Have you heard the phrase: “I’m going to start acting my wage”? This relates to a phenomenon known as quiet quitting. Zaid Khan, a 24-year-old engineer from New York, introduced TikTok to the phrase back in July, and, aside from amassing more than 3.5 million views on this video alone, it sparked the phase to trend on social media platforms across the globe.
Harvard Business Review attempted to define the term – ‘quiet quitters continue to fulfil their primary responsibilities, but they’re less willing to engage in activities known as citizenship behaviours: no more staying late, showing up early, or attending non-mandatory meetings’.
So why are people quiet quitting, and what is the problem with doing so?
To understand why some people quiet quit, we need to be aware of what burnout is and how it is caused. According to Mental Health UK: in 2019, ‘burnout’ was recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as an ‘occupational phenomenon’. Burnout is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion. It can occur when you experience long-term stress in your job, or when you have worked in a physically or emotionally draining role for a long time. The Health & Safety Executive notes that in 2020/21 there were an estimated 822,000 workers affected by work-related stress, depression or anxiety. This represents 2,480 per 100,000 workers.
Quiet quitting is a method of dealing with burnout. No longer will some staff go above and beyond for organisations to their own detriment, reasoning they are not benefiting from their hard work. Instead, individuals are prioritising their own health and well-being. On the surface, what is wrong with ‘just doing your job’? For many businesses, when staff do go above and beyond, it gives the organisation a competitive edge; ultimately, companies have higher productivity rates but don’t – not in all cases – properly remunerate employees. Individuals may feel that this is a way of taking back control.
In principle, a simple solution to prevent quiet quitting is to stop overburdening staff, provide reasonable work ethic expectations and suitably compensate them for their work. But what about in practice?
Review Job Descriptions / Expectations
Naturally, with time, job roles can expand and change past the confines of original job descriptions. At times this is a good sign; the employee’s skill set and ability are potentially growing; however, duties shouldn’t go beyond what is reasonable for one person.
Within your organisation’s appraisal process, include a review – in consultation with employees – of staff’s job descriptions. Does the document reflect what the employee is doing now instead of five years ago? Are the additional duties manageable or too overbearing? Can extra duties be reasonably disseminated throughout the team – or are more staff required? Are current duties/processes able to be streamlined to allow efficient working? Can training be provided? The appraisal process doesn’t have to be the only conduit for a review; ensure workloads are manageable at every opportunity, for instance, regular one-to-one sessions or team meetings. Following a review, managers should take action to support employees.
Another area managers are able to prevent quiet quitting is by setting expectations early. At induction, managers should lay out in fullness the expectations of the organisation either through a document or through their conduct, ensuring that these are reasonable.
Manage Staff Well-being / Health
Managers play a vital role in preventing quiet quitting; there are a number of steps they can take to ensure healthy staff (mentally and physically). Bear in mind that every individual is different, so it is important to listen to what they would find beneficial instead of assuming.
- Promote Work/Life Balance
It is good to remember that work and employment are not defining features of our lives. Managers should be keen to allow employees to exercise, spend time with family and friends and ensure their own self-care. Where possible, organisations should offer flexible working; at the basic level, this includes time be given to attend appointments or a later start to allow children to be dropped at school.
- Monitor Workloads
Workloads can spike at times, and this is to be expected; however, keep in mind the cause of burnout – when employees experience long-term stress in their jobs. As mentioned before, monitor workloads and redistribute where appropriate.
- Encourage Employees to take Annual leave
Experience shows that there are usually two types of employees, ones who always take annual leave without prompting or those that are hard-pushed to take even one day. Managers should set the expectation that annual leave should be taken throughout the year at regular intervals; they should lead by example, and monitor bookings so that they can issue reminders who employees who are not booking time off.
- Provide the Option of Working at Home
The pandemic has taught us that working from home is possible in many roles. It saves employees money and stressful commutes, and it can also reduce the stress of time management for employees. Working from home also provides employees with much-needed head space to just work without the need to put on the ‘airs and graces’ of workplace life.
- Practice Open Communication
Organisations should provide safe spaces where open communication can be achieved. Should employees feel they can open up about issues, the employer can take action to support them. How do companies create safe spaces? Aim to embed values into the organisation such as honesty, confidentially, professionalism, active listening and so on. When employees express themselves, don’t shut them down or react negatively. Provide regular opportunities to speak, i.e. monthly or biweekly one-to-ones.
Let’s face it, quiet quitting isn’t the end of the world for employers nor is it a new phenomenon, it just has a tag name now; however, it can be a symptom of larger issues such as burnout or cultural dissatisfaction. Organisations should aim to prevent or mitigate burnout, address their culture, which ultimately is beneficial for the employer and employee.
If you want help developing a positive culture or training managers to properly support staff, get in touch with a member of the ViewHR team.