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The phrase ‘quiet quitting’ has been trending recently, being a prominent topic on social media and among employee communities. Most people, when they first hear these words, think of someone quietly packing up their things and sneaking out the door, never to return. This isn’t quite what it means but is still an issue that needs to be addressed by both employees and employers.
What does quiet quitting really mean?
Picture an employee that has been at an organisation for 3 years and is high performing but at a cost. They pull long hours and have chipped away at their energy levels and social life to ensure they are at the top and performing to the highest standards possible. For the organisation, this is perfect. In their eyes, they have someone who is performing well in their position and these achievements have slowly become the norm within the role. But for the employee, their pace and quality of output have started becoming unsustainable. They’ve powered through their first few years, expecting to potentially fast-track their career, obtain responsibility over an important project, or even just for continual recognition. Once those rewards start to fade and they are expected to keep up the output, they burn out. Now what? They can leave their role, ask for more rewards, or take the route of quiet quitting.
Quiet quitting involves engaged employees setting boundaries so that they are only performing the job that they are being paid to do, without going above and beyond, taking on new tasks. This approach followed a massive burnout period that resulted from the shift to work from home during Covid, where employees were less able to switch off, work within traditional hours of 9-5 and leave work at work. While some organisations facilitated this period to ensure their employees didn’t push themselves too hard and weren’t burdened with the continual stress of potential unemployment throughout the pandemic, many didn’t. Employees took it upon themselves to treat this burnout by winding down their workload to align with their position requirements and nothing more.
Types of dynamics that lead to quiet quitting
This involves employees who don’t speak up, despite being overwhelmed or underwhelmed in their role. This can happen for several reasons: they may be new to the role and want to maintain a good impression, are too intimidated to do so, or are not provided with the space to voice feedback. This can be well hidden and will often blindside employers, however sometimes in hindsight the opportunity to speak up was hindered by the employee’s work environment.
This can occur in many different ways but overarchingly involves an employee achieving beyond their employer’s and even their own expectations, only to receive inadequate recognition for this. Whether it goes unnoticed or just becomes the expectation of that employee, they will eventually feel discouraged to continue this level of performance if the reward is not sufficient enough.
High pressure and workload
Role descriptions and titles can often disguise the workload that comes with them. Employees may come in with a certain expectation of what the role will entail or use the salary on offer as an indicator of their expected output, only to realise that it is much more than initially calculated. This could occur from gaps within their team, increased pressure within their division or covering roles that are taking longer than anticipated to fill. These factors especially came into play throughout the pandemic, when organisations were thrown into unfamiliar territory and altered their way of operating. As a result, employees made the call to reel it back to what they feel is reasonable and won’t drive them to burnout.
Shifting life priorities
Some may decide it is time that they no longer need to focus on growth within their career and wish to put more energy into other areas of life. This especially applies post-pandemic, where people have reflected and reprioritised. They may not necessarily see anything wrong with their role but will be less likely to seek skill-building and growth opportunities within their role. With a shift in focus, they will only take on what they see as fit to fulfil the requirements of that position.
Does this need solving?
It depends. If the first three of the above apply, then yes. These are problematic within a workplace as they indicate a need for change in the culture and/or psychological safety of employees.
As well as this, they point out that the organisation’s infrastructure has made it difficult to progress and upskill without needing to put in the extra hours to do so. It is likely that these employees still want to grow but are not willing to adjust their work-life balance as a result of spending more time and energy at work.
If so, how?
A role should be presented to an employee as a maximum of 90% determined, with them being able to fill the last 10% with their own direction and upskill opportunities. There needs to be a built-in space for progress and extra achievements to occur, not put on the employee to add as an extra feature of their employment if they intend to grow.
As well as this, employees should be rewarded for their effectiveness within a healthy amount of working day hours, almost as a unit of achievement over time, with a limit of overtime done to achieve this. Organisations often encourage employees to pull long hours or work long weekends to get the job done, however, society is beginning to move away from this idea of ‘hustle' culture and more into achieving what you can with what you have.
At Ambition, we strive to keep open communication and psychological safety as means of welcoming the conversation around roles, responsibilities and priorities. This is such an important part of setting expectations between employees and employers. Coming out of the pandemic we are seeing newly created roles, hybridised roles, more flexibility, a focus on well-being and more accountability among employers. There is more to talk about and more to consider when setting up a role, making these conversations evermore important. Quiet quitting is much less likely to occur if an organisation’s culture is built around these things.
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