Quiet Quitting: What It Is and How To Get Ahead of It

From an overhead view, a woman is holding her head when stressed at work. She is sitting in from of her computer with her phone and a notebook by her side.

Have you gone the extra mile at work? Have you gone the extra mile so much that you’ve burned yourself out? Or have you taken on extra tasks to prove value to leadership but not been rewarded, so you’re left wondering your worth at your job?

You may have found yourself in all of these situations, regretting it sometimes but finding it worthwhile in others.

But there is a new trend bubbling around TikTok and other social media platforms where employees are drawing a line in the sand: I’m doing my job responsibilities during the timeframe I’m supposed to do it and nothing more.

What is Quiet Quitting?

This workplace trend (or lifestyle, some may say) is called quiet quitting. While it doesn’t have a clear definition, quiet quitting is the act of completing the tasks outlined in a job description during expected working hours and drawing a hard line of pushing those boundaries. Many TikToks have highlighted it means employees aren’t going “above and beyond” for their companies anymore.

It is part of a larger trend where employees are resetting their own expectations of what they want out of a job. This blossomed during the COVID-19 pandemic during the Great Resignation and has lasted as employees start to return to the office. In many cases, it’s a totally reasonable feeling for a worker to have, especially if they feel they aren’t being heard at work, their time isn’t respected, or they don’t feel they can advance in their job and accomplish career goals.

A Gallup poll found that that about half of U.S. workers are “quiet quitters,” and an astonishing four of 10 “remote or hybrid workers under the age of 35 clearly know what is expected of them at work.” In another poll of HR professionals, one-third said quiet quitting is happening in their organization.

“It’s unfortunate that the expectation has been set in certain industries that you’re just going to work crazy hours,” says Courtney Palmer, Insight Global’s Managing Director of Corporate Talent Strategy.

Some say quiet quitting is a rebuke of “hustle culture.” It goes deeper than that, though. It digs into your general company culture. Not everyone who is quiet quitting was working 80 hours a week previously. There are scenarios where someone is completing their expected work in 20 hours and are filling in the other 20 hours a week with aimless, time-filling tasks.

In either situation, employees drawing that hard line could indicate they:

  • Felt overworked and were beyond capacity
  • Don’t feel motivated to work within your company
  • Don’t feel comfortable establishing boundaries with you
  • Have no idea why they’re working or what they’re working toward

We’ll touch on all of these in a moment, but first, let’s talk about some general things you can do if you identify an employee you believe is quiet quitting.

employee is stressed at work while sitting in front of a computer

What To Do If An Employee is Quiet Quitting

While many companies are implementing return-to-office policies, we work in environments now with less face-to-face interactions than we had years ago. It may be difficult for leaders to identify quiet quitting over virtual calls and emails. As employees get less face time with leaders and other coworkers, they may find it harder to attach themselves to the purpose of why they’re working. It can be equally as hard to identify quiet quitting in-person, though.

Whether in-person or remote, quiet quitting will likely reveal itself in a lack of motivation or engagement in the work. This can be tangible. Identify if an employee isn’t asking questions and seeking new tasks like they used to. Do they seem engaged during meetings or do they seem like they’re there for attendance? Have they repeatedly declined new tasks or responsibilities over the course of a couple of months? While these are all indications of something possibly going on in an employee’s personal life, it also can indicate they’ve lost the motivation to work for you and your company.

If you notice an employee continually decline new tasks or a chance for upward movement, some things Palmer says you can do include:

  • Seek to understand what your employees priorities are and what their definition of success is.
  • If they’re not clear on what success is for them, they may have an overwhelming slate of responsibilities coming at them and inability to prioritize. Address that issue and try to realign their workload.
  • See if the employee’s vision of success is currently lined up with what their responsibilities are.
  • Understand an employee’s career goals. If they’re looking to progress, take on leadership, or move into a new role, make clear how doing these added responsibilities helps get them there.

If you’ve ran through these and your employee is “genuinely is not interested in developing their skills or their career, and therefore don’t want to take on more work,” Palmer said, “that’s when I’d talk to them about finding a new position internally to see if we can find something more in line with their passions.”

That may mean creating a new position within your organization to help the employee capitalize on their passion.

“When people are optimizing their strengths, they will be able to execute at another level without feeling burnout because they are passionate about what they do,” she said.

Make Sure Employees Know Your Company Vision and Purpose

Quiet quitting may be a sign your employees just don’t feel purpose when working at your company. It’s easy to identify that purpose in some fields (think: healthcare), but it’s important to set the vision and intention of your company for the whole organization.

Ask yourself these questions as an organizational leader:

  • Do your employees know your company’s vision?
  • What’s the purpose of your company, and has that been communicated to all employees?
  • What is the end goal of the tasks you’re providing to your workers?
  • Once you hit major milestones, what comes next for the company?

