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Quiet quitting – new language, old problem

Author
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David Merlin-Jones

Senior Associate

London

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Image of Alexandra Butler
Alexandra Butler

Trainee

London

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15 December 2022

Quiet quitting did not make the OED’s ‘word of the year’ shortlist this week but it is a phrase increasingly weaving its way into conversations. Misleadingly, quiet quitting has nothing to do with employees leaving their jobs. Rather, it involves doing the minimum required and never going the “extra mile” – in effect, it’s “working to rule”, rebranded for 2022.

Working hard or hardly working?

Since the term quiet quitting was first used in a TikTok video earlier this year, employees worldwide have promoted stories about no longer working overtime, volunteering for extra shifts or checking emails at the weekend. But this raises a question: to what extent is not doing those things truly problematic and is a refusal to work beyond contractual requirements really a performance issue?  

From the employee perspective, it is said that quiet quitting can lead to a better work-life balance and reduce the likelihood of succumbing to burnout. This might avoid those employees actually quitting, but what about the knock-on for higher performing employees? Where others are having to pick up the slack, this can lead to resentment and ultimately bad workplace relationships, both between colleagues and between management and the workforce. Ultimately, quiet quitting can lead to widespread disengagement in the workforce at a time when companies are in a challenging economic climate and need every employee to pull their weight and then some.  

Action points 

It is certainly possible to create a workplace model of fully invested employees who also maintain a healthy work-life balance. Here are some suggestions for doing so:

  • Do not avoid difficult conversations: if an individual is not doing enough, say so, document it and set another review period within a month or two. If there is no improvement, instigate a formal performance improvement plan.
  • Try to get to the bottom of the issue: is there a problem at home or at work, or does the employee not feel valued?
  • Incentivise: ensure that bonuses or similar benefits are only awarded to high-performing employees.
  • If doing the bare minimum isn’t enough, raise the baseline and make the new baseline clear. 
  • Use quantitative measures of success where possible – performance conversations are easier where you can point to objective targets being met/missed.
  • Where possible, set clear barriers on work encroaching outside work hours – for example, if employees aren’t expected to check their emails at certain times, say so and lead by example.

With transparency, effective communication, incentivisation and proactive performance management, the balance between employees who are burning the midnight oil every night and employees who are quietly quitting can be more easily attained.