Quiet quitting is the popular new Great Resignation-era term for an employee who hasn’t quit (yet), but definitely exists on a spectrum of disengagement. As employees become increasingly fed up with some aspect of their job or company, they may withdraw from others and withhold discretionary effort, instead just doing the bare minimum to get by without attracting too much negative attention.
Clearly, this isn’t what the average company wants in their workforce. When you have an employee quiet quitting, it’s not just employee retention that potentially suffers. It can impair:
- Interpersonal relationships
- The quality of products and services for customers
It can also increase employee absenteeism.
Employees quiet quitting may even suggest deeper, pervasive problems with your company culture.
It’s definitely a problem that you don’t want to just accept as a new status quo.
So, how do you identify when an employee is quiet quitting and what can you do to stop it before it becomes a more significant issue?
Recognizing the warning signs of an employee quiet quitting
What should you look out for? Pay attention to negative changes in behavior, no matter how subtle or gradual they are.
Behavioral changes will be most noticeable with your high performers. Employees who usually express enthusiasm, participate in meetings, and are among the first to volunteer for special projects may start:
- Pulling back
- Speaking up less
- No longer going above and beyond
- Becoming less visible
It will almost always be more challenging to identify quiet quitting in employees who:
- Work remotely, due to reduced face-to-face time and personal interaction
- Have always done the bare minimum and coasted along – they fly under the radar more easily and their performance is fairly consistent
It’s also important to note, you likely won’t have a business that’s full of 100% superstars – and that’s ok. There’s nothing wrong with the segment of your employee population who fulfill their job requirements and nothing more, and then go home on time each day. Solid, steady performance can make for dependable employees.
What to do when your employee is quiet quitting
Keep the following points in mind to ensure that your expectations about “high performance” remain realistic:
1. Talk to the employee ASAP
During your next scheduled meeting with the employee or at the earliest convenient opportunity for the two of you to speak privately, bring the topic up. This should be a simple conversation and, for the employee, feel as though you’re checking in because you care. You don’t need to ask, “Are you quiet quitting?” But, say something like:
“Hey, I’ve noticed you pulling back and not engaging as much. You used to always do X, but now you do Y more frequently. I want you to know that we value you here, because of [describe their best characteristics]. With this in mind, is everything ok? Is there anything we need to discuss? How can I help you? Please know that I have an open-door policy and you can always discuss any challenges you’re facing with me. I’m here for you.”
2. Reinforce your employee’s value to the company
Like stated in the example script above, you want to make sure your employee knows that they’re valued and that their work is appreciated. If they are in fact quiet quitting, this is likely something that needs to be reinforced multiple times, in multiple ways. Consider how your culture promotes employee recognition, and see if there’s anything you can do in this area.
3. Express the behavioral shifts you’re seeing and why you’re concerned
The COVID-19 pandemic shifted employee mindsets – most likely permanently. Changes that would have come about over time with younger generations of workers, such as Generation Z, were accelerated by the pandemic. Now, employees have a different philosophy about the role of work in their lives and they crave more balance and flexibility. Employers should respect this and not automatically assume that embracing these modern workplace trends is a form of quiet quitting.
Whether it’s an part of this “expected” mindset shift or a bigger behavioral change, make sure to spend time with your employee building trust and figuring out how you can best support them. Share with them what concerns you have – and ask if you can brainstorm solutions together.
4. Prioritize your employee’s wellbeing
Expressing that you care for your employee can go a long way. If the employee cites a personal matter as the reason for their behavior, make sure they know about all the resources available to them via your company’s employee assistance program.
5. Practice servant leadership
Inquire how you can help, and make sure you are approaching the situation not from an area of correction, but as a servant leader. If they raise a work-related matter that is impacting their behavior, guide them toward finding a solution.
6. Encourage them to come to you
Let them know that your door is open if they have any concerns or challenges going forward. The employee can either choose to open up and explain their change in behavior – or not. You can’t force someone to share information with you. Your responsibility as a manager is to simply make the effort to start the conversation and try to keep a pulse on what’s happening with employees.
At this point, there’s no discipline or coaching involved – it’s just a discussion aimed at getting a sense of what’s going on with that employee.
7. Manage performance (if needed)
As long as an employee is completing their work according to standards, then their change in behavior is just something that you’ve noted and can keep an eye on through periodic check-ins. There’s not much else you can do.
But if their quality of work is slipping, then you’re dealing with a performance issue and may want to respond accordingly with a performance-improvement plan.
