Until recently, going the extra mile at work was a leadership trait that bosses coveted and workers were eager to demonstrate. The “it’s not my job” mentality was the classic hallmark of a loafer who was content with mediocrity.
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But lately, chasing the title of “employee of the month” has fallen down on the list of priorities for workers across the economy, particularly young workers on the bottom rungs of the ladder.
“Quiet quitting” — performing only the duties outlined in the job description and nothing else — has emerged as yet another change in workplace culture that employers are struggling to respond to in the post-Great Resignation world.
“While the causes of so-called quiet quitting are going to be multifaceted, what is clear now is that younger talent is not satisfied with the deal they’re getting at work,” said Dr. Andrew Monroe, social psychology expert and director of experienced talent research at recruiting analytics firm Veris Insights. “And with the extraordinarily hot labor market, they may feel empowered to disengage from work to preserve their mental health and their personal lives more broadly.”
Quiet Quitters Are More Likely To Be Burned Out Than Lazy
The term “quiet quitting” has a negative connotation that paints the employees who engage in it as lazy, entitled and passive-aggressive. But many experts think quiet quitting is a natural and healthy pushback to the steady erosion of personal time that started 25 years ago, when email first enabled the office to follow workers home.
With the arrival of smartphones 10 years later, people started carrying work around with them in their pockets and purses and, thanks to the more recent rise of remote work, home is now literally the office for millions of Americans.
While older people in management positions slowly eased into this unhealthy erasure of work-life balance, it’s all Gen Z has ever known — and quiet quitting is a statement of their disapproval.
“To begin to understand this phenomenon, it’s useful to take a step back,” Monroe said. “Since 2013, we’ve seen a steady decoupling of people from their employers as the rates of employees voluntarily leaving their companies has been on a steady march up.
“Coupling this historic trend with data from this year, what we see is that classic indicators of employee health — engagement, job satisfaction and burnout — are all suggesting that the current environment isn’t working, especially for younger workers. And this may be contributing to people wanting to renegotiate their relationship to work.”
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For Tiffany Homan, HR manager and director of business operations at Texas Divorce Laws, one telltale sign of quiet quitting is when employees stop responding to emails or messages after hours.
Previously, that might have been a sign of a weak employee who wasn’t willing to give 110%. Instead, Homan questions why the extra 10% is there in the first place. She thinks one of the drivers of quiet quitting is the tradition of overworking young employees as part of the dues-paying process.
“We’re giving our employees as much flexibility at work as possible,” she said. “We are working hard to eliminate the toxic standards to earn your place by working hard and neglecting your physical and mental health. You can turn it around by helping your employees counter burnout. So, as a manager, when I come across quiet quitters, instead of running them off, our company tries to help them out in every way possible and address this issue in a way that benefits both parties.”
One Remedy: Communicate Expectations
The easiest solution to the quiet-quitting problem might be simple dialogue. In many cases, resentment builds on both sides of the payroll because employees don’t understand why they’re being asked to perform new duties and employers don’t understand why once-reliable workers suddenly seem to be shirking.
“I think the trend of quiet quitting might be less indicative of a real crisis of morale among workers and more indicative of a crisis of communication,” said Drake Ballew, CEO of Practice Health. “It’s important to keep in mind — especially for employers — that, for the most part, quiet quitting isn’t about not doing your job. Most workers participating in the trend are merely drawing a line around their job responsibilities and saying they don’t want to do extra. Is it really so bad to want to do the job you are hired for?”
Ballew’s experience is that many quiet quitters feel like they fell for a bait-and-switch scheme in which they agreed to do a job whose duties expanded without any discussion after they had signed on.
“Where is the communication between these employees and their managers in which they might discuss their job expectations and make sure that they are not being overwhelmed with work?” Ballew asked. “I think a bit more communication could go a long way towards slowing down this trend of quiet quitting.”
Workplace Culture Can Change Only From the Top
According to Shep Moyle of CEO Coaching International, older leaders should reassess the generational bias that so often assumes Gen Zers simply want to get away with doing the bare minimum. When young employees balk at doing extra work without extra incentives, it’s probably because the company brass failed to keep up with evolving workplace culture.
“As a former CEO, I know I was guilty of 4:30 am emails or quick calls on the weekend to senior management on urgent items,” Moyle said. “Many of our managers and leaders today are accustomed to a cultural expectation that everyone will go the extra mile for the company, even if it means extra hours or going beyond the specified job responsibilities.
“But the pandemic has completely shifted this perspective. With the removal of a physical office space, it’s up to companies to create a feeling of belonging and purpose to motivate employees — and to provide real, tangible reasons to collaborate and lean in.”
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