What Is Quiet Quitting and How to Prevent it – Ulitmate Guide

The concept of slowly losing effort in daily activities is not a novel idea. In fact, it’s a common factor in the human psyche. Though we won’t take the time to wax psychological, we will note: when someone becomes unhappy with a task, their effort begins to plummet. A hunter forced to gather may not peer much into the trees. But within the last few months, a new concept has seemingly appeared from the thin air of internet dictionaries. As of August, the term ‘Quiet Quitting’ sparked from nearly unheard-of to sensational.

From informational TikToks (yes, those exist) to several explanation articles, quiet quitting seemed to spike into the lexicon of the modern worker. Ultimately, it’s the concept of reducing effort in your current job due to unhappiness. You aren’t quitting but are slowly working your way out of effectiveness. Being let go could be on the horizon, but you don’t care. You have determined that your bare minimum is the new norm.

As an employment agency, we often deal with the employer’s side of transactions. Therefore, our audience often bubbles around those on the other end of quiet quitting. As such, we must take the time to discuss why the phenomenon is happening (or at least theorize) and how to prevent it as an employer.

Grab your thinking hat. This may lean into the realm of theorizing and hypothesizing psychological cause and effect. Regardless, here is our ultimate guide for employers on Quiet Quitting.

What Really Is Quiet Quitting

Quiet quitting is striking throughout the entire workforce. What exactly is it and what should you do about it as employers? Let's recap.
Credit: ImgFlip

Fundamentally, quiet quitting starts with being forced to work. As a species, we have established work as a necessity for societal amalgamation and usefulness. Obviously, the reason for working can differ depending on the economical basis of governments, but it all boils back down to the point of usefulness. You work because you have to. You have to make money, survive, provide for your society and provide for yourself.

When a concept is forced upon someone, effort depends entirely upon human emotion towards said concept. If a worker hates their job but has to work to survive, expect the bare minimum. Expect the amount of effort necessary to continue working, not to continue thriving in the work environment. If a promotion is out of reach or unwanted, the worker does not need to provide more effort than necessary to maintain the current job.

Amelia Nagoski, co-author of Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, told The Atlantic regarding quiet quitting, “Basically, when we have unmeetable goals, our brains can’t handle it. Our frustration grows into rage until eventually we are dropped into a pit of despair. Then we oscillate between frustrated rage and hopeless despair, where we get stuck in a cycle of I hate this job, they can shove it! Oh, no, I have bills to pay and children to raise, and I can’t just quit—but holy moly, I want to set that building on fire!!!

Quiet Quitting Isn’t Quitting

At its heart, quiet quitting isn’t the act of working your way out of a job. Quiet quitting is working at a level that keeps you afloat.

Despite a generation of workers putting a label on the activity, is quiet quitting actually a new phenomenon? No, not really.

In fact, the term was first coined by economist Mark Boldger in 2009 during a symposium regarding diminishing ambitions in Venezuela. But the concept of becoming jaded stretches far, far beyond that of a modern economist.

The fear of becoming jaded stems back to the furthest reaches of human history. For example, the Greek Mythology of Sisyphus involves the eternal damnation of pushing a boulder up a hill, only for it to roll back down to the bottom. Restart. Begin. Restart. Begin.

Are Sisyphus’ punishment and quiet quitting the same thing? Not entirely, but the point still stands. Having to repeat the same job over and over without a beneficial result was seen as a soul-crushing punishment during the etching of Greek mythology, and it hasn’t changed much since.

As humans, we tend to lose ambition when an increase in success is not within the foreseeable future. Does Sisyphus start every mountain climb with the same integrity and excitement as the last?

The Great Resignation Reigns True

While the concept of quiet quitting and losing effort has been around forever, new factors are making it prevalent in modern workforces. The Great Resignation, as it has been titled, has made the concept of quiet quitting appear more prominent than ever before.

The idea of quitting quietly isn’t new, but it’s becoming a more viable option in a working world fed up with previously established workplace values. We have spoken ad nauseam about the Great Resignation, so we will refer to a previously written definition here:

The pandemic-that-shall-not-be-named has created a great shift in both the way we live and work. Employers and employees alike are still scrambling to figure out what the future actually looks like. Normalcy doesn’t seem to be much of a possibility anymore, so what’s the outcome?

Many workers lost their jobs in 2020. In fact, unemployment rates reached 13% in the second quarter of the year. It was unprecedented. It was terrifying.

Subsequently, many employees sat at home for an extended and seemingly never-ending period of time. They had time to start new hobbies and identify their value as employees. It’s not unfathomable to think a former white-collar worker decided to drop the spreadsheets and pick up the paintbrush.

So, where does that leave the job market?

