You’ve probably caught some of the recent media hype around the term ‘quiet quitting’, with many people lining up to complain about the ‘outrageous workshy nature of millennials and GenZ’.
But hang on, let’s get some perspective… As a small business owner, should you be terrified of quiet quitting? No, despite what the media says. Is this something that should be keeping you up at night? Absolutely not. Are an entire generation of younger people workshy? No, that’s ridiculous.
Should we pay attention to this trend? Absolutely.
What is quiet quitting?
The term ‘quiet quitting’ went viral on Tik Tok in July 2022 after user @zkchillin posted a short video that quickly gained millions of views and likes:
“You’re not outright quitting your job but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond,” he explained. “You’re still performing your duties, but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle-culture mentality that work has to be your life.”
What does quiet quitting look like in practice?
Quiet quitters don’t go over the stated terms of their employment contract. They don’t take on extra work. They arrive on time, leave on time, take their allotted breaks. They don’t answer calls or messages outside of hours.
So, it’s someone turning up and doing exactly what they’ve been paid to do. That doesn’t sound too bad, but the real problem is more subtle. Quiet quitters are not emotionally invested in their job, in your company or its success – they are not engaged.
Why are people quiet quitting?
The eagle-eyed among us may have spotted that this concept is not new. There are a bunch of terms for this mindset – Disengagement. Coasting. Withdrawal. And in China, where employees are regularly required to work 996 (9am to 9pm, six days a week) the term ‘lying flat’ is used to describe doing the bare minimum.
But regardless of its originality, this new term seems to have struck a chord – predominantly with younger employees.
And perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Society is still adjusting to the biggest workplace culture shake up in living memory, and research suggests it was the youngest members of the workforce – those just beginning their careers who were suddenly furloughed, fired, or banished to work from their bedroom – who bore the heaviest psychological brunt of the disruption.
“You’re no longer subscribing to the hustle-culture mentality that work has to be your life,” said @zkchillin in his fateful Tik Tok video. “Your worth as a person is not defined by your labour.”
So perhaps the popularity of the quiet quitting trend represents a kind of backlash against the lack of work life balance – dare we say burnout – that many people have felt over the past few difficult years. Most of us have experienced a moment of reflection since March 2020 – we have asked ourselves what’s really important.
So, in a post-pandemic world where society is far more receptive to issues around mental health, perhaps quiet quitters are simply trying to reclaim their lives from jobs that don’t nurture or fulfil them.
Anthony Klotz, associate professor at University of College London’s School of Management, told the BBC: “We’re seeing a moment of reprioritisation with quiet quitting: the shrinking of work in people’s lives to make room for family, friends and hobbies. People want a career, but they want rich, healthy lives outside of work, too.”
But what can we do about quiet quitting?
It should be quite obvious when somebody starts disengaging. They’re less communicative, don’t contribute as much, their productivity may suffer. They’re not putting in the same effort they used to. But how should we respond as small businesses?
Frustrating as this may be, our HR experts advise managers to take a calm approach and try to find out what is going on with that individual. Their reasons might be personal rather than anything related to their employment. How are they feeling about work? Can they acknowledge that their performance has slipped? What do they need to get back on track?
It’s important to understand that motivation isn’t a constant, it naturally moves in peaks and troughs, so don’t be too quick to break the emergency glass. But if you’re genuinely worried your people may be quiet quitting, perhaps you have some work to do on company culture and engagement.
And this is the key point. For small businesses who pay attention to employee engagement and wellbeing, quiet quitting shouldn’t be a problem.
People who are happy at work, engaged in their role, and feel their employer cares about them; people who know exactly where they stand and what’s expected of them, who feel like they have a decent work life balance and are fairly paid for their work they do… guess what, those people buy in. And they’re often happy to get stuck in beyond the strict terms of their employment contract and go over and above for their team.
You pay them to turn up and fulfil a specific responsibility. Anything ‘above and beyond’, you need to earn.
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