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Quiet quitting your job: The latest workplace buzzword

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6 mins

Have you heard the term “quiet quitting?” It’s creating quite a buzz among workers and management, and many disagree on its meaning. While some say it’s something employees should have begun doing long ago, others argue that businesses are being held hostage by lazy workers.

Let’s answer these questions, and you can decide for yourself whether employees or employers are the cause of this phenomenon.

What is quiet quitting?

Quiet quitting can be defined as an employee doing the minimum amount of work required to keep their job. No more, no less. The interpretation of that definition is open to debate. Let’s look at several philosophies surrounding this buzzword.

Proponents of quiet quitting believe it:

  • Allows employees to set healthy boundaries
  • Lets employees attain a healthier work-life balance
  • Inspires employees to stand up to employers who expect them to do more without paying them for the extra effort

Those opposed to quiet quitting believe it:

  • Is another term for laziness
  • Shows disloyalty
  • Hurts the company’s bottom line

Several generations ago, the parents of Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) did their best to instill the “Protestant Work Ethic,” which can be boiled down to “Do more than you’re paid for.” Having come out of World War II, they believed it was a person’s duty to make the maximum effort and that a “good employee” listens to management and does what they’re told.

These beliefs were considered somewhat old-fashioned by their Boomer children, who grew up questioning authority. This “rebellious streak” has filtered down through Gens X, Y, and Z and has gained momentum post-pandemic.

Did the pandemic cause quiet quitting?

It seems coincidental that this buzzword arrived on the scene in mid-2022, but it’s been a nameless reality for decades. Anyone who’s ever worked for a company knows there exists a percentage of employees who will go above and beyond, and there are those who will do the minimum amount required to stay under the boss's radar and collect their paycheck on Friday.

There’s even a name for it: The 80/20 Rule (also known as the Pareto Principle). The 80/20 rule posits that 80% of a company’s bottom line is created primarily by 20% of its workforce. Checking a company’s sales team’s numbers often confirms this, with the top 20% of the team producing 80% of the company’s sales.

The pandemic has only brought this principle to light because the 80% of the employees who aren’t the company’s “stars” have become vocal about their philosophy that “If you want me to do more — pay me more.” Those who don’t agree reply, “There’s plenty of room at the top of the corporate ladder because most people are content staying at the bottom.”

A percentage of employees are utilizing quiet quitting to bring about change within their company. The employees of Apple who work at corporate offices are a prime example.

Like most companies, Apple recommended that employees work from home full-time during the pandemic. The productivity of Apple’s employees mirrored that of many other companies; it held steady and, in some cases, even improved.

Fairly recently, Apple has mandated that employees return to the office a minimum of three days a week. This has been met with much-publicized resistance. Opponents cite improved work-life balance during the pandemic, decreased stress levels, and happier employees because of having the choice to work from home as often as they’d like.

Apple is reportedly considering lessening their work from the office requirement, as have other companies.

While it can’t be quantified at Apple or any other company which has mandated a return to the office, many disgruntled employees who return to their cubicles will undoubtedly join the ranks of the quiet quitters.

[ Related: 7 key tips on how to manage a happy, productive remote team ]

Who does quiet quitting hurt more — employees or employers?

There is little doubt that quiet quitters are not only hurting inside, but they may be jeopardizing their careers. As motivational speaking legend Zig Ziglar once said, “Your attitude determines your altitude.”

Quiet quitters not only hurt their chances for advancement within the company, but they also hurt their chances of being awarded more than a cost-of-living increase annually at large companies and little or no increase at small to medium-sized companies.

No advancement and no raise equals lost financial opportunity for the employee and their family, which is always painful, but perhaps even more so now during a period of high inflation and rising interest rates.

Quiet quitting is also not a victimless decision. A decline or stagnation of employee productivity and attitudes directly impacts a company’s profitability. Quiet quitters who are customer-facing can also negatively affect customer satisfaction levels, which erodes confidence in the company by everyone, including customers, employees, and management.

There are clearly no winners with quiet quitting unless it is a catalyst for change.

Is quiet quitting a fad or here to stay?

There are no doubt managers who have also become quiet quitters, but most managers have risen to that level because they have the “above and beyond” mentality. They may very well be the key to remedying quiet quitting.

Like a skilled doctor diagnoses and improves the health of as many patients as possible, so must a company’s leadership team get to the root of what is causing quiet quitting in their company and deal with it.

Managers must realize that different employees have different reasons for becoming quiet quitters. While one employee may be struggling with childcare issues caused by rising costs and the return to the office, another may be resentful of not having had a pay increase for several years.

Managers will only reduce quiet quitting within their company by listening to employees individually and collectively, acknowledging the validity of their concerns, and addressing those concerns by taking positive action.

Perhaps it’s providing daycare at work, improving pay, increasing the frequency of merit increases, or being more flexible by allowing employees to choose when and where they work. Attentive management will do its best to meet the needs of its internal customers.

The information and content provided herein is for educational purposes only, and should not be considered legal, tax, investment, or financial advice, recommendation, or endorsement. Breeze does not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, reliability or usefulness of any testimonials, opinions, advice, product or service offers, or other information provided here by third parties. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

— Published September 1, 2022
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