By Molly Brennan
You’ve probably heard the term “quiet quitting” by now. It’s the latest work trend that seems to be grabbing headlines and gaining momentum. But what does it really mean? And should you care? The short answer to the latter question, is: Yes, you should care, especially if you manage people.
The first thing you need to know about quiet quitting is that it’s not actually about quitting. It’s more about setting boundaries and striving to contain your work in a way that feels sustainable.
It’s widely believed that the concept of quiet quitting first went viral via a TikTok video[KU1] uploaded by a 20-something engineer named Zaid Khan. “I recently learned about this term called quiet quitting, where you’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond,” Khan says. “You're still performing your duties, but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life. The reality is it's not—and your worth as a person is not defined by your labor.”
The concept hit a chord with overwhelmed, burned-out workers coming out of the pandemic, the period of civil unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd in 2020, and the ensuing “Great Resignation.” During the Great Resignation (aka the last two years in the workplace), in particular, employees started thinking about their careers, salaries and how they are treated at work. Lack of advancement opportunities, low pay, and feeling disrespected were the top reasons Americans quit their jobs in 2021, according to a Pew Research Center survey.
Those factors that led many to quit their jobs are contributing to the new phenomenon of quiet quitting. Employees who are burned out, feel undervalued and underpaid, and are disconnected are most likely to be at risk of quiet quitting, or actively limiting how much time and energy they invest in their jobs. The polling company Gallup found that at least half of Americans—maybe more—fit the definition of quiet quitting.
One important aspect of Gallup’s research is that it shows that younger workers are most at risk of disengagement, and, ultimately, quiet quitting, because their work experience has deteriorated since the pandemic. Younger workers, especially those who work remotely, are more likely to say they don’t feel that anyone is focused on their development or that they fully understand what is expected of them at work.
Quiet quitting may be an Internet and media-driven term, but it does point to a symptom of a serious workplace problem: disengagement. Disengagement can be the result of a range of issues, from an unsustainable workload to a lack of alignment with organizational values to not having a clear path for advancement. No matter the root cause, disengagement can have a highly negative impact on work teams. Disengaged team members are at risk of leaving, they tend to perform worse than engaged team members, and they can negatively affect team morale.
The single best thing a manager can do to combat quiet quitting is to consistently check-in with team members. Here are a few questions that the Management Center suggests incorporating into conversations that will give you a sense of how engaged your team members really are.
What feels most/least sustainable about our approach to the work right now?
If it were up to you, what would you prioritize or back burner?
I’ve noticed XYZ and I’m wondering if there is something we might adjust or just talk through. What do you need to take care of yourself? How can I support you?
The key, of course, is responding appropriately to what you hear. You may not be able to provide everything a team member asks for. But by listening and doing what you can to make people’s work lives more clear and manageable you’ll be setting them—and your overall team—up for longer-term success and sustainability.
Molly Brennan is founding partner at executive search firm Koya Partners, which is part of the Diversified Search Group, where she is also the nonprofit and social impact practice lead.