A new survey finds that almost half of US workers are quiet quitting - choosing to fulfil their job description but detaching from their work. Why is this happening and what can managers do about it?
Social media loves a buzzword and the flavour of the past month has been a new trend supposedly sweeping offices across the world. ’Quiet quitting’ is essentially a modern version of working to rule, filtered through a post-pandemic emphasis on self care and work-life balance.
Thousands of stretched-thin employees have declared they will no longer go above and beyond to impress their bosses. Instead, quiet quitters vow to complete the tasks in their job descriptions within their contracted hours – and say they will not work beyond them.
Isn’t that just… normal? Probably, according to a recent Gallup survey. It found that around 50% of US workers are “disengaged”, doing just the minimum required while staying detached from their job. Just 32% are engaged, with the remaining 18% actively dissatisfied at work.
Maria Campbell, chief operating office at fintech Griffin and former head of people at Monzo, agrees that a lot of workers have always “showed up, done exactly what is asked of them and then left”.
What’s new, she thinks, is that this is the first time this has impacted big tech companies and other organisations people might consider to be more exciting or interesting places to work.
For Cara Brennan Allamano, chief people officer at performance management platform Lattice, quiet quitting represents employees re-examining a ‘new normal’ where, for many, the balance of power is tipped in their favour. Some leaders might see it as a threat to business. But she believes it can be an opportunity for organisations to reflect and reset.
“We have a lot to learn from [quiet quitters]. It can tell us what’s working in our organisation – and what might not be. I have seen really amazing organisations built during downturns because they listened to their employees,” she says.
What might that look like? Raconteur spoke to three self-described quiet quitters to find out how they became one and how business leaders can address the issues they raise.
Quiet quitter 1: the boundary-setter
Alice, 32, decided she was done with going above and beyond in her sales role last year. Understaffing and an incompetent manager turned the job into a “grind” during the pandemic, she recalls, leaving her feeling obliged to work late hours and skip lunch.
Now, she works at “10%” of her former pace. “I just stopped doing anything I don’t need to do to hit my targets,” she says. “I don’t want to be stressed. I want to finish work at five o’clock.”
Alice’s manager recently asked her to start training new staff. “I’m absolutely not doing it unless she gives me about £10,000 to £15,000 more. I am planning to have my job description in my hand [and tell her] I shouldn’t be dealing with this at all.”
Many of her co-workers are also quietly quitting, Alice believes. “The whole team is burned out after Covid. They are all putting their hands up saying they’re not going to do anything they don’t need to.”
Campbell says working late hours and skipping lunch should never be expected, “certainly without any kind of trade-off”. If Alice is hitting her pre-arranged targets, what she is doing is the correct approach.
“This idea that people should be going above and beyond comes from hustle culture, and there’s a pushback on that now. I’ve seen a lot of friends, particularly women, just stop trying so hard during the pandemic. People have realised there is no obligation to do all this extra stuff.”
Instead, management needs to re-evaluate the team and its incentive structures to find a way to get additional work done without pushing staff over the edge.
“It’s about give and take, but the give doesn’t have to be money,” she says. Solutions could include hiring a new employee or finding another person on the team who wants to gain experience in training others.
Quiet quitter 2: the disengaged dawdler
Ben, a 26-year-old tech worker, says he quietly quit while struggling to keep up motivation over a large multi-year project. While he still meets most deadlines, he knows he is not working at his full capacity. He often spends a large chunk of his workday watching YouTube videos in bed.
Although he is well-paid, his employer’s flat structure means there are just a handful of opportunities to move up. Instead, management expects staff to be driven by the company’s “world-changing” mission.
“They pour the Kool-Aid a lot,” Ben says. “When I first joined, I’d drink it, like most people do, but I became quite disenfranchised. I just don’t care anymore.”
With little day-to-day management oversight, he believes that no one really notices what he is doing. In the software industry it can be hard to estimate how long any task should take, Ben explains. “You can basically expand or shrink any piece of work to really large degrees before people raise an eyebrow.”
Ben’s manager should try to understand what motivates him as an individual, Campbell says. Progression will look different to each employee, whether gaining impact, status or new problems to solve.
“Mission-driven tech companies often don’t properly dig into what motivates workers. There’s this assumption that everyone is as bought-in as the founders and everyone’s working their hardest. And while trust is important, you can’t blindly trust people if you don’t understand what they are looking to get out of their job and giving them that,” she says.
For Brennan Allamano, Ben’s story shows the importance of communicating with employees about what their next step could look like. “If they work harder, what skills and opportunities will they gain?
“Mission drive is possible but it takes a lot more effort to continue that conversation. Managers should be able to set goals with employees no matter how long they’ve been there for.”
Quiet quitter 3: the super-slacker
Chloe, 29, says she can only cope with her repetitive remote job in tech by logging into an online chat room for hours each day. She’s even gone on day trips to visit friends in other cities when she should be working.
“It’s how I’ve always approached my job. I decided I very much wanted to focus on my social life while being at work and it’s the only way I’ve made it bearable. Sometimes I have to attend meetings but I’m also [participating] in the chat at the same time.”
She’s successfully held down the position for four years and says she almost always completes her assigned work on time. The small company she works for does not have performance reviews, but Chloe believes her boss would be surprised and angry if he found out.
For a time, she did try to engage with the job fully, but “I didn’t have any motivation – I felt so bored.” Were she forced to spend the entire workday actually working, she’d simply quit, she says.
Campbell says: “It sounds like an incredibly dull job, where she’s not getting any kind of motivation from her employer or intellectual stimulation. That’s a problem from the company’s perspective, but it also suggests to me that she should quit and find something else that will engage her.”
Brennan Allamano adds that although Chloe has made a personal choice to check out, she wonders what opportunities she might be missing out on.
“If she’s able to maintain her current role with very little effort, what could she do if she did engage with an organisation with the right structures in place? She might find that she has a lot more ahead of her from a career perspective than she might think.”