quiet quitting

Exceeding expectations in a way that makes sense

One of the emerging megatrends of 2023 is, without a doubt, quiet quitting – the phenomenon where employees go about their daily tasks with minimum effort, with no intention to put in any extra effort to enable, for example, a bit better customer experience.

Created largely by the aftermath of Covid-19 and further enhanced by social media, quiet quitting is spreading like a pandemic of its own. A study by Gallup suggests that “quiet quitters” make up at least 50% of the U.S. workforce. That number is expected to grow during 2023.

The American numbers set the tone for the rest of the world – after all, USA is the country of origin for quiet quitting. Known for a working culture that appreciates and rewards working insane hours and fierce internal competition, one of the cornerstones for the country’s economic success has been the employees’ willingness – and ability – to stretch themselves beyond limits, time and again.

Whether that has been achieved through engagement or sheer pressure from bosses, colleagues, neighbors, in-laws, and other immediate interest groups is a case-by-case outcome. The point is, that the wheels have turned, and the leaders must take respective action.

What is quiet quitting all about

The fundamental idea behind quiet quitting is that your worth as a person is not defined by your labor. That is how a young engineer named Zaid Khan put it in his TikTok post in the summer of 2022. That post, where Khan refused to “subscribe to the hustle-culture mentality that work has to be your life” is considered to be one of the ignitors of the entire quiet quitting movement.

The post by Khan, as well as the concept in general, creates contradictory reactions and opinions. While the younger generation tends to agree and join the bandwagon, the opposition thinks of quiet quitters as losers and free-riders that are simply not willing to do their part for common good.

Engagement is about motivation to take personal responsibility of a task at hand, and it is becoming a rarity in a modern organization. According to Gallup, the biggest decline in engagement and employer satisfaction currently takes place among those below the age of 35.

Between 2019-22 – in other words, during the pandemic years – the share of engaged employees in the U.S. workforce dropped by six percentage points.  While remote work theoretically should improve opportunities to balance working and personal life, it has also been perceived to limit spontaneous encounters and increase the feeling of exclusion.

As a result, and with not that many opportunities up for grabs, employees fall into a zone where they do not aim for the best possible effort. In a world where competition tightens and customer demands become tighter and more specific, this causes the organization to fall behind and lose competitive ground.

Re-organizing work in an engaging way

The pandemic led to people working from home which led to less control from the managers, which led to the feeling of becoming isolated – which, according to various research, is one of the main drivers of quiet quitting. Heading blindly to the source and putting people back to offices, hoping that meaningful interaction would suddenly resume, might sound like a perfect quick fix.

It is not.

Engagement begins with establishing a connection between employees and their jobs. If the employees feel that no one really cares what they are working on, and no one explains what they are expected to achieve and why, they respond by taking the easy way out in every possible situation.

The purpose of the organization should be clarified to everyone. That lays the foundation for values, which guide the daily operations. Once employees buy into the purpose and the values, their attitude towards work changes accordingly.

The managers, to whom this so often comes down to, should make themselves present and available, and provide support. It all begins by showing a little empathy by asking how a person is doing and asking how the work is going at the moment. One short talk with every team member, say on a weekly basis, is one small step towards complete change of the existing culture.

People should be trained, encouraged, and inspired to talk to each other, get connected and find common ground on also other issues than work. The essential message that must be conveyed to employees is how their work is a critical piece of the organization’s overall purpose. At the end of the day, the purpose is the glue that keeps the entire organization together, laying foundation to the way it heads to every day.

As a team, contributing to the bigger cause makes sense to every employee. When they have a reason to wake up every morning, employees show up at work committed to put in the best possible effort. Quiet quitting is replaced by determination to accomplish the purpose, and everyone wins.

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