Along with regular old-fashioned quitting, there’s also been more talk lately about “quiet quitting.” It’s difficult to say which is more damaging to your business. Understanding the causes of quiet quitting (which often factor into actual quitting, as well) can help your business take steps to counter the trend.
Setting boundaries to establish work-life balance, while remaining involved at work, can be good for individuals. It can also, perhaps counterintuitively, benefit the business as it avoids employee burnout.
On the other hand, having active employees who are not adding much value is detrimental. When quiet quitting reflects unengaged workers doing the bare minimum, it can undermine productivity, collaboration, and innovation. Regrettably, according to Gallup’s 2022 State of the Global Workplace survey, the number of actively disengaged workers is on the rise. With low engagement costing the global economy $7.8 trillion, according to Gallup, you need to know what leads to quiet quitting if you hope to counter it.
Common quiet quitting causes
Every individual has their own reasons for becoming disengaged or deciding to “phone it in.” Still, there are several consistent causes of quiet quitting identified in industry publications and firsthand accounts. In this section, we will outline the main ones.
Burnout is a global concern. McKinsey’s Erica Coe describes it as “a chronic imbalance between your job demands—for example, how heavy your workload pressure is—and your job resources.” The coleader of McKinsey’s Health Institute notes this imbalance is often correlated with anxiety and depression.
Excess workload and a lack of boundaries can erode worker motivation. Couple that with insufficient support from managers, and you could have employee dissatisfaction tipping over into quiet quitting.
Financial stress is a big source of worry for employees. With financial well-being a top-of-mind concern for the majority of workers, employee dissatisfaction can take root in anxiety about compensation. A PwC survey, cited in an HR Executive article, found that financial anxieties impact many facets of our day to day, including mental health, sleep, self-esteem, physical health, relationships at home, and productivity and attendance at work.
Compensation concerns aren’t only about the money. To employees, uncompetitive pay can demonstrate a lack of respect. If they feel that their output isn’t valued, they could decide to scale back their performance.
Lack of mobility
This may just be a perception, but it is a damaging one. Writing in Fast Company, Gloat Research Group CEO Ben Reuveni cites RandStand reporting “43% [of employees surveyed] say they don’t have enough opportunities for internal mobility.”
In Gloat’s own research, “more than 1 in 4 workers are struggling to find relevant skill-building opportunities.” Further, 54% reported their current role “doesn’t make good use of their skills.” Yet, Reuveni notes, “today’s employees want opportunities to learn, grow, and find fulfillment in their work.”
Difficult work environment
Stifled growth or the feeling that there is little opportunity for forward movement can contribute to a difficult work environment. However, there are many other elements that can negatively impact the employee’s well-being. Bad leadership and unmotivated coworkers can make for what’s commonly called a toxic work environment. Rapid employee turnover can be problematic as well.
If someone feels unsafe or excluded (either by cliques and gossipy behavior or lack of diversity and inclusion) this can also breed low morale and lead to quiet quitting.
Address causes of quiet quitting
To counter the stress, boredom, or toxicity that can result in quiet quitting, companies need to send a clear message that they care about their work community. These strategies can help:
Busy is one thing; burnout is another. Supervisors can work to ensure that certain employees aren’t overburdened. By setting clear expectations, which emphasize the importance of employee well-being, you can establish a culture that encourages work-life balance.
If someone is constantly working late or on weekends, find out why. Perhaps they have too much assigned, need more instruction, or resources need to be differently allocated. Take steps to address the workload overload. If you can’t do so, at least openly discuss the duration of the extra responsibility and consider compensating the individual accordingly.
Look out for changes in behavior
Since quiet quitters are seldom your biggest underperformers, you may not even immediately notice when people start down this path. Keep an eye out for individuals who have stopped proposing new ideas, volunteering for projects, speaking up in meetings, pursuing continuing education, or participating in social activities with coworkers.
Address pay discrepancies
Wage inflation, a nationwide talent shortage in many industries, and an increasing cost of living can all impact employee views of appropriate compensation. McKinsey’s talent experts recommend “super transparent” discussions about salaries with individuals. McKinsey’s Bill Schaninger, on the McKinsey Talks Talent podcast, suggested breaking compensation conversations into component pieces — market adjustment, company performance, and individual performance — to explain “the why” behind certain decisions.
Reviewing compensation annually, at the very least, and considering what non-monetary recognition, perks, and benefits can be provided, may help individuals feel that they are properly rewarded.
Crack down on toxic behaviors
Whether it’s primarily caused by managers or colleagues, toxic workplaces can drive quiet quitting. It’s essential that you look out for and prevent behaviors that make your employees feel unvalued or unsafe. This might include demeaning, non-inclusive, or unethical actions. It could also come from an extremely competitive environment.
McKinsey’s Coe suggests, “One way that employers can approach toxic behavior is to treat it as a lack of competence.” This would make positive and supportive behavior a skill that can be developed and evaluated.
Check in with employees
Managers can make a difference by literally asking employees, “How are you doing?” When supervisors aren’t checking in and following up, it’s easy for people to start believe their quiet quitting won’t get noticed. As McKinsey’s Schaninger said, “The minute an employee perceives that the boss no longer cares about them as a person, or doesn’t care about what they’re working on, they begin to think, ‘Why should I care?’”
Quiet quitting can come from a lack of connection to the work community. Demonstrate that you care about your employees and find out what you can do to build ties with them by using Sogolytics’ employee engagement solution.