With virtually every business focused on fighting the ‘Great Resignation’, a new trend known as ‘quiet quitting’ has begun to make its presence felt amongst the UK workforce.

Despite its name, ‘quiet quitting’ isn’t the act of an employee physically leaving a job. Instead, it’s more about them doing the bare minimum their job demands, not pushing themselves to go above and beyond the call of duty, and even going so far as to brag about it on social media platforms, such as TikTok.

The rise of this new trend has come at a time when organisations are finding it increasingly difficult to engage and retain their employees. For example, Gallup’s global workplace report for 2022 showed that only 9% of workers in the UK were engaged or enthusiastic about their work, ranking a dismal 33rd out of 38 European countries.

Quiet quitting: what is it, and what should HR be doing?

It’s also the case that a company’s own culture will play a huge role in an employee’s attitude towards work. Our own research for instance, discovered that 54% of employees had left or would leave a role if the company’s core culture was poor.

The simple fact of the matter is that if an employee isn’t engaged with their job, their employer or its culture, they won’t go out of their way to do their absolute best.

So, what is leading employees to quietly quit their jobs, and should HR be concerned?

Why employees are choosing to quietly quit their jobs

Writing for Metro, Charlotte Davies, a career expert for LinkedIn, believes that the rise of quiet quitting has stemmed from employees’ needs to rediscover a healthier work-life balance.

She believes that “If you are getting to the point in your career where you feel that you’re putting work above everything else – at the expense of other important parts of your life – it can be incredibly demoralising. It’s very likely that you’ll start to retreat from work – “quiet quitting” – in an attempt to bring back some balance.”

Of course, the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance is nothing new. But, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many people to start reflecting on what they really want from a job and an employer.

Writing for The Guardian, Maria Kordowicz, an associate professor in organisational behaviour at the University of Nottingham, believes that “People’s way of relating to their work has changed… The search for meaning has become far more apparent. There was a sense of our own mortality during the pandemic, something quite existential around people thinking ‘What should work mean for me? How can I do a role that’s more aligned to my values?’”

She went on to say that “I think this has a link to the elements of quiet quitting that are perhaps more negative: mentally checking out from a job, being exhausted from the volume of work and lack of work-life balance that hit many of us during the pandemic.”

In short, it’s becoming evident that employees are no longer prepared to commit all their energies to work when their efforts are not acknowledged or rewarded. Why bother giving maximum time and effort to an employer who doesn’t value it? Quiet quitting offers employees less stress, less chance of burnout and less personal time lost to work; they’ll do just what is contractually required of them, and nothing more.

Why HR need to take quiet quitting seriously

Quiet quitting is a form of staff disengagement that is rapidly rising – and this is a real problem. If a business has a workforce that is only prepared to do what is contractually obligated for them, it could be the indication that something has gone seriously awry within its core company culture.

The Great Resignation has proven that people are not afraid to walk away from jobs they either don’t find rewarding or which don’t align with their own personal values. The same absolutely goes for choosing to do just the bare minimum.

Having employees not fully invested in their roles or willing to go that little bit further for their employer can have some seriously bad side effects, including:

  • Reduced productivity – Employees who are no longer engaged with their work won’t be as productive as their fully engaged counterparts. Research has found that companies with low levels of staff engagement have operating income 33% percent lower than companies with high levels of engagement. In addition, companies with an engaged workforce experience a 19% growth in operating income over a 12-month period.
  • Increased unplanned absences – An employee who’s quietly quit their job won’t feel a connection to their role or their employer. As a result, you may see unplanned absences begin to rise without a clear explanation as to why.
  • Poorer quality of work – It’s likely that employees who’ve given up feeling pride or care in their work will produce a poorer standard of end product. In turn, this can lead to…
  • Poorer customer experience – If your employees don’t take pride in their work, it’s unlikely they’ll be bothered about going above and beyond their duties to assist your customers. You may find complaints begin to rise and customer orders begin to slide.
  • Organisational skills shortages – To cope with the current UK skills shortage, many companies are looking to ‘grow their own employees’ to plug workforce skill gaps. However, if your employees have quietly quit, it’s highly unlikely they’ll be looking to develop or enhance their skills with your organisation.
  • Increased excess staff turnover – You may find that staff who’ve quietly quit their jobs (consciously or otherwise) will eventually look elsewhere for a more rewarding role. And, given that it is certainly an employee’s job market right now, finding suitably skilled replacements may be both extremely difficult and costly.

