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Quiet Quitting: What Leaders Can Do to Reduce the Risk

Quiet quitting is essentially a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.

Key points

  • Quiet quitting isn't about an employee not turning in a resignation letter or not showing up for work.
  • Hard working, over-performing employees are more likely to quiet quit than the under-performers.
  • If you're a leader, you may need to listen to what is not being said before there's no one left to say it.

No one’s being hush-hush about "quiet quitting" anymore. It’s being written about, talked about, and hopefully, employers are trying to do something about the practice before business grinds to a halt. Quiet quitting doesn’t mean someone forgot to turn in their resignation letter or just didn’t show up one day. It’s about stepping back and saying “no” to requests by your boss to give more than what your job description describes. That can be a smart thing for employees but a trainwreck for employers unless they are able to respond to the trend in a meaningful manner.

It seems that every organization is short-staffed right now, and the loyalty of the continuing employees should never be taken for granted.

The urge to quiet quit doesn’t often happen overnight; it reflects a slow build-up of growing demands, overwhelming expectations, and a lack of appreciation or compensation equivalent to the effort you’re putting into your job. It’s like watching a bad investment sink even lower. You have to decide when to cut your losses and walk. At work, quiet quitting might be a way to cut your losses until a better job comes along.

Burnout Is More Than Work Stress.

Quiet quitting is about burnout on the job and the feelings of exhaustion that come from giving more than you’ve got to give, day in and day out. Burnout is a significant concern, and it reflects three basic “crisis-level” circumstances: disillusionment, exhaustion, and erosion of the soul. When the workload piles up and there is no additional support from the employer, employees can become disillusioned and hopeless. They are giving more but getting less, which takes a toll that grows heavier over time.

With the unceasing and unmanageable workload, employees may try “pedaling faster” at first or working longer hours to try and make a dent in the pile. This leads to exhaustion—potentially mental exhaustion and physical exhaustion. As employees worry about how they can get everything done, they may lose sleep, which further compromises their overtaxed bodies. As the realization that they can never give “enough” to catch up sinks in, frustration and anger at the circumstances or their employers may build.

The cognitive weariness takes a toll, and they begin to feel an erosion of the spirit. They don’t have it in them to even try to do their jobs with the commitment they once had. “I can’t even…” describes that sense of overwhelm and accompanying absence of commitment. Apathy replaces investment or desire to help out for the greater good. When workers burn out, they just can’t care anymore.

It’s Not Just the Money.

Quiet quitting isn’t just about the dollars in your paycheck, though that matters. It’s also about the meaning we find in the work we do. We may be willing to work hard at something we love, or for a community effort, or because we have a sense of connection and mattering to our employing organization. However, if there is no added financial compensation and we don’t feel valued or like our work has meaning, the chances of quiet quitting increase. It’s kind of like the financial landscape today—you see your retirement savings going down even though you’re still stuffing every spare penny you can into your wobbly 401(K). You’re torn between giving more or cutting your losses and shifting investments.

We’re willing to earn less and give more when we believe the work we do holds meaning. It’s no wonder service occupations often pay the least but generate the greatest meaning. When what we do has meaning, we gladly go the extra mile.

What Can Leaders Do?

Bosses have the power to reduce quiet quitting. Here are five things leaders should do to decrease the risk of their employees quiet quitting:

  1. Ensure that team members know they’re valued, whether through a paycheck or other perks, and believe their contributions matter.
  2. Be honest and upfront in all communications with employees, especially when discussing increasing workloads—be clear about why the additional work is being requested, the amount and the length of the additional commitment, and how the employee will be compensated for this additional investment into the organization.
  3. Once the additional workload is assigned, continue to check in with your employees to make sure you know how this extra pressure is affecting their attitudes and commitment. If the additional work arose from the loss of an employee, you don’t want to double the loss by driving out the person who is helping you pick up the slack.
  4. Foster a sense of belonging, compensate employees fairly, and build a community of care; everyone benefits, as will the bottom line.
  5. Remember that loyalty is earned, and every day is an opportunity to show your employees that your organization is worthy of and appreciative of their loyalty.
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