Keep up with the latest HR resources and opportunities via our newsletter.

Quiet Quitting: What It Really Means and How to Address It

The top workplace buzzword of 2022 has to be quiet quitting. It’s taking over discussions in boardrooms and social media even though it emerged just a few weeks ago, earlier this summer.

But what does quiet quitting really mean?

It’s become a surprisingly polarizing term, and there’s no easy answer. Some leaders reject it outright, while others are quick to embrace it.

Before we get too far, let’s look at the history of quiet quitting. It originally emerged on TikTok, where the #quietquitting hashtag exploded. It clearly struck a nerve. From there, it’s spread to other social media platforms and then to other media. To get a sense of the first few videos around quiet quitting, take a look:

So what is quiet quitting?

According to one definition, quiet quitting means “quitting the idea of going above and beyond” and “no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality.” Videos like this mention hustle culture and doing the required minimum. However, other proponents mention it’s about quitting stress and worry. That said, not everyone is a fan, and there are also plenty of folks who see it as a really bad idea.

So are we talking about the same thing when it comes to quiet quitting? In many ways, we’re still creating a definition around quiet quitting.

Consider the zeitgeist

It’s a term used in the same conversations as the Great Resignation, the Covid pandemic, and hustle culture. It evokes a strong emotion because of the challenge of our own experiences and values over the past few years.

We hosted a poll and received some interesting responses:

Many discussions around quiet quitting include a backlash to a perceived unhealthy focus on work that interferes with personal life. This pushback to blurred boundaries is also evident in movements around the world, from European countries enacting laws to prohibit communication outside of working hours or the “lying-flat” movement in China as a backlash to the 996 system (9am to 9pm, 6 days per week).

Ana Goehner, Career Strategist at Digital Butterfly Communications, believes "quiet quitting is a new way of talking about disengagement. Disengaged employees are waiting for something else to come along."

In the past, phrases have popped up that deal with many of the same issues: work-life balance, burnout, coasting, disengagement, and creating boundaries. Quiet quitting is not a totally novel idea. And dismissing quiet quitting as a fad or Gen Z phenomenon would be short-sighted.

Two sides to the story

If things are getting boring at a dinner party, bringing up quiet quitting is a surefire way to rile folks up. That’s because it digs deep into our own values. It resonates in a way that no other workplace phrase has been able to this year.

For burned out workers, it’s a movement that makes them feel empowered after feeling like they have lost control.

For frustrated leadership, it’s a label for entitled workers with unrealistic expectations in a tight labor market.

For others, it becomes a kind of verbal Rorschach test to reflect workplace values and experiences.

Maybe it’s not the best term, but it’s spurring important conversations around a backlash to hustle culture, the fallout from Covid at work, disagreement on returning to the office, and changing attitudes about work.

How is quiet quitting affecting the workplace?

Discussions around quiet quitting don’t happen in a vacuum. Workplaces have already seen the impact of quiet quitting. To get the scoop, we asked organizational leaders about how they believe quiet quitting is affecting teams.

Workplaces Need a Strong People Strategy

"Quiet quitting" is forcing workplaces to reflect on the need for a strong people strategy, especially around retention plans and talent optimization. Over the last several years businesses have had to make frequent and sometimes sudden adjustments that have led to three critical issues: hastily moving people into new roles without proper onboarding, having employees take on tasks they were not originally hired for, and dismissing the need for intentional focus on organizational culture especially with remote workers.  Too many workplaces have overlooked the fact that talent optimization starts by asking the right questions when they are onboarded. The employee experience is greatly impacted not by the quantity of iterations with leaders, albeit more than an annual review, but by the quality of the interactions. Modern workplaces should be asking themselves how they lost track of those employees well before they noticed their lack of engagement.
-Katie Currens, Professional Speaker, One Spark Solutions

Managers Should Invest in Employees

A big issue with multi-generational workspaces is that many managers are used to how Boomers or Gen-X worked, leading to a 180 when Millennials and Gen-Z came in. The younger generations have different beliefs, work expectations, and social contracts with their employers. This paradigm shift is especially tangible in a post-COVID/post-Great Resignation world, where suddenly more Millennials and Gen-Z are in corporate and leadership positions. What some may identify as “quiet quitting” is simply younger workers doing exactly what they are paid to do, because they aren’t paid to do any more than that. If you want to eliminate quiet quitting in your workplace, invest more into your employees.
-Chris Frank, Organizational & Strategy Consultant, C. R. Frank Consulting

Organizations Can Rebuild Relationships

Quiet quitting is eroding the quality of relationships in the workplace. To be clear, it is often a breakdown in the quality of relationships with organizational leaders that has one quiet quit after needs have gone unmet for a while. Unfortunately though, the act of quiet quitting further erodes the quality of relationships in organizations perpetuating an already unhealthy dynamic and causing a ripple effect that impacts productivity, innovation and in some cases, creates a toxic culture. One way to solve for quiet quitting is for organizations to focus on re/building relationships (especially after the past few years of disconnection), create a safer environment for employees to speak up about their needs and then model proactively meeting those needs and finally, address the quiet quitting phenomena head-on. My experience has shown me that people who are quiet-quitting would rather not have to. They want to feel engaged and be committed to their employer; they've just lost hope.
-Emily Golden, Founder & Executive Coach, Golden Resources, LLC