Well, people will always be looking for work. Despite my extreme example, many employees jumped back into their congruent fields. But something was picked up along the way. People know their worth. They had time to reflect. Uh oh…

This increase in self-worth means candidates aren’t willing to work for companies that don’t value them. It’s as simple as that.

What Does This All Mean?

Ultimately, employees are now more likely to quiet quit because employees are more likely to evaluate their workplace happiness. The mindset of employee values has shifted immensely, and if a worker is unsatisfied with the culture and compensation of their current situation, they are more likely to quiet quit (or outright quit).

The balance of work and life is no longer a want, it’s an outward demand.

Therefore, as an employer, it is crucial to keep up with the signs of quiet quitting, how to address it and how to prevent it.

Let’s get into it.

How to Identify Quiet Quitting?

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There are a few factors to consider when looking into quiet quitting. When observing your workforce, remember that all situations are unique, and burnout is not entirely synonymous with quiet quitting.

Has your team just gotten done with an extremely taxing project? Have the declining employees had personal or workplace issues strike them recently? Have the declining employees spent an abundance of work without a break or vacation?

The first step in identifying quiet quitting in your workforce is to attempt to identify normal burnout. Ultimately, the effectiveness depends on your empathetical senses and communication. If you know your staff, you should be able to identify negative changes. If you know your staff, you should be able to tell if it’s an ongoing issue or circumstantial. There aren’t hard and fast rules to figuring these things out organically.

Quiet Quitting Vs. Burnout

Quiet quitting and burnout are the same in symptoms, but different in root causes. Both problems cause a lack of motivation and effort.

While burnout involves physical or mental exhaustion, it does not involve apathy towards the job. The burned worker is lacking effort because they are tired, not because they dislike their job. A change in duties or vacation would ultimately rectify this productivity issue (in theory).

Quiet quitting is being done with the job at hand. It is being fed up with either a part of the company or the job’s tasks. Rectification requires more than a break.

Signs of Both

The overall signs and symptoms of both involve:

  • Avoidance of meetings or communication with managers.
  • Arriving late or leaving early.
  • Overall lack of productivity.
  • Less contribution to team projects.
  • Noticeable lack of passion and enthusiasm.
  • Bad or down attitude towards coworkers and supervisors.
  • Increasingly late submissions or completions on projects.

Communication Will Always Be Key

If you notice that a coworker or employee is coasting, resort to communication. Speak to them. Outwardly ask them if they are quitting quietly or losing motivation for the job. Depending on the employee, some may be upfront and let you know the root causes.

At the end of the day, you can find solutions to the problem without reading any further. If your employee is willing to openly communicate the problem, then there is no need to read any other tips. It’s in your hands.

Furthermore, treating your employee like valuable members of the team and addressing them openly can only improve their sense of work worth, one of the main stems of the Great Resignation in the first place.

The Benefits of Effort Reduction

Credit: MakeAMeme

We are not ones to call out another publication in regard to ideas and opinions. Therefore, we will keep this debate both untargeted and unbiased.

Some writers and experts have noted that quiet quitting for a period of time can be beneficial for both the employee and the workforce.

We do not believe this to be true. Furthermore, this seems to be a misunderstanding of both the core concept of quiet quitting and the definition itself. As stated, it is not the same thing as burnout. While taking an effort-based break may be beneficial for lethargy, it’s not beneficial for quiet quitting. By definition, the ‘quitter’ is too far gone. Nothing (especially furthering down the hole of quiet quitting) will help them recover their motivation. The only way to improve their motivation would be to eliminate or change the cause of their jade.

If you believe an employee has fallen into the trap of coasting by, then improvement will not come on its own. Interference and improvement are necessary. It won’t get better by ignoring it.

How to Prevent or Fix It?

So, you believe that an employee (or team) has become unhappy in their positions. You believe they are beginning to do the bare minimum just to get by.

What can you do, as an employer, to help rectify the issue?

1. Start With Listening

We will reiterate the point of communication. That’s how deathly crucial it is to establishing and keeping a positive work culture.

You may believe that your way of doing things is set in stone. You may believe that you’ve scrubbed the walls of any previous toxicity and negativity through your efforts as an employer. Unfortunately, you do not see it all. As a leader or owner, you may not be on the floor as much as you want. You may have missed things going on or a shift in the environment.

The most important example of employee retention strategies is fluidity. Allow your employees to speak and take their word to heart.

We are all different. Your workforce will continue to change and adapt. You will lose employees for reasons outside of your control. The best way to approach these fluctuations is to have an open mind and an itching ear. Be open and ready to adapt.

Requiring employees to bend and break by your rules is a quick way to run them out or reduce their enthusiasm.

2. Belonging and Attribution Is Necessary

Employees want to feel as if they matter. They want to feel as if their effort is more than just the turning of a cog in a machine. What are their keystrokes worth? What does their job really mean to the grand scheme of the company?

