Heard the term ‘quiet quitting’? Most organisations probably have by now. Quiet quitting – anything from doing the bare minimum a job requires to checking out completely – is one of the workplace’s hottest buzzwords, generating thousands of think pieces all the way from Harvard Business Review to Dr Phil.
Even the World Economic Forum is getting in on the act, with a 2023 panel at Davos examining how businesses are managing the changing relationship between employers and employees. In it, Wharton School organisational psychologist Adam Grant posits a link between quiet quitting and that other post-pandemic trend – the great resignation.
“I think in some ways quiet quitting is the natural sequel to the great resignation,” says Grant. “If you look at the people who decided to quit during the pandemic, it was people in toxic workplaces. What happened to the people who couldn’t quit? Eventually, after trying to change their workplaces and failing, they said, ‘I’m going to check out psychologically a little bit’.”
This presents a huge problem for organisations in challenging economic times. Productivity in the UK already lags behind every other G7 country by an average of 16% on output per worker (bar Japan, for which there was no data), according to Office for National Statistics numbers released earlier this year. In the US, productivity is almost 50% higher.
Why are UK workers quiet quitting?
A recent survey by RingCentral and Ipsos further examined employees’ thought processes behind quiet quitting. It found that more than 60% of all workers sometimes think about leaving their jobs. Business decision makers were more likely to be actively planning on quitting their jobs, with twice as many (16%) decision makers currently trying to move roles, compared with 8% of non-decision makers. So what’s happening?
“During the pandemic, people went from working in an office to suddenly working at home. Without commute times, executives found they were doing back-to-back meetings and were always on,” says Steven Rafferty, head of international at RingCentral.
“Then, lockdowns were lifted and executives were expected to travel to meet customers and employees, but the virtual meetings didn’t change. The technology companies bought is for working at home or in the office, it’s not built for hybrid. So senior decision makers are getting frustrated and feeling inefficient and overworked,” he adds.
This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that most employees – regardless of seniority – want a hybrid approach to work, and that offering an effective hybrid working policy is a good way to engage and retain your people.
More than four in five workers (84%) who had experienced hybrid working during the pandemic want to continue splitting their time between home and the office, according to the Office for National Statistics. At the same time, RingCentral’s research found that hybrid workers are less likely to identify as quiet quitters than full-time office workers, with 35% of hybrid workers disengaging from work compared to half of office-based staff.
Autonomy and ownership
Ben Marks is the founder and CEO of the #WorkAnywhere campaign, which champions the choice for employees to work remotely in any job where it is technically possible. He believes that the popularity of hybrid working comes from a renewed focus on work-life balance.
“Engagement at work should be approached from a point of view that takes into account the entire life-work relationship. It’s no secret that people are more motivated at work when they’re happy and healthy,” says Marks.
“Hybrid working makes a number of important and positive differences to the lives of working people, all of which centre around the provision of an improved life-work balance. It removes some of the financial barriers associated with commuting, as well as the geo-economic barriers that living in populous cities can bring,” he adds.
RingCentral’s study looked deeper into how hybrid and office-based workers respectively felt about their working lives. On almost every metric – from productivity to motivation, work-life balance to burnout – hybrid workers reported higher levels of satisfaction.
The gap was most stark in two key areas – productivity and work-life balance. Half of hybrid workers felt productive at work compared with 39% of office employees, while 55% of hybrid workers reported a positive work-life balance compared to a third (33%) of office-based staff.
The depth of feeling towards hybrid working is so positive that 58% of those surveyed by RingCentral would change jobs or industries for a hybrid or remote working role. A further 60% would work an additional three years over retirement if it meant they could continue to work remotely or hybrid.
“Hybrid is the new way of working. People aren’t going to go back to the office every day unless the job requires it. The positive thing is that hybrid working gives you the chance to get the best out of your people,” says Rafferty.
“High-performing teams are succeeding in all three areas of hybrid working. Head down at home to get the basics done, spend time with customers to understand their issues, and build a winning culture and collaboration in the office. That’s the real benefit of hybrid working,” he adds.
Hybrid working barriers
However, there are still barriers towards creating the ideal hybrid working setup. Loneliness, poor communication and challenges around presenteeism remain. There are also potential issues around fairness, with industries like professional services and technology more suited to flexible working than manufacturing or healthcare.
A 2022 report by Gitlab and Qatalog found that 74% of executives are able to work to their own schedule compared to 24% of junior staff. Yet when it came to how managers wanted the company to run, 63% of those surveyed said that they believed managers wanted a “traditional culture with employees in the office”. Such contradictory outlooks can erode workplace culture and create divides between the haves and have-nots.
More than a third of hybrid workers surveyed by RingCentral said that they worry about other people’s perception of their work. Of those responding, 38% said that they work longer hours and take fewer breaks when working remotely because of fears about what their bosses think, with 37% doing the same because they worry about what colleagues think. Exactly a third (33%) reported feeling guilty about working away from the office when other colleagues could not.
Avoiding these issues starts with your culture, but organisations can also ease presenteeism by ensuring workers have access to the right technology, argues Rafferty.
“Dealing with the always-on culture means having more respect for your employees and what they do. Do they need to be in every meeting they are in? Using technology so you can watch five-minute highlights of a two-hour meeting, or having actions delivered to you rather than ringing colleagues is much more efficient in this new hybrid working world,” he says.
Remote working advocate Marks agrees that hybrid working challenges arise when companies offer a hybrid working solution without revisiting their company culture. When this occurs, no amount of flexible working is going to prevent employees from disengaging, he argues.
“Remote work that doesn’t revisit the working culture can often foster online presenteeism, which is an issue that in part fuelled the burnout pandemic. This type of poorly designed remote work can erode work-life barriers and increase stress and burnout. Organisations need to create and implement curated guidelines and best practices, such as giving employees the right to disconnect,” he says.
Ultimately, hybrid working is not a one-size-fits-all solution to quiet quitting. Each individual employee may have different needs and requirements. However, what hybrid working can do is improve employee engagement by providing a better work-life balance and autonomy over working schedules.
“Reframing the relationship between a person and their job can be the solution to re-engaging an otherwise disengaged team member. It can offer autonomy, can support them financially in reducing commuting costs and can give them the opportunity to work closer to friends and family who might offer a vital support network,” says Marks.