What We Need to Understand (And Do) About Quiet Quitting

September 6, 2022

No doubt you’ve seen article after article on the new buzz phrase “quiet quitting” with a variety of different perspectives and definitions. Well, what does it really mean?

  • Does quiet quitting stem from a loss in motivation and a move toward doing the bare minimum?
  • Is it the once-per-decade assertion that “nobody wants to work anymore?
  • Is it simply setting reasonable boundaries at work – quitting the idea of going above and beyond without above and beyond compensation?
  • Is it actually a new trend? Or has Gen-Z just rebranded the common act of “coasting?”

Let’s go back to the basics of our economic system as one way to contextualize this new workplace sensation and answer some of these questions.

An essential feature of capitalism is the motive to make a profit.

For a company or employer, this means using company-controlled assets (human resources, material resources, financial resources) as efficiently as possible to gain the largest possible output (products, services), therefore maximizing profit.

Companies are not only encouraged to do this – it’s essential to survival in a capitalist economy.  

Consider that when employees “quit quietly,” they use their individually-controlled assets as little or efficiently as possible (time, knowledge, skills) to gain the largest output possible (salary, hourly rate). They too are maximizing their profits.

Sound familiar? This explanation deploys the capitalistic profit maximization logic at the level of the individual.

Also, consider that while productivity increased 61.6 percent, wages increased only 17.5 percent between 1979 and 2020. Does this suggest that employees haven’t been quiet quitting or maximizing profits enough over the last five decades?

If we expect employees to step out of a purely capitalistic mindset and consider what’s best for the company, we need employers to do the same and consider what’s best for their people.

The need to put people first goes beyond “quiet quitting” in today's world of work.

The Great Attrition is ongoing, and the research shows that employees are leaving their jobs and the workforce because they are considering their options more than ever before.

Employees are increasingly able to accumulate transferrable skills and engage in “reshuffling,” or quitting and getting hired in a different industry. They’re “reinventing” themselves and leaving traditional employment to join the gig economy or start their own business. Some are even “reassessing” if they can continue working, considering their non-work demands.

The majority of people who quit their jobs in the past two years are not returning to the industries they left.
Source: McKinsey & Company

There are massive risks for companies associated with each of these trends.

Industries are losing long-term knowledge and directly relevant skill sets that may be hard to rehire. Individuals are even removing themselves from the traditional workforce entirely, making it harder to find talent overall.

So, what can we do about quiet quitting?

Business owners and leaders should internalize a people-first approach to talent acquisition, employee engagement and benefits programs.

Be clear and reasonable about job expectations and compensate people appropriately for the role they are playing. Help everyone find value and meaning in their work.

At the same time, understand that many employees aren’t working on their passions – their passions lie outside of work – and they are just working to live. Keep your employees engaged and offer continuous opportunities for growth and learning. (*wink wink* Check out our blog and resources for some more brilliance.)

Ultimately, it’s about developing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships between employers and employees – maybe then employees won’t feel like they have to “quietly quit” to maintain their sanity.
Read our article: How to humanize your employee value proposition

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Lauren James

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