Jimmy McGill, the intriguing main character on Better Call Saul is a master of quiet quitting. Example: while working as a lawyer at a conservative practice, he scaled back his participation from active to low. That recalibration aligns with quiet quitting. However, unlike quiet quitters, who wish to remain employed while investing less in their job, Jimmy plotted his way out of the firm quietly and not so quietly. He traded his grey office attire for glaringly bright suits, shirts and ties. He played the bagpipes in his office. It worked. The managing partner booted him and let him keep his cushy signing bonus.
Granted, this is television theatrics at its best. But the concept of quiet quitting in a remain-on-the-job and less over-the-top manner is real. The timeframe is now. It’s becoming so widespread that a post in the Boston Globe declares: “As quiet quitting goes viral, it’s turning into the pumpkin spice of 2022.”
What Exactly Is It?
Although it’s not a new term, quiet quitting took hold on a grand scale in the second half of this year. The Wall Street Journal precipitated initial awareness. Its coverage set off a chain reaction in news outlets everywhere. Social media jumped in. TikTok prevails on this front. ABC Eyewitness News acknowledges this by saying about quiet quitting: “The TikTok trend gets people talking about work ethic and setting boundaries.”
Quiet quitting runs counter to the traditional go-get-‘em capitalist spirit. It’s “a psychological shutting down” that manifests itself in a lessening of rigor. In essence, it’s putting forth the minimally accepted effort, just getting by, “not actively going above and beyond.” Some consider it “career coasting.” This model taken root and continues to build momentum. For this reason, The Wall Street Journal suggests quiet quitting is “changing the workplace.”
Really? That distinct possibility springs from how pervasive it is. A Gallup poll finds that those in the quiet quitting category comprise half of the U.S. workforce and most likely more. That equates to millions of people who are executing their responsibilities at the base level. Many are on automatic pilot and do not engage emotionally with their job.
This massive quiet quitting wave has implications for companies far and wide. Through time, organizations have depended on a hierarchy of employee effort with many performing at a high level. Beware: quiet quitting may translate into lower than projected productivity and an overall economic slowdown.
Why Is It Occurring?
Several factors may have triggered quiet quitting.
One is the pandemic. It not only disrupted life but also caused people to pause and reevaluate what matters to them. “The concept of quiet quitting is resonating because [the pandemic] has been a time of reflection as people reassess their priorities and consider the fragile nature of humanity”. Covid-19 changed their outlook and placed greater importance on taking care of themselves and their loved ones. They are stepping back from work as the be all and end all and off the ambition treadmill to a more tempered existence.
The pandemic generated undue stress and exhaustion. It also led to worker disengagement, which sowed the seeds for the Great Resignation. Employees quit in droves. That, in turn, led to a stream of job openings, lopsided employee supply and demand and worker shortages. It shifted the base of power from employers to employees and potential employees. The latter moved into a strong position to rethink and alter their style of life and work.
That last comment dovetails with a description of Gen Z which, as a group, contributed to the rise of quiet quitting. Members of this youngest cohort differ from their older counterparts. They demand greater work/life balance and flexibility. That is, they want to draw a sharp line between work and life. Separating and balancing the two gives them time to pursue their interests which, for many, includes taking on several gigs.
How entrenched is Gen Z in the quiet quitting phenomenon? A post on Entrepreneur.com says: it all. “Gen Z Thinks ‘Quiet Quitting’ is the New Norm: 82% Say Doing the Bare Minimum At Work is ‘Pretty or Extremely Appealing.” Of note, some Millennials also march to this beat. The survey from which this information comes reports that those who responded considered “wellness, hobbies, family and friends” to be more important than work.
Fast Company weighs in on quiet quitting. It acknowledges that the pandemic largely stoked the trend. However, something occurred on top of that. It labels this secondary cause “a failure of traditional HR methods that don’t work anymore.” As a result, “employees feel trapped and unfulfilled in the roles they hold today.” They want to use their skills more adeptly and have greater opportunities for advancement.
What Can Employers Do to Quiet all this Quiet Quitting?
Don’t just mull this over. Address it. Organizations need to “change alongside their people.” If they don’t, “quiet quitting could lead to a downward spiral of reduced productivity and deteriorating company culture.”
Action items include:
• Put people first
Concentrate less on productivity as go-to metric. Instead, insert initiatives that enable employees to prosper. “Start by creating access to development and internal job opportunities,” which Fast Company labels as “a strategic investment in employee development.” Create an internal “talent marketplace.” The idea is “to harness their employees’ full potential.” This shift in priorities makes for a more satisfied, engaged and empowered workforce.
• Practice work/life balance
It’s one thing to tout flexibility and another to actively embrace it. “Make sure your employees know you support them in achieving a healthy work-life balance.” What are some of the ways to achieve this? Go full force. “Encourage [employees] to shut down their laptops and leave the office on time, take a proper lunch break, switch off from work at the weekends, ignore out-of-hours emails, and take their full entitlement of paid annual leave.”
• Build connections, meaning and team spirit
Offer internal gigs, mentorships and job sharing. Gigs provide workers “exposure to new leaders and coworkers in other departments and locations.” They also shore up and build new skills and may result in a new career pursuit within the organization. Mentorships benefit by employees and leaders, who learn from one another. Job sharing helps employees who feel stretched to the limit and puts them in close contact with others to work together.
• Lead by example
Forbes suggests ways for those in the top ranks to tackle quiet quitting at the front end by changing their own mindset and behavior. “Learn to treat people’s off-time with more respect.” Enable workers to make the most of their time off rather than send reams of messages on weekends and evenings. This sends a cue that “it’s okay to be away from the office and decompress with friends and family.”
Acknowledge and appreciate what employees do and not in a quiet way. Express it. Do that all the time, not only on spot and special occasions. Let those who work for you know that you value what they do. But address it the right way. “Remember the point of gratitude isn’t about thanking people for their accomplishments, it’s about helping them see their worth as a colleague and a human being.”
In the meantime, quiet quitting “has become a loud trend.” For employees and employers alike, lack of engagement is troubling. Employees’ needs are changing and impacting their roles and the organizations for which they work. This upheaval demands attention. “Quiet quitting is a wake-up call to every people leader. It’s time to rethink our old ways of working and to create an environment in which our people can truly be at their best.”
About the author.
You name it, she covers it. That’s the can-do attitude Sherry M. Adler brings to the craft of writing. A polished marketing and communications professional, she has a passion for learning and the world at large. She uses it plus the power of words to inform and energize stakeholders of all kinds. And to show how all of this can make a difference, she calls her business WriteResults NY, LLC.