The now viral phrase “quiet quitting” is annoyingly imprecise and misleading.
Some say it means doing the bare minimum at work or just not going above and beyond. Others say it’s about setting healthy boundaries or not mindlessly buying into ‘hustle culture.’ And then there are those who say it’s about taking back control of your time and standing up to employers expecting you to do more without paying you more.
But one thing quiet quitting is not about is someone actually quitting. At least not yet.
So managers and leaders, especially those facing staff shortages, might view the concept less as a threat than an opportunity to re-engage your employees by asking what really interests them in their work and letting them prioritize their efforts accordingly. And at the same time to better prioritize what is essential for teams to be doing, and what isn’t.
“It’s on [managers] to genuinely and authentically understand where people are coming from,” said Simone Ahuja, a Fortune 500 strategic consultant who focuses on fostering innovation. “One of the things [supporting] innovation is … radical prioritization by employees and managers and leaders.”
Consider possible origins
There is no universal reason why someone may quiet quit.
Maybe they’re experiencing burnout – which hit a lot of people during the pandemic.
Telling your boss that you’re burnt out can be scary … and futile because managers often will say they’ll see what they can do, but then nothing happens, said Ashley Herd, founder of ManagerMethod.com and a former employment attorney and human resources executive.
So quiet quitting may be an employee’s way of “taking control and having boundaries,” Herd said. “Managers should be concerned if their expectation is for people to go above and beyond constantly. It doesn’t serve anyone if you burn out.”
Or maybe someone is choosing to give a little more priority to their life outside of work than they used to or than “hustle culture” tolerates.
That doesn’t mean, however, they don’t think work is important, or that they won’t do a good job.
But at the same time, Ahuja noted, an employee may not want to be defined entirely by their job. After all, the pandemic and a series of other ongoing crises in the world have reminded everyone just how fragile life is and have forced them to seriously reconsider what they want out of it.
And of course, there will always be the person who quiet quits because they hate their job, or are ill-suited to it and should be looking for something else or reassigned. But they don’t want to lose a paycheck.
In any case, assume nothing about anyone until you find out more. “Assumptions always lead us astray,” Ahuja said.
Talk to your team as a group and one-on-one
Getting buy-in from your employees on how best to achieve their team’s and their personal goals while also allowing everyone space for their lives outside of work can go a long way toward boosting retention.
“Have a genuine inquiry – people feel cared about when they’re invited in to a co-design process,” Ahuja said. “Ultimately, we all want to be in a sandbox that’s fun to play in.”
But figuring out how to make it all work for everyone involves a lot of open communication. For instance, don’t ask if or assert that someone is quiet quitting. “It has a negative connotation for very valid feelings,” Herd said.
Instead, she suggested, find out how they’ve been doing, how they feel about their workload, and whether they’re able to balance it with everything else they have going on.
And don’t just give lip service to feel-good ideas – e.g., that work shouldn’t be the only priority in people’s lives. Model the behavior. Be vocal about when you’re leaving or taking a day off or going offline to be with family, Herd said. And don’t send emails at all hours of the night.
It’s also always a great idea to publicly recognize a job well done. Just don’t limit the praise to employees who put in long hours to complete a project – which, sure, will be required at times in any workplace. Do the same for employees whose work is consistently excellent and completed within the normal hours of work. And hold that up as a good example for others to follow.
“Celebrate that,” Herd said. “[Ask] how are you doing it? We’d like to model that.”