Quiet Quitting

Written by

Natasha Winkler-Titus

Published on

13 Sep 2022

Quiet Quitting is the latest TikTok work trend buzzword! Experts suggest employees who are quietly quitting are not actually resigning, but they are drawing the line. They quit doing extra work by setting boundaries to recalibrate work life balance.

What is prompting this?

There are several opinions and views on this phenomenon, but no clear definition. One such definition I saw, listed the following characteristics of quiet quitters:

  • Missing meetings and deadlines
  • Barely aligning to performance standards
  • Arriving late or leaving early
  • Reducing commitment to tasks
  • Less display of passion and enthusiasm
  • Withdrawing from team and optional activities
  • Self-isolation from team culture

There are several challenges with such a definition. For example, what does barely mean, and how do you account for it?  Secondly, some of these behaviours are performance related and therefore should be treated as performance issues. Then lastly, the rest of it really has to do with engagement.

The trend in quiet quitting follows on the back of the other trend ‘The Great Resignation’… which followed Lockdown as a consequence of Coronavirus pandemic. The difference being that some people are not resigning, they just quietly disengage.


How to make sense of this?

I believe that, irrespective the flaws in defining this trend, highlighting the implications are important. So, how do we make sense of it? First, the world of work has changed (not new information but more people has woken up to new possibilities when it comes to work).  Forcing work during lockdown meant remote work was on the rise (from 4% to almost 40% in South Africa! ). This broadened an awareness for some that we can have more autonomy and flexibility in terms of how and where we work. This, combined with the realities of the mental impact of a pandemic, allowed people to reflect on the meaning of life and where work fits into it. Therefore, by just forcing people to return to an old form of ‘normal’ and workplace may create some discomfort. Another issue that is not new, but certainly followed on from this experience, is that the need for meaningful work is on the rise. People may not be quietly quitting all aspects of work, but maybe just the bits where they do not feel engaged or motivated/ inspired. We see instances where people are putting in extra effort to projects they feel passionate about.   We have known for many years that works serve a greater meaning in life. As early as the 80’s, at least 25% of workers placed work above the role of family, community, religion, and leisure. Work can provide a source of growth, a source of identity and self-esteem, sense of purpose. South African research found that at least 75% of people will continue working if they have enough money and don’t need to work for financial reasons.

So, what are we really confronted with here?

What I would prefer to highlight about this new trend is for organisations and leaders to focus on the psychological contract and employee engagement. Research has shown that one of the main reasons employees leave their organisations, is because their expectations in their employment relationship aren’t met. This is referred to as a breach of their psychological contract – the unwritten contract of perceived promises and expectations within the employment relationship. What is really happening in ‘quiet quitting’ is that employees are disengaging.  Employee engagement is the level of commitment and involvement an employee has towards their organisation and its values. Different types of engagement include work engagement – the worker experiences a positive, fulfilling, provides a work-related state of mind and this is characterized by vigor, dedication and absorption. Social engagement– socially connected with the work environment and share values. Employees may also experience a high level of organisational engagement, where they are proud to be associated with the company or the brand. Lastly, job engagement reflects to what extent you find meaning and satisfaction in the work you do. So, are they quietly quitting their job, the social environment, organization, or everything?

Furthermore, engagement happens at a cognitive, emotional, and behavioural level. Employee engagement is a very well-established concept, and we have strong local knowledge. It has been confirmed that engagement can be linked to performance and employee wellbeing.  Research  revealed that whilst engagement and communication occur across all levels within the organisation, there is still a significant gap. The messages and expectations are not simple enough to be understood. Employees are not empowered to have a voice which causes them to be demotivated. Supportive management, which is fundamental to the success of performance management, is lacking.

So what?

Now that we know, my view is for leaders to not over react. I believe that we are still in a period of post-covid recovery and recalibration. The pandemic created havoc with our sensemaking, forced us into new ways of being,  opened us to new possibilities of doing life. We need to find our new normal and rhythm again. Also, during lockdown, we had nothing better to do and had no control over things, so the little bit we could control, meant allot. And for some, that meant disproportioned amount of time and focus on work. But now, the world is open, we are doing life in a big way again. Weekends are no longer reserved for work because life is happening.  So maybe it just feels like people are doing less, while, they are just trying to get that balance right again. We are recalibrating.

On the air!

Listen to Natasha speak about Quiet Quitting on Power 98.7

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