplaces where people never feel they can speak up for fear of retribution if they do.

Unfortunately, most people lack the skills to have the tough conversations with each other. The quiet quitters struggle to have the engagement conversations with their leaders, and many bosses only know how to give directions, so can never create a working culture where speaking up is a welcomed behaviour. And today’s flexible working arrangements have only exacerbated these challenges. 

The Future of Work

Will there always be “Quiet Quitters?” Definitely, unless management can create more engaging and collaborative workplaces where employees wake each morning, eager to help their organisation succeed.

Building collaborative workplaces where people want to go to work is not easy, but the future best performers will need to create an environment where staff ideas are valued, and both the organisation and each individual employee have an agreed mutual purpose.  Future best performing organisations will be characterised by everyone having the Crucial Conversations skills to engage successfully with everyone else, and to move the quiet quitters from disengaged silence to active participation.

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