Quiet Quitting: Learning lessons from the ongoing debate

Should refusing to go above and beyond be the norm rather than the exception?

The term “Quiet Quitting” has received extraordinary media attention over the past few months. What started as a simple TikTok video has made headlines in national publications, sparking a fierce debate about the nature of work today.

For anyone unaware – perhaps you’ve been in a coma for the past few months or camping in the wilderness with no internet – quiet quitting is the concept of doing only what your job demands and nothing else. No replying to emails outside of work hours, no volunteering for extra projects, but still completing the job requirements.

Promoted as a solution for disengaged and dissatisfied workers, it has generated both support and concern from employers and employees. Proponents of the strategy say that refusing to go above and beyond should be the norm rather than the exception. Those opposed claim that the trend is a sign of disengagement and that employers need to curb the practice.

Whichever side you fall on, the fierce discussions around the trend have revealed much about the state of work today. With that in mind, we spoke with five experts to get their take on the key lessons from the debate.

It’s a whole new world

Quiet quitting is only the latest in several debates dominating the business world, focusing on the changing nature of the world of work. It’s impossible to deny that the pandemic, and the subsequent financial downturns, have led to massive revaluations in how things are done.

“Workplaces have changed so much over the past two years that it seems old-fashioned to judge performance and engagement based on who leaves their desks at 5 pm,” argues Jen Lawrence, Chief People Officer at Tax Systems.

“With the majority of workers now working from home, at least part of the week, many are enjoying the flexibility and work-life balance that hybrid working offers. After all, the concept that workers are ‘quitting’ when they are still completing their assigned hours and tasks can be hugely damaging to employee motivation and wellbeing.

Richard Guy, County Sales Manager at Ergotron, agrees that the shift in worker attitudes can be traced back to the pandemic: “Despite all the high profile discussion around quiet quitting, the trend doesn’t reveal anything that employers shouldn’t already know. It’s been clear for some time that workers have increasingly prioritised their health and wellbeing in the wake of the pandemic. 73% of workers will choose their next role based on physical health and wellbeing support and flexible technology provision.”

Work-life balance is the priority

In this changing world of work, it’s clear that many employees are prioritising their overall work-life balance over striving for promotions. Understanding that, and helping staff to achieve it, will enable firms to increase employee satisfaction – and, in turn, improve retention.

“It’s possible the definition of ‘success in life’ has shifted between Gen Y and Z. Being able to have a healthy balance outside of work and being mindful of mental health is more important than climbing the corporate ladder,” argues Alex Pusenjak, VP People & Culture at Fluent Commerce.

“It’s important for employers to provide the flexibility to work at home or come into the office if they want to. It’s also about making work fun, thinking of creative ways to engage teams, providing health and wellbeing initiatives and setting an example when it comes to work/life balance. We have staff who finish their day early to coach sporting teams, volunteer and do school pick-ups and drop-offs.”

“Adapting working hours to enable employees to have a better work-life balance, and encouraging them to spend time with family and friends, do the school run, or take the dog for a walk during typical working hours hugely improves employee wellbeing,” agrees Tax Systems’ Lawrence. “60% of people who practise hybrid working report improved psychological and physical wellbeing.”

Knowing when to offer meaningful support

Of course, some employees – whether they have chosen to “quiet quit” or not – are genuinely disengaged and unmotivated in the workplace. This can be a real problem. As Fluent’s Pusenjak points out: “Negative morale is contagious as it can slow down other people’s progress and motivation very quickly.”

Kristi Hummel, Chief People Officer at Skillsoft, believes that leadership should intervene in these cases but that they need to work with the employees rather than against them. She suggests: “They can work with the specific individual to get to the root of their reason and create a plan – together – to get things back on track which could come in the form of improving work-life balance, establishing clear growth paths, and providing opportunities to transition into new roles that better align with personal goals and values.”

Often, the driving force behind disengagement at work is a too-high workload. Hugh Scantlebury, CEO and Founder of Aqilla, explains how automation software can help to relieve employees of repetitive, administrative work while speeding up core tasks.

“We hope that this allows for a better work-life balance by ticking off a significant proportion of a typical finance team’s to-do list. We don’t want our customers or our employees to be working long hours or feeling so overwhelmed that they lose their passion for their work.”

He concludes: “Workers shouldn’t be framed as ‘quitters’ for doing what they are assigned to do, but employers should drive to maintain employee engagement by monitoring workloads, regularly checking in with employees and implementing policies and technologies to lift the burden where possible.”

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