How Employers Should Respond to Quiet Quitters

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Though it may be a misnomer, employers are noticing that some employees are adjusting their output in a not-so-new, but an increasingly prevalent phenomenon known as “quiet quitting.” The term itself does little to adequately assess or improve the situation. After all, quiet quitters aren’t quitting-they are showing up, doing their job, but refusing to do more work without more compensation, or at least consideration from their employers.

Employees are less willing to accept the notion that they must do more than their job description calls for to meet minimum performance standards. Instead, employees want more clarity around job expectations and career pathing, as well as opportunities to do more work- for more money. Quiet quitters believe having a job is transactional in nature and giving employees more leverage can be of value to the organization and society at large.

A recent survey uncovered that 70 percent of employees said their sense of purpose is largely defined by work. Beyond that, leaders should be aware that when employees are happy with work, they also report being more satisfied in life.* This should come as no surprise, but it should be a catalyst for business leaders and HR professionals to understand the critical linkage between fulfillment and engagement, as well as the danger in ignoring it.

So, how do leaders respond to employees who are reassessing how far they want to go in terms of dedication to their company?

  1. Reflect on the company mission and how leaders assess team members’ performance. Is it fair across all levels of the organization? Do job descriptions adequately and accurately define the work that needs to be performed? Do invisible standards exist for positions that could cause an employee to misunderstand what is required or question the integrity of managers? If the answer is yes to the last question, reevaluate what work is truly required and what it is worth to the company. Be fair to employees by creating realistic standards and providing regular feedback.
  2. Communicate the business strategy to all employees, not just the C-Suite. Make sure that everyone is on board with finding purpose in what the organization strives to achieve so that alignment exists at all levels. Everyone should know how their role affects company success.
  3. Calibrate like a pro. Not every engagement issue is one of compensation, purpose, or a poorly performing employee. Employ the right tools to understand your organization’s deepest flaws and commit to solving them.
  4. Focus as much on the well-being of employees as you do on the bottom line. Highly engaged employees always positively affect the bottom line, and the opposite is also true.
  5. Forge true relationships at work. The hierarchy of an organization should not be a barrier to human connection. Encouraging connection at work fosters productivity and gives rise to purpose. Allowing employees to be authentic can prevent pockets of resentment from developing by encouraging open communication.

Underperforming employees are not the same as quiet quitters. Good performance management will always be key in fleshing out those who are not equipped to handle a particular position, and good managers should be adept at addressing the current issues around quiet quitting for what they are-opportunities to engage with employees in new and better ways in order to create and foster a high-performing organization at all levels.


*Source: McKinsey Individual Purpose Survey, August 2020 (n = 1,021)