Before the pandemic, employee engagement and well-being were escalating globally, but in 2022 it leveled off, according Gallup. The phenomenon of “quiet quitting” among the American workforce has contributed to this problem, costing companies as much as $150 billion annually by some estimates—even more than absenteeism.
The Tell-Tale Signs Of ‘Quiet Quitting’
An employee might be a quiet quitter if he or she is chronically disengaged at work, doing the bare minimum of what is required. When employees are not functioning fully, it can become an invisible drain on a company’s engagement and productivity. “There has always been quiet quitting, according to Joe Galvin, Chief Research Officer at Vistage Worldwide. He told me that it manifests itself in B and C players. “Those people that were always in meetings but never did anything,” he said. “Quiet quitting is made easier in the hybrid or remote work model as it’s easier to hide. Quiet quitters are managing only to the minimum set of performance expectations.”
Galvin listed six indicators that a quiet quitter is among your ranks.
- Disengagement on a chronic basis.
- Performance only to the minimum set of performance standards
- Isolation from other members of the team
- Withdrawal from any non-necessary conversations, activities or tasks
- Attendance at meetings but not speaking up or taking action
- Teammates report a sudden increase in their workload in having to pick up the slack
Don’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover
On the surface, the profile of all quiet quitters looks the same. But it’s important that employers exercise caution in judging the motives of quiet quitters. A deeper look unearths a variety of factors that can lead employees to check out and not measure up to their potential. A disgruntled worker, overlooked for a promotion or raise, might operate from a place of passive-aggression and deliberately withdraw and drag feet out of anger.
But sometimes an engaged worker does the bare minimum to maintain work-life balance. They do their jobs and reach their goals but don’t go above and beyond what’s expected, because they put their mental and physical health ahead of work. Gen Z’s and Millennials, for example, are engaged workers, looking for a workplace that has their best interests at heart and where they can enjoy work-life balance. Twenty-two year old Cindy told me it’s not that her generation doesn’t want to work. “We Gen Z’s don’t want work to consume our lives like it did with our parents,” she said. “My dad hated his job so much. He complained all the time about how he dreaded going into the office. And he was there practically every day, all day. After seeing how miserable he was, I don’t want that kind of life. There are too many other things to live for.”
That is the rallying cry of a new generation of workers looking for something different. “Gen Z employees are empowered,” Galvin told me. “They entered a working world where they have options, as opposed to those who graduated in 2008 and were afraid they would not find a job or get let go or fired. They want to know how their work is impacting a larger mission in a way that we really haven’t seen before. They are not willing to put up with bad behavior or give up their life outside of work. They won’t go above and beyond their job responsibilities without receiving a corresponding raise, bonus or title increase.”
Galvin further explained that this new power dynamic means Gen Z’s know they can demand more from employers. “As digital natives, Gen Z have more access to outside resources than their predecessors. They can learn about their peers’ compensation and benefits packages just by watching TikTok.” I also sat down with the president of Born This Way Foundation, Cynthia Germanotta, who told me her foundation’s research showed that 77% of Gen Z’s and Millennials are more likely to apply for job posts that list kindness, mental health and work-life balance as important values of the company. “They are unwilling to compromise their personal lives and go above and beyond the basics of their jobs,” she said.
Sometimes quiet quitting masks presenteeism—a lack of engagement due to medical or mental health conditions. Disengagement and isolation are major symptoms of burnout and other medical problems. Employees show up to the best of their ability but are unable to perform their responsibilities. Jackson shared with me that after a year of working for a fully remote company, he started pulling away from his team socially. “I stopped wanting to do our zoom happy hours or pre-scrum personal catch-ups,” he said. “I just wanted to ‘come in’ (remotely), do my work and ‘leave.’ It wasn’t even intentional, but I was burnt out and didn’t know it from an overwhelming workload, poor work-life balance and crazy hours. I kept thinking I needed to work harder, but all I knew was I couldn’t imagine being on my computer any longer than I had to, and it was hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel in that position.”
What Can Employers Do?
The first step employers can take is to distinguish between employees who are dragging their feet for the wrong reasons and those who are engaged and doing their best. “Managers can decipher between a worker doing the bare minimum (B- or C-team workers) and an A-team worker experiencing burnout by conducting regular performance reviews,” Joe Galvin said. “Managers should conduct quarterly ‘interviews’ in which they obtain information from their direct report’s colleagues and engage in a two-way conversation about their performance, goals and overall career trajectory. Together, managers and direct reports can identify and address any pain points and determine ways to increase engagement and the overall company culture.”
Jackson continued his story, “When I was managing a team, physically in an office, I never would have imagined going through the motions of quiet quitting, but I can see how remotely, the impact of my disengagement was less clear or obvious. In hindsight, I would have done things much differently.” Because of this invisibility, it’s easy for managers to miss low engagement in today’s hybrid work world, Galvin says. “This is why it is crucial managers have open and honest conversations with staff about their individual expectations, desires and goals,” he added. “It is important employees feel like they have a vested interest in the company. Ensuring employees of all levels feel like they have a seat at the table, are heard and understand how their role fits into the company’s larger mission can increase engagement which keeps quiet quitting at bay.”
Accepting quiet quitting as a cultural norm, Galvin concludes, makes it acceptable for employees to continue at their current level of output. “That’s why performance management and accountability from managers is demanded for hybrid/remote work or quiet quitters will proliferate in the organization,” he said. “At Vistage, we offer L&D programs dedicated to re-skilling managers to understand, hire and retain the modern worker. It’s crucial for employers to reconsider their strategies to better serve the increasingly dominant Gen Zs and Millennial workers.”