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What Is Quiet Quitting and How Do We Fix It?

How the workplace can meet everyone’s needs in a healthy way.

Key points

  • The term quiet quitting refers to employees who put no more effort into their jobs than absolutely necessary.
  • There are some who feel the term highlights toxic work culture and an unhealthy work-life balance.
  • However, holding to these boundaries without exception can have costs for employers and employees both.
  • Employees and employers, however, can create environments that are both healthy and successful.

What Is Quiet Quitting?

The term quiet quitting refers to employees who put no more effort into their jobs than absolutely necessary. Quiet quitters continue to fulfill their primary responsibilities, but they’re less willing to engage in activities known in the business world as citizenship behaviors—working late, showing up early, or attending non-mandatory meetings.

This term is being billed as a new phenomenon by the media and businesses, but skeptics question whether quiet quitting is simply a trendy new name for worker dissatisfaction. When workers are surveyed annually, they generally have had the same rate of job satisfaction over the past 20 years. Some argue that the term has taken off in part because burned-out or bored workers are simply desperate for a fresh vocabulary to describe their feelings rather than things having changed dramatically.

That said, that the term is being discussed so publicly gives us an opportunity to think about and discuss work, the work environment, and the people who spend many hours engaged in work.

Response to Toxic Work Culture

Source: Image by Samantha Stein
Source: Image by Samantha Stein

There are some who feel the term–and what it implies–highlights toxic work cultures. Ever since the internet has come into our lives, many jobs have expanded into our homes 27/7, and “time off” has become a thing of the past. Employers seem to expect their employees to be available far beyond their contracted work hours. Many feel it highlights the need for employees to have healthy boundaries (to take care of themselves), avoid burnout, and push back on a work life that constantly invades our evenings and weekends. They wonder: When is simply doing your job such a bad thing?

For example, quiet quitting could mean simply keeping work life to the times when the office is open, and postponing tasks until tomorrow that don’t urgently need to be done that day. It could mean not checking emails during the evenings or weekends and taking time off when sick or using accrued vacation time for an actual vacation. It’s about important self-care empowerment for people who have been selling themselves, not just their time, to their employer.

However, holding to these boundaries without exception can have costs for employers and employees both. For jobs with responsibilities that can be fully defined in advance, it isn’t necessarily problematic. But many companies rely on a workforce that’s willing to take on extra tasks when necessary. And workers themselves can benefit when they engage in citizenship behaviors at times, both in terms of their personal well-being and their professional growth.

What can we do?

Employees certainly need to get clear on what’s important to them and what they need. But it’s primarily up to managers and leaders to understand and address the root causes of quiet quitting. There are three research-backed strategies for managers and leaders that have been identified to help with this:

  1. Redefine workers’ core job tasks. The job may have changed since the individual was hired. Along with that, there may be a necessary pay and or title change that needs to accompany this redefinement as well.
  2. Listen (truly listen), then invest in employees. Going the extra mile is less likely to lead to citizenship fatigue when employees feel supported by their organizations, and effective support starts with understanding what people actually need. Leaders must prioritize creating an environment in which workers feel safe speaking up, in which they believe that the organization cares about them, and in which they can have confidence that leadership will hear and address their concerns. Things may need to happen in ways employers might not have thought of themselves, but that allows the employee to step up while still exercising self-care.
  3. Replace an unhealthy hustle culture with sustainable citizenship crafting. Finally, leaders can retain the positive aspects of citizenship behavior without subjecting their teams to an unsustainable hustle culture. Instead of promoting an always-on mindset that ends up burning people out, leaders should encourage employees to pursue what’s sometimes called citizenship crafting—specific times and reasons for employees to step up and devote themselves more to their job, followed by a time to relax more and regroup.

In an unhealthy workplace culture, employees often feel compelled to go above and beyond in ways that harm their well-being, such as by taking on additional projects that cause them to miss out on important family or social events. But if employees can prioritize citizenship behaviors that align with their own motivations and needs, these activities can be energizing rather than burdensome.

It would help if people were clear on the purpose of work—that it’s not just about making money, but that ideally, it’s about fulfillment. Employees who feel a part of things at work and step up during discrete time periods feel more connected with others, have a greater sense of well-being, and have more career success than their counterparts. Everyone benefits from the employees feeling simultaneously feeling cared for and feeling a part of something–stepping up when the company needs it while feeling, on the whole, that their life is balanced. Ideally, employees and employers are aligned in their goals: to be a successful company and to employ people who feel well-cared for and have a desire for the company to succeed.

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