“Quiet quitting”, despite the name, has nothing to do with actually resigning. Instead, it describes the phenomenon in which employees perform their duties, but are no longer highly motivated at work, or going above and beyond their job description.
Despite being labelled by sceptics as just another workplace buzzword, it’s sparking some serious concerns. According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2022 report, just 9% of the UK workforce feel engaged in their work, and the UK ranked 33 out of 38 European countries in terms of employee engagement.
The end of hustle culture?
Gaining traction recently on social media, quiet quitting is the opposite of “the grind”. Many people who feel overworked, burnt out, and who may be operating in unfair or unsafe conditions are turning their backs on a culture of revolving life around work. They’ve waved goodbye to extracurricular events, going the extra mile, and taking on additional responsibilities for no more remuneration.
Perhaps it was the pandemic pushing many staff (like key workers) to a breaking point, or allowing people the opportunity to think more seriously about their priorities, direction, and treatment. Whatever the cause behind quiet quitting, we are seeing more people wanting autonomy over their work and more support from their employers.
Quiet quitting could be a defence mechanism
We are seeing mental ill health in the workplace, as well as resignation levels, at an all-time high. Is quiet quitting a method of self-preservation, or a response to feeling burnt out?
For some people, to quietly quit might be an active decision. However, for the majority, it is an automatic response that has developed to feeling overworked. They’ve reached their final stage of burnout, and have little energy to do anything other than show up and go through the motions.
By adding more boundaries and leaving work at work, people can have more time to focus on their life outside of work - a crucial part of stress management.
“Setting healthy boundaries can help people to manage and protect their time, which can increase general wellbeing. This could be anything from starting and leaving work on time, taking regular breaks, or protecting out-of-work life more by pausing or deactivating work email alerts and putting away any work-related equipment, such as laptops, phones, and work projects when not at work.
“This can be trickier for those working from home, who might feel tempted to ‘send one quick email’, ‘make one last call’, or ‘quickly finish that presentation’. Employees who have blurry work and home boundaries, or who are consistently going above and beyond, are likely to burnout much quicker. It’s much more beneficial for companies to encourage a sustainable work-life balance.” - Gemma Campbell, clinical content specialist at Kooth
Who is quiet quitting?
Young people seem to be at the forefront of quiet quitting, but within this, there are further disparities.
Women are more likely to work overtime, compared to men - a whopping 6.8 hours a month extra, according to the Office for National Statistics. Women are also seen as taking on more “office housework” than others, and have more difficulties than men in accessing senior positions.
Women and people of colour are also at an increased risk of burnout and stress. In our recent article, “is burnout biased?”, Dr Jeri Tikare, a clinical psychologist at Kooth, explains that being in a discriminated-against group brings about extra threats, such as an increased risk of marginalisation, unequal opportunities, and lack of representation.
“In a group where you are the minority, it can feel like there are a lot of extra threats. Because of the society we live in, where there are challenges with systemic exclusion, people who are from marginalised backgrounds have to work much harder to get a job. There is often an element of needing to prove that you are good enough to be there, or good enough to be allowed to have the job you hold.” - Dr Jeri Tikare, clinical psychologist
These additional stressors can make someone more prone to burning out and leaving the workplace much sooner.
Signs someone could be quietly quitting
Although some people might be better at masking their feelings than others, some of the signs that someone might be withdrawing from their normal level of work may include:
- disengagement or lack of input/action
- isolation from others
- performance that remains at a minimum or average
- others around them having an increased workload
- a general lack of enthusiasm
How can leaders respond to quiet quitters?
Some argue the best response to quiet quitters is to fire them. It’s much less costly to let go of employees than keep people who aren’t willing to push harder to see themselves, their colleagues, and the company thrive.
However, this is where the narrative needs to change. Of course, there is an element of “working hard” in any job; many of us want to feel a sense of achievement at work, enjoy organisational culture, and not just coast through.
In many organisations, it’s become the unspoken norm to go the extra mile. Yet, where there isn’t a just trade off of fair compensation, comprehensive support, and genuine appreciation, people are burning out. Many are consistently going above and beyond, sacrificing a vital and sustainable work-life balance, but getting little in return.
Providing mental wellbeing support
It’s not about organisations weeding out people who simply aren’t pulling their weight. In fact, many extremely talented, hard-working, and ambitious individuals are quiet quitting. It’s about providing the right support, culture, and remuneration, where employees feel like they are able to excel, go beyond, and not sacrifice their mental health.
So, how can organisations do this?