Quiet Quitting — A Workplace Fad or a Real Cause for Concern?

Quiet quitting has recently become a trending workplace catchphrase. However, the parameters of what this behavior covers and the motivation behind it are still up for debate. Those that advocate quiet quitting in the workplace say that it is simply an application of work-to-rule. Meanwhile, those that sound the alarm say that it is not a very healthy response to burnout.

In this post, we’ll discuss what quiet quitting is really all about and why everyone’s talking about it. We’ll also touch on the common causes of quiet quitting, its effects on businesses, and how employers should respond when their employees start quiet quitting.

Table of Contents

What is quiet quitting in the workplace?

Quiet quitting was popularized as a term in a TikTok post by @zaidleppelin. In the post, he described quiet quitting in the workplace as:


“You’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond. You’re still performing your duties, but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life – the reality is, it’s not.”


According to a BBC article, the trend may have been inspired by a hashtag movement from China, #tangping, which means “lie flat”. The hashtag was used by recent graduates as a protest against the culture of harsh working conditions in the country, advocating instead for a lifestyle free from societal definitions of success. 


Experts say that pandemic burnout may be the reason quiet quitting has resonated all over the world. The idea of “always being on” and the blurring of lines between work life and home life caused many workers to question if going above and beyond in the workplace is worth it.


In this scenario, quiet quitting is simply an application of work-to-rule. Work-to-rule, or as some will call it, “act your wage” meaning, performing only within your job description and job hours. So, no work-related missives outside office hours, no projects that are not within one’s scope of work, interest, or pay grade, and no ad hoc responsibilities.


When seen in this light, quiet quitting seems like a reasonable and healthy way to enforce work-life balance, especially during the pandemic. In a LinkedIn post reacting to a metro.co.uk article on the topic, Matthew Knight says that this definition of quiet quitting is “not quitting – that’s a sustainable healthy way of working.”


But there’s another side to quiet quitting not quite covered by the original viral TikTok post. It is when quiet quitting employees have gone past beyond the point of burnout. Instead of simply trying to achieve work-life balance, they’re already actively disengaged in the workplace, constantly distanced from their job, with one foot out of the door. 

What are the most common causes of quiet quitting?

reasons employees are quiet quitting

In a Gallup survey in 2022, 50% of US workers are quiet quitters, and most of them are Millennial and Gen Z employees (aged 35 and under). And no, it’s not because of laziness, but because of poor workplace management. The workers surveyed in this study say they’ve become disengaged in the workplace because:


  • They feel no one cares about them
  • They feel no one encourages their growth
  • They see no opportunities to learn and grow
  • There is ambiguity among remote and hybrid workers on what is expected of them at work.

In this sense, quiet quitting is a manifestation of employee burnout and work dissatisfaction. From this angle, this behavior should be a cause for concern for employers as it may have ill effects on the company or business.

How does quiet quitting affect businesses?

At a glance, quiet quitting mainly seems to be the employee’s personal business and responsibility. But should we just leave it at that? Shouldn’t employers also be concerned about quiet quitting in the workplace? The short answer is yes. Quiet quitting can have a ripple effect not just on your employees but on the overall internal and external aspects of your business. Here are the two major effects of quiet quitting that employers need to watch out for: 

Low employee engagement = higher turnover rates

A workplace study has shown teams with low engagement experience turnover rates that can go up to 43% compared to teams with higher engagement. Turnover rates, as employers know, can be quite costly. To replace an exiting worker can cost up to two times a single employee’s yearly salary.

Employee burnout = low employee morale

Most quiet quitting employees are burnt-out employees on the verge of really quitting. They’re the ones most likely to go on sick or emergency leaves, or use their days off looking for other jobs. Not only do these leaves have cost and productivity implications that companies cannot afford in this recession; the general feeling of low employee morale can be contagious and can affect an entire team or workplace if left unchecked.

What can employers do about quiet quitting?

If quiet quitting is prevalent in your workplace, it reveals one thing: general poor management. Instead of resorting to quiet firing, employers should proactively look at the roots of what has caused their employees to quiet quit. Here are some examples of what employers can do about quiet quitting in the workplace:

1. Listen to your employees’ needs

Hold regular feedback sessions with your employees and encourage them to speak up. Use their feedback to improve the employee experience to let them know that you truly care and take their words seriously.

2. Set clear expectations on what the job entails

Quiet quitters often cite ambiguity in their actual jobs as one of their main reasons for quiet quitting. The mismatch between what they signed up for versus what they’re expected to do in the workplace causes them to feel employers are taking advantage of them.

3. Invest in your employees’ growth

Many employees who resort to quiet quitting feel stagnant in their jobs, as there seem to be no opportunities for career growth no matter how much work they do. If this shows up in your employees’ feedback, conduct a one-on-one with each employee and find out exactly what type of growth they’re looking for so you can take steps to achieve it.

4. Support employee well-being

Superficial perks like free drinks on Friday can only do so much for an employee’s morale and well-being.  One sustainable way to espouse employee well-being is to actively promote work-life balance or set clear boundaries between work life and home life. Apart from this, giving employees access to mental health support or resources can prove to be invaluable.

5. Find other ways to motivate your employees

Truly taking in your employees’ feedback and conducting one-on-ones with them will give you an insight on how to motivate them. Encourage citizenship or job crafting among employees. Job crafting means giving your employees the freedom to redefine their job in a way that allows them to find meaning in them. This can activate self-motivation and even prevent burnout.

how to respond to quiet quitting

Quiet quitting may or may not become part of the workplace lexicon in the future – only time will tell. But one thing’s for sure: its resonance among the global workforce is caused by a very real and clear imbalance in the workplace that employers need to watch out for. Addressing the extreme end of quiet quitting by means of quiet or loud firing won’t solve the root cause. Instead, employers need to redefine and redesign their workplace management by instituting a healthy work environment that prioritizes workers’ overall well-being.


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Frequently Asked Questions About Quiet Quitting

Q: What is quiet quitting?

A: Quiet quitting in the workplace can mean two things:


An application of work-to-rule, which means working only within your job description and job hours — no more, no less.


The extreme type — doing less than the bare minimum or doing only enough not to get fired. This type of quiet quitting is mostly done by actively disengaged employees who are past the point of burnout.


Q: What are the signs of quiet quitting?

A: The healthy type of quiet quitting may involve not answering phone calls or emails outside work hours, or saying no to projects that are not within one’s job description. For the burnt-out end of quiet quitting, the signs may include using up one’s sick leaves or emergency leaves (for both valid and invalid reasons), looking for other jobs within one’s work hours, and feeling distanced from one’s job or role.


Q: Is quiet quitting normal?

A: About 50% of US workers describe themselves as quiet quitters, so it has become quite normal in today’s workplace. 


Q: What is the difference between quiet quitting and work-to-rule?

A: Quiet quitting has been defined by some as an application of work-to-rule, and in the barest sense, it is. The difference is in motivation. Historically, work-to-rule was instigated during the Industrial era as a collective form of “action short of a strike” to protest unfair labor practices. In today’s age, quiet quitting is more motivated by the individual desire for work-life balance and good mental health.


Q: How can SMBs keep their workforce engaged despite the quiet quitting trend?

A: SMBs or small/medium businesses can keep their workforce happy, motivated, and engaged by talking regularly to their employees and taking their feedback seriously. Don’t expect each and every one of your staff to prioritize your small business over their lives, even if you do. Build a workplace culture that takes into account your employees’ pain points. Incentivize going above and beyond instead of demanding it without proper compensation. And overall, respect work-life balance and boundaries.

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