The easiest way to prevent an employee from beginning the quiet quitting process is to remind them how important they are in their position. Your company would not continue to run properly without them, after all.

Your company’s culture should stem from the idea that every single worker matters.

If an employee understands the importance of their job and is treated as such, they are more likely to work hard at it. Employees want to work harder for companies that care about them. They want to work things out if problems arise. Feeling like a family and feeling appreciated only improves employee morale.

From verbally complimenting the employee’s efforts to listening to their ideas, every small step towards employee appreciation and respect builds for a better future.

Need more info on building an effective company culture?

Check out: Corporate Culture is Crucial – How to Establish an Ideal Work Environment

3. Create and Identify a Progression Process

One of the quickest ways to make an employee feel jaded is to make them feel trapped. Why work hard if there isn’t a treasure at the end of the tunnel?

If your company does not have clear and possible paths to promotions and increased responsibility, expect lethargy to come quickly.

The only employees that are okay with staying stagnant in their role are ones that you probably don’t want to keep. The best workers always want to improve and should have a clear way of doing so. Even if you are a small company and don’t have a plethora of positions, you should always have an increasing level of responsibility and pay to offer hardworking employees.

Let’s say you are a small business with two employees. Even if there aren’t a lot of responsibilities to be delegated, you can still find a way to compensate your workers for their effort. Maybe your one employee can become a keyholder or increase their responsibilities with inventory management. No one wants to work without a lateral improvement structure.

4. Reward Good Effort

It may seem obvious, but rewarding your employees for their hard work is the best way to keep them around and engaged. We can hammer home the concept of thanking and recognizing your employees’ efforts all day, but it needs to be put into practice.

While this may seem like diminishing a worker to the quality of training an animal with treats, it’s anything but. You are not treating the employee as a trainable and mindless worker by providing rewards, you are showing them that you care about them as hardworking people.

Now, don’t begin to panic. If you are a small business, rewarding your employees with bonus pay may be nearly impossible. That’s okay. Luckily, there are other ways to reward your employees. Some companies set up a formal list of rewards revolving around certain milestones. Some companies provide team-building and rewarding experiences when a goal is met (a dinner, celebration, or day out).

If it’s impossible to provide your team with an extravagant reward, that’s okay. Hopefully, that level of success comes in due time. But, like thanking and complimenting, little things can go a long way. For example, if your employee is busting their tail all week, let them take off early on a Friday. Thank them for their hard work and tell them to go home. They’ll remember this.

To Advocate for Another Side

We can continue to press forward as if quiet quitting is an issue of a new generation figuring out their self-worth. In a way, that’s exactly what it is. As stated, the concept of not wanting to do something you are forced to do via societal norms can be soul-crushing, and in return, hard to abide by. As employers, it’s important to remember this.

A happy medium is not necessarily possible, or will it ever be. A life without work is as impossible as it is amazing. And while it may seem like that want for freedom is the basis of quiet quitting, it is not. Employees know they need to work and the negativity around that human concept is an entirely different argument.

Employees want to be valued as workers. They aren’t attempting to avoid work altogether by doing the bare minimum. Remember this.

Refer to the meme below:

Remember that battling quiet quitting is not as easy as finding new employees. If your employees feel like they are being inadequately paid for their required tasks or are not valued as workers, it is likely a you problem as an employer.

Will Quiet Quitting Continue?

If you, an employer, are holding tight onto the handlebars waiting for the hellacious ride to end, you are in for a bad time. Quiet quitting and the Great Resignation isn’t going anywhere. Employees aren’t going to lose their newfound self-worth, and they shouldn’t.

It’s time for us to adapt as employers, not the other way around. It’s time for us to care about our employees and help them feel beneficial and productive to the company. It’s time we listen, learn and adapt with positivity at heart.

A recent study by Gallup found that since 2002, about 50% of the U.S. workforce has been quiet quitting. This isn’t a new concept. This isn’t going anywhere.

It’s time for employers to blast through amplifiers, turning the quiet nature of lethargy into one that’s blaring. Let’s discuss it openly. Let’s be honest with each other. No great changes stemmed from a whisper.

Other Interesting Facts

  • The percentage of engaged employees under the age of 35 dropped by six percentage points from 2019 to 2022. – Gallup
  •  In an August survey, about 25% of workers (of all ages) said they are doing the bare minimum at work. – ResumeBuilder.com
  • U.S. nonfarm worker productivity in the second quarter has fallen 2.5% since the same period last year, its steepest annual drop since 1948. – Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • 41% of the global workforce is considering quitting their jobs. – EDSmart
  • Over 47 million Americans left their jobs by the end of 2021. – Zippia
  • The Federal Government Industry had the lowest quit rate in 2021, at only 0.7%. – Zippia