After two years of burnout from Covid-19, Gen Z employees have begun to set boundaries, focus on a life outside of work, and have a better work-life balance. They call it “quiet quitting.” Their viewpoint also comes with less enthusiasm for work, doing just enough to get by, and not voluntarily offering to do extra work.
It is also a protest against what they see as the false promise of “Hustle Culture,” defined as working hard to achieve your dreams and become a multi-millionaire. Quiet quitting is not a menace to worker productivity and executives should not overreact. I provide my advice below.
Quiet quitting was identified on TikTok by Zaidleppelin. It has been discussed on social media by Gen Z for more than a year, but now it is all the rage on TikTok with millions of video views, sometimes with snarky jokes (see below) – and a vocal backlash from prominent and much older famous business people such as Kevin O’Leary of ABC’s Shark Tank (who says it is terrible for careers and detrimental to company and employee success).
Another critic is Arianna Huffington, the Founder of the Huffington Post and CEO of Thrive Global. She wrote on her LinkedIn page that if you’re coasting eight hours a day, you are selling yourself short. “You’re not outright quitting your job,” she wrote, “but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond.” She suggested having real boundaries and work that feels more rewarding during that time. “So instead of quiet quitting, how about “joyful joining”? Rather than go through the motions in a job you’ve effectively quit on, why not find one that inspires you, engages you, and brings you joy?” she said.
Frankly, it’s not bad advice. However, I am not sure 20-somethings are listening to 50 and 60-somethings. Arianna Huffington received blowback for her phrase “joyful joining.”
Management should have seen quiet quitting coming
It isn’t as if we haven’t had enough warning from survey companies like Gallup and Limeade about the record-level rise in workplace stress and the advice on how to address it.
Gallup, in 2021, reported that stress in the US and Canadian workforce rose from nearly 50 percent in 2019 to 57 percent in 2020, revealing a stressed-out, restless workforce. Managing employee engagement is not enough, according to Gallup. Companies also need to manage employee wellbeing.
Gallup’s findings during 2021 pale in comparison to research done by Limeade. Limeade released its global study of 4,553 employees on April 27, 2021, and found that all the employees surveyed had some anxiety about returning to work, with 77 percent citing being exposed to COVID19 as their top concern, followed by 71 percent who were concerned about less flexibility, and 58 percent concerned with their commute.
In May 2021, Gallup reported that US employee engagement has dropped in each of the last two years, from 36 percent in 2020 to 32 percent in 2022. When you look at the return-on-investment for employee engagement — as well as quiet quitting — the whole picture becomes very concerning.
According to McClean and Company, a disengaged employee costs an organization approximately $3,400 for every $10,000 in annual salary. Disengaged employees cost the American economy up to $350 billion per year due to lost productivity.
Don’t overreact to quiet quitting
Despite concerns about “quiet quitting,” however, it’s important not to overreact. Gen Z workers are age 25 and younger, and every generation has a backlash against something at that age. For my generation of Baby Boomers, it was against Vietnam, advocating for civil rights, using the latest technology, and revolting against conformity. It wore off after Watergate, and Baby Boomers turned to careers, families, and making money.
Quiet quitting will wear off for Gen Z too, but management does need to pay attention and listen and relate to their young workers. I also believe that quiet quitting, after we take some time to understand it, will be recognized as Gen Z’s challenge with employee engagement.
“Quiet Quitting” is being defined as doing the role you’re paid for and not going over and above. Its not voluntarily signing up to extra projects and contributing to hustle culture.I think this is obsurd, is it “quitting” or is it setting boundaries?Are we expected to constantly be in an accelerated state?what are you thoughts? #quietquitting
My advice on ameliorating the drivers for “quiet quitting”
Here is what you can do:
1 – Listen to your younger workers.
I suggest managers hold “engagement interviews” (sometimes called “stay interviews”) with younger workers to understand what they like about work, don’t like, what they would change if they could and what they want to be doing in five years. Click here to learn more about how to conduct “engagement interviews.”
Not everyone will want to climb the corporate ladder, at least not at this time and place. Companies have learned that not every employee will be an “A” player, fitting the “hustle culture.” Some will be “B” players and hopefully will be motivated to do good work, help the organization achieve its purpose and strategies, be trustworthy, and serve clients well.
2 – Look for context and align work to what employees like to do
Take advice from Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The fifth habit is to “seek first to understand, then be understood.” The key to understanding the motivators of all your talent is to be a good listener and probe for additional information instead of just rattling off the next question on your list.
While listening is an essential part of communication, once you’ve heard your employees it is crucial to work with them to mutually discover how their interests may align with the overall objectives of the organization and where they are in their life journey. Needing a breather? Adding to the family? Or ready to pursue an exciting new program? When you’ve identified areas of synergy, you can then plan opportunities for additional development.
You may also need to acknowledge that with all the emotional turmoil these young workers have experienced, they may not be interested in the rigors of climbing the corporate ladder right now and they may need a break. If you disrespect their preferences and emotions, quiet quitting will turn to real quitting.
3 – Jointly set times when employees will and will not be working.
I advise clients setting up hybrid and remote work environments to establish with each employee when they will and will not be working. When employees first began to work remotely due to Covid-19, they often had two experiences. The first was they were about 20 percent more productive at home. Second, they worked more hours, often leading to burnout. Burnout leads to fatigue and discontent, and employees reduce their work hours. When employees and managers respect each employee’s down time and ensure that employees are not burning themselves out, the employees are often more productive and enthused about work.
4. – Culture and leadership
Longstanding empirical research demonstrates how corporate culture improves organizational innovation, productivity, and profit. Evidence is emerging that healthy organizational cultures are also the best way to beat the Great Resignation. This includes research from Harvard’s John Kotter, and James Heskett, and C. Brooke Dobni Ph.D. of InnovationOne. (Full disclosure, I am a Managing Partner of InnovationOne, LLC.).
Earlier this year, MIT researchers discovered that toxic organization cultures drive employee turnover 10 times more than pay. This is startling news during the Great Resignation, when employers have significantly improved pay and benefits to reduce employee turnover.
We know from empirical evidence that in organizations that have thriving cultures (transparency and collaboration and trust) not toxic cultures (yelling bosses and competition among employees) workers are more productive and happier.
Research shows that building thriving cultures is a sure way to reduce turnover, subdue quiet quitting, and improve both productivity and innovation.
Don’t overreact to “quiet quitting”
Quiet Quitting is having a moment. Don’t overreact to it. Take steps to listen and relate to your employees. Look for the context at where they are in their careers, and the synergy with your organization’s purpose and roles. And continue to build thriving cultures.
For more on quiet quitting, what to make about it, and how to address it, I suggest you watch this video from Sakurambo, (below) a millennial Japanese American working in the tech industry in Tokyo. It will be just as insightful if you read the comments from young and older people below the video.
Victor Assad is the CEO of Victor Assad Strategic Human Resources Consulting and managing partner of InnovationOne. He works with companies to transform HR and recruiting, implement remote work, and develop extraordinary leaders, teams, and innovation cultures. He is the author of the highly acclaimed book, Hack Recruiting: the Best of Empirical Research, Method and Process, and Digitization. Subscribe to his weekly blogs at www.VictorHRConsultant.com.