Is quiet quitting really about boundaries?

More than half of U.S. workers say they’re quiet quitters, according to a new Gallup Poll.

A recent Monster poll revealed that 62% of workers are quiet quitting (or have thought about it). This is a term used to describe employees who are just “going through the motions”, so to speak. They’re at work, they’re doing their job, but they don’t seem engaged and they’re definitely not going the extra mile.

Although there’s been a lot of buzz about quiet quitting, not everyone is buying the hype. What if quiet quitting is really just the pendulum swinging from “lean in” culture?

“The term ‘quiet quitting’ is misleading, because it refers to doing exactly what is required of you by your job description, rather than leaning in to take on the extra work of two or more employees just to win favor,” says Sep Niakan, managing broker at CondoBlackBook.com. “It involves establishing a reasonable limit on what an employee will and won’t do.”

Why ‘Quiet Quitting’ Isn’t the Best Term

The problem with “quiet quitting” is that many workers aren’t in danger of leaving — they’re doing what they were hired to do.

Jill Santopietro Panall, a human resources consultant at 21Oak HR Consulting describes quiet quitting as simply not overworking yourself. “Quiet quitting really pertains to people just doing their nine-to-five, and you know what? That’s what you’re going to get from folks who aren’t living to work.”

In a job market with 11.2 million open positions, workers have more power than ever. What that means, in some cases, is that they’d rather not put in the long hours that some employers used to expect.

“This new trend is a response to grind culture, which refers to the mentality that workers have to be switched on, work longer hours and be available to work at all times to achieve success,” says Gareth Hoyle, managing director at search engine marketing firm Marketing Signals. “Quiet quitting is about making a healthy work-life balance and setting boundaries.”

Real Warning Signs

While many HR experts object to the term “quiet quitting,” it’s true that some workers have become disengaged. Those are the workers who aren’t doing their jobs, or they aren’t doing them well.

“In the current economic climate, with wages struggling to keep pace with spiraling inflation and endemic staff shortages causing burnout, I don’t blame some employees for feeling undervalued and becoming increasingly disengaged from their work,” says John Ricco, cofounder of recruiting company Atlantic Group.

Here are some signs that should concern you:

  • Lack of communication. Pay attention if an employee stops responding to emails or phone calls for extended periods of time. “It’s usually because they’re starting to mentally check out,” says Bonnie Whitfield, human resources director for vacation site Family Destinations Guide.
  • Change of work habits. If your go-getter employee has suddenly pulled back, that’s likely a sign that something’s going on.
  • Change in attitude toward others. Is an employee talking badly about co-workers or managers? “This can be a red flag that they no longer care for their work or the company,” Whitfield says.
  • Keeping a new schedule. It’s one thing to work your regular hours. It’s another to be consistently late, leave consistently early or take many more sick days.

What Employers Can Do

If an employee seems to have changed their work efforts, there are a few things you can put in place to try to reel them back in:

  • Have an open conversation. Does an employee seem unhappy? Ask them about it. “Having that relationship and that culture where people are open to expressing themselves honestly is important,” says Matthew Burr, a human resources consultant in Elmira, N.Y.
  • Make sure you’re paying enough. “An employer should first ensure that they are properly compensating employees according to their skills, experience and market rate,” says Adrienne Couch, human resources analyst with business site LLC. Services. “Proper compensation is enough to keep an employee committed and highly performing.”
  • Adjust your expectations. What are you expecting of your workers? Is it reasonable? If you’re looking for an employee to be available during off hours and on weekends, or you’re asking them to take on more responsibilities than their job encompasses, you may want to rethink.

Speak With Your Team Directly

If employees are pulling back, it’s time to examine your work practices. “Most of the time, this form of protest arises due to inflexible working conditions, inadequate pay or an insufficient benefits scheme,” says Andrew Gonzales, president of BusinessLoans.com. “Speak with your team directly as soon as you notice the signs of quiet quitting. Otherwise, it could have a serious impact on your business’s longevity.”

Monster’s Quiet Quitting Poll Data

  • The clear majority (62%) of workers say that they’re currently quiet quitting (36%) or have thought about it (26%) after learning what the term means.
    • Alarmingly, the top two reasons for workers quiet quitting or thinking about it are feeling burned out (61%) and being underpaid for what they’re asked to do (60%).
    • 58% of workers cite prioritizing work-life balance as their reason for quiet quitting or thinking about it.
  • On the other hand, almost 40% of workers are not thinking about quiet quitting.
    • The top reason to avoid quiet quitting is that they like their job and want to exceed expectations (44%).
    • However, 34% think that quiet quitting is just an excuse to be lazy at work and 22% are worried about being fired, laid off or demoted.
  • Nearly three-quarters (72%) of workers have been asked to work extra hours outside of their contracted hours.

Source: Monster poll conducted among workers, September 6, 2022