Stemming the flow of quiet quitters: what HR can do

Having employees who’ve quietly quit isn’t necessarily the end of the road for them. After all, they’re still doing what they’re employed to do; they just need to be given a renewed sense of pride and ownership in their role and engaged with on a much more personal level.

There are a number of things HR can do to help, including:

                  Conduct regular pulse surveys

Pulse surveys allow an organisation to track levels of engagement and employee sentiment throughout a year. When it comes to combatting quiet quitting, they can be a key weapon in HR’s arsenal and allow you to quickly collect targeted feedback that can help fight such issues as staff feeling overwhelmed, raising stress levels or lack of appropriate training.

To discover if employees are quietly quitting in your organisation, you could ask them to rank the following:

  • “The company’s mission and values align with my personal values”
  • “On a scale of 0-10, how do you rate your work-life balance?”
  • “My work gives me a sense of accomplishment”
  • “I feel I’m rewarded for going the extra mile”
  • “I have a sense of pride working here.”

These types of short questions will allow you to evaluate how engaged your employees are and identify if there are any negative issues that could be driving disengagement.

                  Keep tabs on your organisation’s social reputation

Like exit interviews, employee review websites such as Glassdoor or Indeed can give you a ‘no filter’ view on employee satisfaction at your business. Be it the rates of pay, quality of surroundings, workloads, culture or rewards practices: these are ‘safe spaces’ for current and former employees to give real-world insights into what it’s like working for your company – and they could be quite eye opening!

If you discover that genuine concerns are being raised or consistent issues being highlighted, it really does make sense to investigate them further.

                  Analyse your HR data

Is your staff turnover rate higher compared to other businesses in your industry? Have absences risen without explanation? Have your employees’ salaries improved over time? The answers to these questions can be found in your HR data, so it’s well worth taking a look to see what you can find.

If you think that quietly quitting employees are a problem for your business, analyse your HR data to see if there are any patterns or trends that could indicate employee disengagement within your organisation. If your HR software includes analytical tools, this process can be made a whole lot easier.

                  Don’t underestimate the power of check-ins

Regular check-ins can be a key part of maintaining meaningful staff engagement. Encouraging team managers to have daily, weekly or monthly check-ins can help them connect with their team members, identify potential issues early, and discuss progress and goals throughout the year

It’s worth noting that a pre-COVID study by Gallup  found that the more frequently employees received feedback from managers, the more engaged they were with their work. So, if you want to pre-empt employees from quietly quitting, having effective performance check-ins with your employees could be vital.

                  Evaluate your exit interviews

Lastly, exit interviews can provide you with a ‘warts and all’ view on what it’s really like to work for your company. Employees will be more likely to give you honest feedback when they’re leaving a business; as a result, they present a huge opportunity for HR professionals to identify barriers to improving retention and engagement.

You could discover that a certain manager lacked critical leadership skills, or maybe an employee’s role with the business wasn’t representative of the job advert they originally applied for? A leaver could even give you crucial ‘insider’ information about negative aspects of your company culture that are not immediately obvious to those outside of HR.

Regardless, the answers you gather in your exit interviews shouldn’t be ignored. They can help you pinpoint whether there are more systemic problems contributing to employees quietly quitting or leaving their roles altogether.

Paul Bauer author image

Paul Bauer

Paul Bauer is the Head of Content at Cezanne HR. Based in the Utopia of Milton Keynes (his words, not ours!) he’s worked within the employee benefits, engagement and HR sectors for over four years. He's also earned multiple industry awards for his work - including a coveted Roses Creative Award.

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