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Quiet Quitting: What Is It, and How Does Leadership Combat the Movement

By Sophie M. Deitrich, SHRM-CP, Small Business HR Lead, Compliance Center

If you stay up to date regarding social media movements among Gen Z, Millennials, and more, you may have heard about the new trend called “quiet quitting”—which is becoming a very loud movement.

“Quiet quitting” is a movement encouraging employees to set boundaries with their employers, criticize what is known as “hustle culture,” and to reject the belief that “living to work” is a badge of honor. The idea as described by social media users is not about outright quitting their jobs, but to quit going above and beyond. Duties are still being performed, but their labors are not viewed as their whole life, or their whole worth. A phrase circulating with this movement is “act your wage” and it emphasizes the widespread, post-pandemic, exhaustion of workers across the business offices and the country, and a shift in the mental contract between employer and employee of always being available, and always being 100 percent engaged. Employees have started reflecting on their work, their time, and what’s important to them. The movement has little to do with money or position, rather its about the need for time to focus on their private life.

As this topic circulates social media and our business leaders’ desks, we want to share steps to combat this movement and minimize the impact on the workplace. Whether you are aware of the quiet quitting phenomenon or not, likely the movement has already entered your workforce. Given today’s labor market—scarce talent and the high cost of hiring replacement workers for example—being prepared with the right management tools is essential. Below we’ll discuss steps employers can take to help avoid employees coasting through their jobs: defining expectations, checking in, and recognition and rewards for your employees.

Clearly define expectations:
When expectations are unclear an employee may be driven to quietly quit. Employees can feel irritated, defeated, and even disconnected with their jobs when they experience uncertainty in their responsibilities. To combat this uncertainty, employers should set firm deadlines for tasks and clearly define expectations. Discussions about general expectations, coupled with an understanding of specific job duties, provide an opportunity to get buy-in from employees and determine if they feel equipped to handle their responsibilities. If there is misunderstanding of the expectations, this would be an indication that you may need to review policies and procedures, update job descriptions, and outline specific performance expectations with metrics and attainable goals. If, after your discussions and definitions of the role have been established, performance expectations are still not being met, tell the employee and give them an opportunity to improve through your internal Performance Improvement processes. Feedback is important. If you set expectations but don’t follow up with a review of performance, job uncertainty remains.

Employee Check-ins:
Whether managing a remote, hybrid, or completely in-person workforce, it’s in an employer’s best interest to check in with their employees, and often. Beyond the regularly scheduled one-on-one or team meetings that often focus on daily tasks or project work, consider offering additional and regular opportunities to connect, share individual perspectives and concerns such as self-evaluations, surveys, or town halls to measure employee culture. Consider including asking specific questions about your team’s workload, career aspirations, how the company can contribute to your employee’s success at the company, and ask what the employee expects from you as their employer. Clearly defining the purpose of such an event, and offering a well-organized and concise agenda, can turn any dreaded opinions of “this meeting could have been an email,” into a welcoming space and opportunity for employees to share their voice.

Recognition and Reward:
One of the best ways to keep employees engaged and to maintain or increase productivity is to build a culture of recognizing and rewarding employees for a job well done. While we know most appreciated by employees are monetary incentives, even a targeted “thank you” or a minimal cost recognition program, can go a long way to boost morale. Use the opportunities mentioned above to connect with and give your employees a voice to share what they really want. For instance, it’s better to ask in advance and learn that your employees desire a later morning start time in order to avoid traffic, than to spend company dollars on an occasional work pizza party, or breakroom ping pong table, if those are not motivating to your team. Offering what’s truly important to your employees might just be the breakthrough needed to maintain a culture where employees are motivated and fully engaged.

Should you find yourself with signs of an emerging quiet quitter within your ranks, don’t be afraid to take action. Employers can, and should, enforce established performance expectations and follow company policies consistently. If performance issues, sloppy work, or general laziness is being noticed around the office, ignoring it can have a negative impact on your business, and the rest of your workforce. If the above recommendations are already being followed, and expectations have been well defined, proceed with taking action. You can limit exposure to discrimination claims by dealing with quiet quitters consistently and following established business policies and procedures. Don’t let the fear of resignation hamper your enforcement of existing policies – often, it’s the lack of clear expectations that leads to quiet quitting in the first place.

Our partner attorneys and HR professionals at the Flores HR Compliance Center can help ensure your policies are up to date, advise on the best practices for conducting thorough investigations, and guide companies through performance management and termination decisions. To learn more about this Flores service offering, reach out to your Flores Account Manager or Business Development Director, or contact us

The information presented in this post is current as of the publication date. The information included does not constitute legal advice.

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