Quiet quitting


30th September, 2022

‘Quiet quitting’ and maintaining workplace morale into 2023

Is ‘quiet quitting’ a new challenge for businesses to contend with, or are employers facing more general morale issues in the workplace? Nina Hendy reports.

Loosely described as either the conscious choice to avoid work beyond the tasks outlined in your job description, or just doing the bare minimum to stay employed, ‘quiet quitting’ has been grabbing headlines in the media recently.

After years of minimal wage growth, compounded by significant changes to the traditional workplace due to the pandemic, self-professed quiet quitters are taking a stand in the name of work-life balance and rejecting the idea that employees should go ‘above and beyond’ to maintain their day job.

Career Coach for job listing site Indeed, Sally McKibbon, says ‘quiet quitting’ refers to the shift away from the hustle culture that prevailed pre-COVID and its proponents aim to set more healthy boundaries between their professional and personal lives.

“It’s letting go of the belief that your work is your life and acknowledging that your worth is not based on professional achievements,” she said.

“The pandemic left workers overwhelmed and burnt out, causing them to reflect on how they want their lives to look and feel (both in and outside of the workplace).

“It caused many to evaluate whether their current role was sustainable long-term.”

Sound familiar?

While many managers and business leaders may be more prepared to juggle competing priorities to get their job – done even if it means sacrificing personal time – their staff are probably less so.

Plus, at a time of high competition for talent, workers are more willing to consider a change of scenery if it means finding a workplace suited to their personal expectations.

Is it a new phenomenon? Rebranding the ‘work to rule’ approach

Quiet quitting has been identified as taking a ‘work to rule’ approach, whereby employees work to fulfil their obligations as stipulated in their contract and job description.

“If you’re in a demanding role where work regularly takes over your home life and you aren’t receiving the recognition or pay you deserve, but don’t want to quit your job, an employee might consider ‘quiet quitting’ by developing stronger boundaries at work,” McKibbon said.

This may result in staff drawing a hard line on aspects of their job such as operating hours, when they respond to emails or even the specific tasks and projects they undertake.

“It may not necessarily mean that their commitment has waned,” said Lyndal Hughes, an Organisational Health Consultant at Q5 Partners.

“In fact, this is what’s so difficult to spot,” he said.

Quite simply, these employees may struggle to articulate what they need from their employer to achieve a sustainable level of productivity.

“The dominant reason these people are looking to disengage is work-life balance.

“The scales feel too tipped towards work and COVID, and hybrid working has magnified this.”

Signs that may indicate a quiet quitter according to Lyndal Hughes:

  • Regularly working while feeling tired or fatigued
  • Increased levels of frustration over minor things
  • Being more vocal about needs and desires
  • Changes in personal circumstances
  • Becoming more distant and disconnected

It’s worth noting the signs listed above could equally indicate problems with morale or mental health and wellbeing, which means there could be deeper underlying issues that need to be addressed.

READ: Why mindfulness practices are good for business owners

Ultimately, whether your employees are working to rule or not doesn’t necessarily influence productivity, which is the real priority.

“We need to be careful not to put labels on people and remain curious as to why someone might be appearing disengaged, said MYOB’s Head of Talent, Lauren Threthowan.

“Is it true disengagement or are they seeking to set boundaries? If the latter, is this an opportunity to open up a conversation?”

Ongoing shift to prioritise results over presence

Employers need to be careful not to fall for the trap of measuring productivity by hours worked or time spent on the job, which can be a double-edged sword, warns Lindsay Brown, Vice President of APAC region communications software company, GoTo.

It may even be that promoting flexibility of hours or place of work, or even considering a switch to a four-day work week could improve the situation.

A study from GoTo with Frost & Sullivan found that more than three-quarters of respondents (78 percent) say working at least some of the time out of the office boosts employee productivity.

“Employers need to ensure they’re creating a culture where employees are proud and comfortable to work for a business, which will bolster motivation,” explained Brown.

According to Trethowan, achieving a successful workplace culture means helping every employee find a sense of purpose and understand the ‘why’ behind what they are working on.

“If employees are aligned on how their work contributes to a shared vision or how it helps customers, they’ll be more likely to commit the effort required.”

Putting employee needs at the centre of workplace experience

Employers grappling with employee productivity and morale are best served by keeping their staff’s personal priorities in mind.

“Try opening up the lines of communication by working with staff to improve their work-life balance, rather than loading them up with work,” said Brown.

“Employees who feel as though their concerns are recognised and their values are respected will be much more reciprocal to communicating.”

Hughes agrees: “Seek to build a stronger connection through conversation and listen out for unexpected feedback.

“Hear it, and take it into consideration,” she said.

Ideally, you want to look for ways to move someone who might be struggling with their workload to achieve the balance they need to be productive and, ultimately, satisfied in their position.

Unfortunately, this can be an uphill battle once an employee has already begun considering their next move.

“Research has shown that once someone has decided to leave, even if they’re enticed to stay longer, the majority are gone within six months,” said Hughes.

READ THIS NEXT: How to improve employee management (2023 edition)

Following employer-employee agreements is obligatory, not optional

McKibbon reminds us that meeting standards and delivering on agreed upon tasks isn’t just best practice — it’s also a condition of employment, and both employers and employees need to be keenly aware of what this means for their work.

If an employee is suddenly no longer performing their duties or is behaving unprofessionally at work, McKibbon points out that they may be putting their employment at risk.

“It’s important to recognise that setting boundaries and being professional at work are not mutually exclusive.”

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For employers and business managers, this underscores the importance of setting key performance indicators (KPIs) and objectives that are understood and agreed upon by all stakeholders, while also checking in regularly with employees to make sure workloads are manageable.

“Instead, businesses should focus on results-orientated work as a measurement of productivity,” said Brown.

“For example, providing flexibility in hours can lead to employees focused on finishing their tasks, rather than completing the typical nine-to-five day.”

Again, this sentiment aligns with the experience at MYOB, according to Trethowan.

“MYOB has been working in a flexible manner well before COVID and we will continue to offer Flexperience — MYOB’s flexible ways of working — because we believe giving employees choice in where, when and how they work matters.

“We want everyone to bring their best self to work.”

“But it does require clear, mutually agreed upon objectives and key results, or OKRs, as well as a regular schedule of performance-oriented conversations between each manager and their direct reports every quarter.

“This facilitates the shift in mindset from how many hours you work to what outcomes you’re committing to deliver” she said.