What to Do About Quiet Quitting: 3 Ways to Reframe the Narrative

September 15, 2022 Stacy Thompson

Employee quiet quittingQuiet quitting. You’ve seen the term splashed across headlines and igniting social media. It isn’t a new phenomenon, but it’s coming into sharper focus – like a bullseye – as employees return to the office. Quiet quitting, or “quitting in place” or, simply, “disengagement,” is the latest viral catchphrase that reminds us of one single, inexorable truth: That the pandemic has left workplaces reimagined and workers forever changed. And it’s a wakeup call for employers.

In fairness, the quiet quitting rallying cry has been building for some time – with the Great Resignation showing us that employees, after pandemic-era stress, uncertainty, burnout, and isolation, are now more certain than ever of what they will and will not tolerate at work. The shift in workplace culture is palpable, and the statistics – Gallup puts quiet quitters at half the U.S. workforce – put a fine point on it.

So, the question then becomes: What can you do about it? Or, more acutely, what are you going to do about it?

It starts by getting to the root cause of the problem. Part of the challenge of quiet quitting is its definition varies depending on who you ask – some think of it as clear-cut work-life boundaries, while others say it’s “phoning it in.” It’s also a bit of a misnomer, as it doesn’t involve quitting at all.

But it all points to a reckoning, the likes the which will only grow bigger unless we face it head-on.

The problem is there – the solution is in your hands. How can you view the quiet quitting trend as an opportunity to better align with employee needs, expectations, and motivators – ultimately building a more engaged, dynamic workforce?

Let’s look at 3 ways to reframe the narrative:

1) Get managers keyed in

We’re all familiar with the adage “people don’t leave jobs; they leave managers.” As with all cliches, there’s some truth to that: It stands to reason that employees without connections to their managers would seek out job opportunities elsewhere. In that sense, quiet quitting is as much a symptom of employees not connecting to their work as it is a lack of connection to their managers.

The key is to get managers plugged into not only the work, but the people behind the work. Good managers are good listeners, and good listeners listen carefully, attentively, and sympathetically. They know who has a birthday coming up or a big vacation planned, or, conversely, who has a sick parent or a child struggling in school. In other words, they get to know and develop an appreciation for what we at Workhuman® call the “whole human.”

This may mean reskilling managers to be effective leaders in a hybrid environment. It’s a steep mountain to climb, with managers themselves experiencing some of the steepest declines in engagement over the past year.

But meaningful connections go both ways – people may leave jobs because of managers, but they also stay because of them. Checking in regularly (at least once a week) gives managers and employees a chance to build relationships that extend far beyond the four (virtual) walls of an office.

Quiet quitting remote workers

2) Understand engagement, employee by employee

A big part of the quiet quitting conversation revolves around a departure from “hustle culture” – and the message is clear: If we’re not thinking about how work fits into our lives (and not the other way around), we’re thinking about it all wrong.

So, what is the best way to re-engage employees who may be quietly quitting? The simple fact of the matter is that, for many employees, quiet quitting eventually leads to actual quitting. Gallup’s data shows, in addition to the 50% of the U.S. workforce quietly quitting, another 18% is “actively disengaged.”

But there’s hope. By fostering connection and rapport, on a personal level, employers can develop a deep and robust understanding of what keeps individuals motivated and what leaves them each feeling inspired. Employees need to feel like their growth and development is being taken seriously and that they’re working toward a clearly defined goal, with support along the way.

The trick is to do away with the idea that there’s some sort of magic bullet, a “one-size-fits-all” approach to employee engagement. It’s all about developing a culture of continuous feedback, with frequent check-ins, personalized to the individual employee, that lead to better relationships overall.

how to stop quiet quitting

3) Tap into the power of recognition

In today’s post-pandemic workplace, the feeling of being overworked and underappreciated is a common experience. It’s also chief among the reasons employees succumb to quiet quitting: What’s the sense in going above and beyond if you never reach the top of the mountain?

Beyond fostering connection and understanding what motivates each individual, one of the best ways for companies to inspire and engage their employees is to recognize them for who they are and what they do. It’s just that simple.

Recognition is the glue that holds the employee experience together. It’s also a way for companies to demonstrate to employees that their organization cares about their health and wellbeing. In fact, Gallup and Workhuman research shows that employees who have good recognition experiences at work are more likely to be thriving in their everyday lives.

Recognition has a ripple effect of positivity, up, down, and across the organization. It buoys employees, making them feel seen, heard, and valued for their unique perspectives, experiences, and contributions.

In that sense, it’s quiet quitting’s worst enemy.

quiet quitting divider

Final Thoughts

At its core, quiet quitting is just another word for employee engagement – or lack thereof. As the conversation continues to swirl around this latest viral trend, organizations would do well to ask themselves: What are the underlying causes of quiet quitting and, equally important, what can we do about it?

To capture the hearts and minds of your employees, it’s important to foster strong, meaningful connections between managers and employees, prioritize employee growth, development, and motivation, and recognizing individual employee contributions along the way. It could mean the success – or failure – of your organization in the months and years to come.