Employers Must Promote True Job Satisfaction

While quiet quitting has its own downsides, such as a reduction in employee morale and an erosion of the commitment to the company's mission and vision, it also provides an opportunity for employers to pay more attention to their employees' mental wellbeing and job satisfaction. Coincidentally, employees are not citing money as their reason for quiet quitting; most are saying they want to feel valued and respected and want to do work that aligns with their values. Quiet quitting isn't something the low performers are doing; top talent across industries are also resorting to doing the bare minimum. The modern workplace can benefit from reevaluating what ''work'' means for their employees. Smart employers will take this opportunity to work with their employees to redefine their internal work culture to ensure sustainable job satisfaction backed by true work-life balance and respect for boundaries.
-Joe Coletta, Founder & CEO, 180 Engineering

Employers Have to Redefine Expectations

While quiet quitting often starts with employees prioritizing work-life balance for their own well-being, I've noticed it hurts overall productivity in most workplaces. Traditionally, employers have always expected their workforce to go the extra mile and bear higher-than-usual workloads during a busy season, but quiet quitting means an employee is no longer dependable when you need them to pick up the slack. Workflow is naturally bound to lag when hard work and hustling are replaced by doing just above the bare minimum. I've also observed many professionals mistaking slacking off for quiet quitting when actually, the trend involves fulfilling your job role while simply avoiding extra duties. Some may argue that quiet quitters are well-rested and, therefore, may be more efficient, but the whole point is to avoid taking extra work, so employers are bound to see a productivity slump unless they expand their teams and onboard new talent.
-Anjela Mangrum, President, Mangrum Career Solutions

Top Leaders Will Inspire Teams

To be honest I don’t like the term. Feels pejorative, like victim blaming. If we want energized people who take full ownership of their work roles, we should craft workplaces worth getting energized about. So long as we rely on the transaction of “pay for work” as sufficient, we’ll get people doing minimal required amounts.
-Josh Vaisman, Cofounder at Flourish Veterinary Consulting

Hiring Teams Should Reassess Job Descriptions

Quiet quitting dramatically affects employee loyalty to the company. It sets a boundary that, in effect, states that employees only care as much as they will get paid for the work that is defined in their job descriptions. For companies, that means these employees won't put out any additional effort when employees need to push harder to get out a large order, meet a tighter deadline or create a new product. That is a problem because companies depend on employees at times to put out the extra effort and, typically, give the overtime, bonuses, or something else. With quiet quitters, the extra money for doing extra work doesn't matter. They simply won't do any work that isn't within the boundaries of their job. That means no overtime, no additional effort, or taking classes to learn new skills. Companies find it hard to function without dedicated employees they can depend on when they need them.
-Baruch Labunski, CEO, Rank Secure

Companies Should Refocus on Boosting Engagement

Quiet quitting focuses on doing the bare minimum. Sometimes, that inadvertently means not being willing to spend time on other company-related activities like team building, annual dinners and other bonding events. Employees feel like these events are just another obligation, resulting in many absences or simply low engagement. When employees are disengaged and disinterested, the workplace environment becomes quiet as well. People are less social and don’t feel connected. In the long term, this may affect team dynamics, onboarding efforts for new clients and hires, and company productivity levels.
-Eric Ang, Director, One Search Pro

Leaders Must Encourage Healthy Boundaries

Many see "quiet quitting" as a problem, but I see it differently. What if it actually causes an increase in productivity? The term "quiet quitting" has a negative connotation because it sounds like someone is actively disengaged at work. This is not the case. The person is still actively meeting their job requirements, but is not seeking easy to go "above and beyond." If "quiet quitting" was called "boundary-setting" instead, we might look at it differently. Continuously working overtime, not taking vacation, and staying in a state of stress eventually causes burnout, which leads to disengaged employees and much lower productivity. It may sound counter-intuitive, but "quiet quitting" may actually prevent burnout. This can lead to maintaining, or even increasing, productivity in the long run.
-Courtney Ramsey, Leadership Development Consultant, Courtney Ramsey Speaks, LLC

How can we address quiet quitting?

As we’ve seen, quiet quitting is far from a simple topic. However, there are a few ways to address quiet quitting.

First, all parties should communicate clear expectations. For new hires, this means transparent communications between a candidate (what they’re actually looking for) and the hiring team (what the role really entails). Some organizations may be ok with people focusing solely on what’s in the job description, while others require people to take on additional duties. And for existing employees, that means ongoing clarity and feedback, from leadership to direct managers.

Second, employers need to empower their teams. There is still plenty of competition among employers, and modern workers expect to be engaged by their work. Employers may reduce quiet quitting if they: 

  • foster purpose
  • create psychologically safe workplaces
  • develop effective managers
  • offer valuable professional/career development opportunities

Third, leadership should explicitly prioritize the personal lives and health of their team above work. When a company describes its culture as a “family,” that’s a red flag. Employees have their own lives at home. Enabling personal fulfillment outside of work means employees can bring their best selves to work in the long-term.

Finally, managers can let go of micromanaging tendencies, be vulnerable, and cultivate trust on their team. As a response, they should consider “quiet managing.” 

Quiet quitting will continue to evolve over time, and the conversations around it have forced us to reflect on the current state of the workplace. The term quiet quitting might fade away after it drops off the trending hashtags list. However, the lasting impact will be a renewed relationship with our jobs.

Like what you're reading? Keep up with the latest articles and more via our newsletter.

Ben Travis

Ben is the founder of HR Chief. He enjoys working with passionate teams to solve impactful problems with technology.

He has a heart for HR/People Ops teams and uses his experience from the startup, agency, and nonprofit spaces to drive results.