How to prevent quiet quitting in the first place
You may look at the list below and think, “Well, this all sounds familiar.” And you’re right!
Preventative measures against quiet quitting are all about getting back to the basics. None of these actions are anything new or groundbreaking. Rather, these are all tried-and-true tactics for engaging employees and preserving morale. That’s basically all quiet quitting is – a lack of engagement, motivation and morale to varying degrees, now operating under a new term.
1. Communicate regularly
It’s absolutely critical, especially for today’s remote and hybrid work environments when people are naturally more disconnected, for managers to schedule regular one-on-one meetings with their employees. This is the ideal opportunity to catch up with employees and understand what they’re thinking, feeling and experiencing.
Specifically, ask them about their:
- Feelings of purpose, fulfillment and satisfaction
- Desire for greater challenges or responsibilities
- Career path
- Need for help with any obstacles
2. Build relationships
By engaging with your employees regularly, and encouraging them to come to you with any concerns or challenges, you will cultivate trust and rapport over time. When you have positive relationships with your employees, they are more likely to be transparent and communicative about their struggles and grievances, and less likely to be passive aggressive in quiet quitting.
3. Promote work-life balance
Employees want to be viewed as well-rounded individuals with lives and obligations outside work. Following the pandemic, there’s also a heightened focus on employee health and wellness, which of course is incompatible with being a workaholic.
Make sure your company promotes work-life balance to mitigate employees’ stress and anxiety. Examples include:
- Making all special project assignments voluntary
- Regularly checking in about workload and making adjustments as necessary
- Setting boundaries between work and personal time, such as discouraging work emails or phone calls after a certain time in the evening
- Encouraging employees to take breaks
- Reviewing policies about leaves and paid time off (PTO)
- Offering a wellness program
And, with the prevalence of remote work, many employees have become accustomed to greater workplace flexibility that enables them to enjoy increased autonomy over where, when and how they work as long as they meet deadlines and quality standards. Generally, people no longer feel that they have to completely sacrifice their personal lives for work productivity.
Employees who lack work-life balance and flexibility, or feel that their company doesn’t really care about them or their well-being, can become frustrated and resentful. In this case, quiet quitting is a way to protest a perceived lack of control over their working conditions and their employer’s callousness.
4. Ward off employee burnout
When employees feel overworked, overwhelmed and as though their professional and personal lives are out of balance, burnout can simmer and fester below the surface.
In this case, quiet quitting is a means for employees to reclaim their mental health in what they perceive as an impossible situation. That’s why employee burnout is a leading cause of quiet quitting.
Avoid employee burnout proactively.
5. Continually assess your culture
Evaluate whether your culture embodies desirable values for today’s workplace, such as:
- Priority on employee well-being
Furthermore, does your company leadership model these values each day?
If your company doesn’t promote certain values or employees perceive that leadership doesn’t really care about the company values, quiet quitting is your employees’ means of withdrawing from a negative or toxic environment.
6. Maintain awareness of changes in job responsibilities
It’s actually pretty common for jobs to evolve over time; for example, following a merger or when companies are understaffed and fewer employees have to assume more responsibilities. The question is, is your employee on board with the changes? If not, this can be a major factor in why they’re unhappy and resentful at work, and unwilling to put forth extra effort.
- What was the employee hired to do versus what they’re doing now?
- Do the current job responsibilities and required skills align the employee’s skill set, interests and goals?
- Has the employee taken on additional responsibilities over time? If so, is their salary still appropriate or are you underpaying them?
It’s a good practice to let employees know at the outset that the potential exists for their job to evolve over time. Continually update job descriptions and, whenever changes occur, discuss those with employees to obtain their buy-in. Make sure the company is being fair with compensation practices.
And, most of all, you want to make sure you have the right people in the right job – for both the company’s and employee’s sake.
7. Never appear to take employees for granted
Don’t discount your employees’ need to be recognized or rewarded for their contributions and accomplishments. Even a simple thank you can let employees know that you appreciate their efforts and the value they bring to the business.
Summing it all up
Quiet quitting – the idea that an employee is putting forth less effort than usual as a protest against something negative in the work environment – may be a new buzzword, but in practice it’s nothing new. Fortunately, the remedies for this situation aren’t new either – they’re proven tactics for engaging employees and improving morale. If you recognize the warning signs and suspect that an employee is quiet quitting, talk to them as soon as possible and try to understand what’s going on with them. Communication is the best tool in your arsenal for stopping quiet quitting in its tracks.
To learn more about re-engaging employees and overcoming the quiet quitting phenomenon, download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to employee engagement.