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Why people are quiet quitting at work

quiet quitting
Why are people quiet quitting at work ⁠— and is it such a bad thing? Photo: Getty (suedhang via Getty Images)

A growing number of people are “quiet quitting” at work, but this doesn’t mean people are handing their notices in.

It refers to the fact that people are making the decision to stick to their job descriptions rather than going above and beyond at work.

But is it really so bad that workers are fulfilling the standard requirements of the job ⁠— rather than giving work their all?

According to research by Gallup, so-called quiet quitters make up at least 50% of the US workforce, In the UK, a YouGov survey found only 3% of people describe themselves as doing the “bare minimum” at work. However, 17% said they were neither trying hard, nor coasting ⁠— they were simply doing their jobs as required. So why are people quiet quitting at work ⁠— and is it such a bad thing?

Rejecting the ‘overwork’ culture

Burnout, as a consequence of a prevalent culture of overwork, is one of the key reasons why employees are stepping back at work. Greater awareness of the detrimental impact of chronic stress has encouraged people to put their personal lives and wellbeing above work.

Read more: What is 'moral injury' at work?

Going beyond a job description is a source of pride for many workers, who think nothing of working overtime or answering emails out-of-hours. However, a growing body of research shows employees who work beyond the boundaries of their job roles are at increased risk of mental health problems.

In 2016, researchers at the University of Bath and King’s College London found that doing more than the minimum required was directly linked to higher levels of emotional exhaustion, which can cost people their health and careers.

Management problems

Poor management is also a contributing factor. Research suggests employees are frustrated due a lack of development opportunities, stagnant pay and a growing sense of disrespect.

This is particularly the case for Gen Z and younger millennials below the age of 35. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, younger workers have declined significantly in feeling cared about and having opportunities to progress in their careers ⁠— and so have resorted to doing what they need to do to get by.

Read more: How to retain workers who want to quit

“Employee engagement is more than routine one-to-ones and work focused check-ins,” says Emily Charlesworth, HR technical consultant at AdviserPlus. “It’s about making employees feel valued and recognised for who they are, so that they have a more emotional connection to the organisation.

“Enabling managers to focus on building more personal relationships and empathy with their teams should help to avoid widespread issues of employee disengagement.”

“Managers need the support and tools to tackle disengagement head on to create healthier, more sustainable working environments.”

Tired young businessman working at home using lap top and looking Anxious
Burnout, as a consequence of a prevalent culture of overwork, is one of the key reasons why employees are stepping back at work. Photo: Getty (filadendron via Getty Images)

Is quiet quitting a bad thing?

On the one hand, quiet quitting helps to address the growing problem of burnout. In the past year, reports of burnout among UK workers have almost doubled over the past year to reach record levels.

Data compiled by Glassdoor, which studied more than 380,000 anonymous employee reviews between June 2021 and May 2022, found that negative discussion about burnout is on the up, increasing by 48%.

Working regular hours and getting enough downtime ⁠— as well as managing or reducing workloads ⁠— is key to tackling burnout.

On the other hand, quiet quitting is often the sign of a larger structural problem at work, which can lead to low morale and productivity, more resignations and a high turnover. Keeping employees happy and engaged means addressing problems within management and finding ways to keep people satisfied and motivated.

Read more: Why working from home risks burning out employees

“Finding ways to engage on a more emotional level with employees should help to address some of the issues that are driving the trend,” says Charlesworth.

“Notwithstanding the cost of recruiting externally, the loss of knowledge and understanding when an experienced employee leaves is a huge detriment. Focusing on reengaging those who may be considering quitting should be a priority.”

How to address quiet quitting at work

To combat quiet quitting, it’s important for employers to gauge how people are feeling about work and the organisation. Carrying out surveys can help, but only if employers allow workers to be open and honest if they’re unhappy.

“Leaders should encourage people to discuss what would help them to feel more connected to the business,” says Charlesworth.

“They should listen and implement strategies that make people feel valued, such as regular engagement sessions and relevant rewards for good performance that recognise them as individuals.”

Read more: How work changed in 2022

It also helps to make sure targets are clearly communicated, to follow up on negative feedback and give people opportunities to gain new skills to keep them motivated.

Ultimately, if workers are doing the work required, quiet quitting may not be such a disaster.

However, it’s crucial for employers to address the underlying problems that lead to people disengaging from work, such as poor management and limited opportunities.

Watch: Why do we still have a gender pay gap?