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You’ve probably heard of the viral trend of “quiet quitting”--but what does it actually mean?
According to many social-media commentators, “quiet quitting” means workers resisting exploitation by doing only what it says in their employment contract. Fair enough–if you routinely expect your people to go so far beyond the call of duty that refusal is a huge problem, your people have a point. But there’s a bit more to this than meets the eye.
The “quiet quitter” is not someone who’s just setting appropriate boundaries around their personal time–say, refusing to stay late or check email at weekends–but showing up fully engaged and ready to do their best for their contracted hours. “Quiet quitting” means being absent while present, making no optional effort, doing only what must be done. It’s the opposite of going the extra mile.
When put in those terms, it’s obvious that quiet quitting is a relational issue. It means exactly the same thing in a working relationship that it does in a personal one: this person is unhappy with you, despairs of resolving the issue, and has settled into silent resentment. And as in personal relationships, you may be left baffled as to what you’ve done to deserve this.
Research from the US, where the quiet quitting trend originated, points the finger squarely at line managers: a recent study in the Harvard Business Review found that the least effective managers had three to four times as many quiet quitters among their direct reports. The researchers concluded that the most important factor in these relationships was trust: leaders who were seen as trustworthy had more engaged staff.
However, it’s unfair to place all the blame on employers: some of it is out of their control. Most quiet quitters are from the youngest generation of workers, who are overeducated, underpaid, and routinely expected to be on call at all hours. Labour rights for junior employees have been eroded since most managers started their careers. This is one of the least empowered generations of workers; it’s no surprise that they’re not feeling valued or inclined to trust.
The real challenge facing employers is to create a sense of belonging. Quiet quitting is an expression of disengagement: it means employees don’t feel part of a community of people working together and supporting each other, and they don’t feel their employer has their best interests at heart. What’s needed now is a quiet rehiring through better workplace conversations, more openness, and more active demonstration of trust and understanding for workers’ problems and concerns. Both management and staff need ‘conversational integrity’: good conversation skills that enable them to listen and adapt to different perspectives.
Workplace relationships have atrophied post-pandemic, with workers feeling less attachment not only to physical workplaces but also to the people they work with. This has left them with less sense of identity and belonging.
HR leaders need to encourage more open conversations–and not only digital conversations–on a more regular basis, to equip managers and staff with the skills to deal with “difficult” conversations and appreciate challenges, and above all to ensure that leaders set a good example.
Good conversations are vital to generate the sense of belonging and trust that’s needed to fill the growing cracks in our employer-employee relationships.‹ Back