Are Quiet Quitters Just Disengaged Employees?

A topic that has been trending on many social platforms for the last few months is quiet quitting. Are these individuals expressing a backlash against being overworked and under-appreciated or merely disengaged employees? Quiet quitting certainly needs some clarity as there is more than one camp on what this means and how it is used.



What is quiet quitting?

It seems how this term is defined is dependent on whom you ask. Some describe colleagues refusing to work beyond their job description as quiet quitters or slackers. But this may be too simplistic because it only comes from an individual’s perspective which is a personal point of view shaped by several factors:

  • Life experiences
  • Values
  • Current state of mind
  • Assumptions they bring into a situation

Source: Forbes

Quiet quitting is not new. Liz Wiseman referred to ‘quit and stay’ as far back as 2010 where she implied employees were effectively phoning it in; they stopped trying at their job, did the bare minimum and turned up just for the pay check at the end of the month.

Others have decided this is not the professional life they wish to live anymore and perhaps have come to value life outside of work much more. Equally, there are people with no desire to move forward and to do as little as possible. It’s what is at the root of these choices that is central and causes us to dig down further into whom these individuals are; disengaged employees using homeworking to hide from accountability or those who have had enough of the old way of working and are now trying to establish firmer boundaries around their professional and personal lives. We must also examine how people are working because the output does not necessarily equal hours.  There is a marked difference between being busy and being productive. Many Scandinavian countries work fewer hours than the rest of the world, but rank in the top 10 most happy countries.

There seems to be a direct correlation between them doing what is needed in a reasonable number of hours versus clocking up a huge number of hours and feeling stressed and overwhelmed. It, therefore, does not seem fair to lump both behaviours under one umbrella term.

Disengaged Quiet Quitters

It stands to reason that if the term ‘quiet quitters’ has developed, there is a palpable sense of change that employees who were engaged, are not anymore. The phrase suggests a slow retreat from their jobs so why has this happened and how do leaders turn this around?

In the first instance we have a responsibility to be honest and open with our line managers. If we don’t communicate, they do not have the opportunity to support us. Ask yourself “what would help?” And “how can we reignite our passion for our job?”

Consider the below suggestions for re-engaging with your current job and finding a new level of purpose and fulfilment in your day-to-day work:

  • More responsibility – we might just be under-stimulated and need a challenge.
  • Job swap/department change – try another role before leaving a company.
  • Take a sabbatical – give yourself space to gain perspective.
  • Figure out when you lost your passion – this can shed light on reigniting it.
  • Find a mentor – there will be someone in the business you respect who can engage you.

We must take responsibility if we feel disengaged, but if we open communication, it helps if there is a workplace culture where leaders positively respond to their employee’s needs.

The Correlation Between Disengagement and Leadership

“An employee’s immediate supervisor, regardless of level, is often the single most important – and often underutilized – resource for boosting engagement.”

Disengagement can creep in slowly and some of it can be down to how appreciated we feel.

When we don’t feel seen, heard, or appreciated this leads to disconnection and undoubtedly disengagement. Leadership and engagement can therefore play a strong part in turning around quiet quitters.

Assertiveness and knowing your worth

Since the pandemic, more and more people are coming to the stark realisation that it’s okay to not love their job, and what they do professionally certainly doesn’t have to be their life’s greatest passion. It’s now becoming increasingly accepted that following your passion as a job is, in fact, terrible career advice. This group of individuals cannot be lumped in with employees who are disengaged. These are people who recognise their worth and priorities in life and have made a conscious decision to come to work and meet their job description adequately. They are not sloping off or slacking; they just have a different emphasis on work-life balance and what is a priority for them. They still like their job and are happy in their role, they just don’t feel the need to climb an aggressive career ladder.

If quiet quitting suggests a slow retreat from your job, these individuals have decided they are comfortable in their role and are making an active, conscious choice. Not everybody wants an ambitious career path; we can’t all be leaders”.

We live in a society that tends to promote “hustle” and working ludicrous amounts of hours to be validated. Often, people who are sending emails very early in the morning or late at night are simply doing it for the appearance of working hard, in the same way that staying late to impress the boss is used as a ploy. Employment contracts exist for a reason and have clearly defined hours – you are not obliged to work beyond. Surely what matters is how effective you are in your contracted hours?

This group of people are deliberately diligent and simply need to establish clear boundaries and demarcation between work and home life. This is facilitated through several steps:

  • Clear communication with colleagues and bosses
  • Solid planning that allows the space needed, including establishing non-negotiable personal guidelines
  • Self-discipline to stick to the boundaries you have established
  • Firm cut-off times for work emails and technology
  • Practising self-care to ensure burnout and resentment do not creep in

People who don’t want to progress still need development

At the end of the day, not everyone can or needs to be the boss, but everyone does need to be developed in some way – to learn new skills for changing situations. None of us is perfect and we need to be willing to continually learn in whatever role we do. This is not about promotion, but it is about doing your job to the best of your ability; a correct, deliberate way of working that is not ‘hustling’. Training and development fall to both the individual and their leadership team to take responsibility. For example, you may be happy in your role but there could be new developments in software or ideas that would make your department more efficient. Individuals can still show a commitment to the team by critically thinking about ways of working that could improve the department, without actively pursuing a promotion. Training is not all about promotion, it’s a path of self-development that employees must take responsibility for to remain engaged.