If you, as leader, don’t know the answer, people working below you probably don’t, either. Make sure your employees know what they are doing and why they are doing it.

“When someone doesn’t feel they tie into the purpose of the organization,” Palmer said, “it’s easy to fall into a complacent state of mind and not really care about reenergizing your career.”

Understanding their purpose may motivate the employee to set and meet their own professional goals while working at your company. They should be able to do this with healthy work-life boundaries and knowing they have the full support of leadership.

A company is an ecosystem, and employees need to feel they’re an important part of that community.

A man is sitting in a booth with a laptop holding his head with one hand stressed about work and possibly considering quitting.

Respect Employee Boundaries

One viral TikTok touching on quiet quitting said those who draw a hard line feel they can’t tell their boss they need a balance. That’s bad!

If your employees don’t feel comfortable talking to managers about needing a balance between their work and home life, you’re not fostering a positive culture. It’s okay for employees to need a break or reprieve from feeling overloaded. Part of quiet quitting is people not feeling comfortable admitting that to their bosses. They may feel if they don’t take on more tasks and push through, their career will suffer consequences.

“We need to respect when people are off, whether it’s on PTO or after or before a certain time of day,” Palmer says. “Honor that time at all costs.”

“It’s my responsibility to not contact people during those sacred times, but I have to know my people personally first in order to understand what their lives look like.”

That last part is crucial. You really need to spend time getting to know your people. While you don’t need to know everything about their personal lives, you need to know things like if they have:

  • To pick kids up or drop them off at a certain time of day
  • Weekly doctors or mental health appointments
  • Extracurricular activities (sports leagues, volunteering, etc.) that take place every week

Issues arise when employees feel like they need to keep these things a secret, fearing consequences for doing personal things during typical working hours. Knowing your people more personally will help you understand what boundaries they need or desire.

Respect Their Mental Health, Too

Another TikTok said an aspect of quiet quitting is about “ranking mental health above performance goals.” Every worker should feel comfortable about doing that. But what if you worked for a company that cared about your mental health AND your career growth? One that allowed you to find your balance between work and your personal life, and you didn’t feel you were pushing boundaries on either aspect of your life all of the time?

As a company, you should be transparent that you encourage these boundaries from the get-go. Encourage employees to take time for themselves and ensure they won’t be missing out on anything when they do.

They should feel comfortable about taking mental health breaks during the work day. The hour a week your employees spend on themselves will allow them to be far more efficient and effective than working 10 extra hours a week will.

@selenarezvani

What do you think about quiet quitting? Let me know in the comments!👇 #quietquitting#quittingyourjob#corporateculture#corporatelife#careertok#careertips#careeradvice#corporatetiktok#leadershiptips#leadershipadvice#corporateamerica#careeradvocacy#selfadvocacy

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Set Clear Expectations for Your Employees

Another way to get ahead of quiet quitting is to set clear expectations for your employees. If you expect them to complete more work than they are doing, communicate that with them.

This starts with the job description. If you expect an employee to handle a certain responsibility, list it out in the job description when they are initially interviewing or when they are applying for a promotion. Be as clear and expansive as you feel the job requires, so when it comes for them to complete the job’s responsibilities, there was the expectation set from the beginning.

But as an employee desires to grow within an organization, they naturally have to handle more responsibilities and tasks than they previously did. Be open and clear about this.

Tell employees you feel they’ve done a great job and you want to get a feel for their ability to handle a higher-level position. Self-starters are great employees to have in your company, but it doesn’t hurt to intentionally motivate those who need a little push. If they aren’t up to the task, that’s okay, and you can find other people within the company who want to take on those roles. As we discussed before, you should also help that employee find what will motivate them and encourage them to grow.

You want employees to have a “career for life” mentality in your company, not a “hustle for life” mentality, Palmer says. Establish clear expectations for how employees can accomplish the “career for life” way of living–not the life of constant stress, hustle, and being overworked.

What Can Employees Do?

As for employees who feel like they need to step all the way back and set a hard boundary, it can be totally reasonable to feel that way. Palmer has a few tips for you, though. They are:

  • Find your purpose, and discover what success looks like for you. Your current situation might not be success, and you might not know your purpose. But take time to figure those things out so you can talk to leaders about adjustments that might need to be made.
  • Express what your ideal work scenario looks like and make it clear to your leader.
  • Set a routine that works for you and try sticking to it. You may need to start an hour later and end an hour later than some people to attend to things in the morning. That should be okay.
  • If you feel a new responsibility is something that can benefit your professional growth, ask if you can talk about the responsibility during normal working hours. You also may have a full workload right now, and ask if you can tackle that task once things start to clear up.

If you do find yourself in a position where your leader isn’t respecting these boundaries, Palmer says, “I would really reconsider if that’s the right leader or company to work for.”