'Quiet quitting': how should HR manage it?

With the concept of employees consciously disengaging from work going viral on social media, People Management asks the experts what businesses can do – if anything – about this latest workplace trend

Credit: Gary Burchell/10'000 Hours/Getty Images

Widely associated with employee burnout, the idea of ‘quiet quitting’ – where employees become disengaged from work and do the bare minimum of their duties – has recently attracted a flurry of attention.

The term has seen its popularity boosted following a TikTok video that went viral last week, and is now a hot topic for discussion among those in the people profession. So, recognising quiet quitting, whether it is seen as a serious sign of employee dissatisfaction or simply the concept that work should not take over one's entire life, is now more important than ever.

As the newly emerged practice continues to gain momentum, People Management consults with industry experts on how HR can prevent employees from resorting to quiet quitting, and how employers can support those who choose to do it.

Why are employees 'quiet quitting’ their jobs?

While the talk of quiet quitting might be exploding now, spurred by social media, Jill Cotton, career trends expert at Glassdoor EMEA, argues that, in reality, the practice is nothing new. 

And while for years many workers have quietly quit to look for a new job and disconnected because of a lack of career growth, poor pay or an unmanageable workload, she reasons that recent events might have added more reasons for employees to quietly quit. “The difference now is that when the pandemic flipped the world of work upside down, it prompted more and more people to question their career and work-life balance choices,” says Cotton.

Quiet quitting can take various shapes and forms, from reduction in productivity, non-attendance at meetings and failure to contribute to team projects, to arriving late and leaving early. Employees’ reasons for going down this path can also vary, says Rachael Knappier, director of service at Croner. “[It] may occur when an employee feels undervalued in the workplace. They may feel their work-life balance is becoming problematic and that they are experiencing burnout. By dialling down the work effort, employees may feel as though they are deprioritising their jobs and redressing the balance,” she says.

In this way, the type of work disconnect allows individuals to maintain their wages while looking for a better job, or “avoiding the stress of handing in their resignation and finding a new job”, Knappier adds.

Preventing employees from quiet quitting

Highlighting the importance of improving employee experience to prevent such type of disengagement, Knappier suggests that employers speak with all staff to discuss how they could best help them feel valued and appreciated in the workplace. She says: “For some, regular words of encouragement can go a long way. Others might be bored and looking to take the next step in their career and challenge themselves further.” 

She adds that if employers collaborate with the employee and work to put an effective plan in place, “all parties can benefit”.

Echoing this, Rebecca Holt, clinical psychologist and co-founder and director of Working Mindset, says the key to preventing employees getting in this state is to ensure that people are engaged in their work and that work provides purpose and meaning for people. “Employees need to feel part of a bigger picture, to have autonomy and control, and to feel psychologically safe – all the things that we know make a good day at work,” she says.

For this reason, Holt emphasises the importance of employers making sure workloads are realistic, that there are appropriate boundaries and that looking after one’s mental health is made a priority.

Moreover, before proceeding to hire new employees amid the currently tough recruitment scene, Cotton says it is important for organisations to establish the practice of doing regular and honest reviews of the current workplace culture to help strengthen the foundations before bringing in new talent.

Citing Glassdoor’s research, which recently showed that employees are most satisfied when a company’s culture and values match their own and the organisation offers strong senior leadership and access to career opportunities, Cotton says if businesses are struggling in any of those areas, employers may find that their workers quickly start to disengage from their roles. “Unless companies put the employee experience at the heart of their business planning, quietly quitting will soon lead to increased worker attrition,” she warns.

How to manage quiet quitters

The experts agree that it should be relatively easy to spot someone who is quiet quitting as they will not be putting in the same effort as they used to, will be disengaged from the wider workforce and their usual standards will have slipped. 

But while most employers might want to treat such a case as a conduct issue, Knappier suggests that, instead, it might be useful to first meet with the employee to fully understand how they are feeling, why they are less motivated and what can be done to rectify the issue. 

“Doing so can help build positive working relationships and resolve the issue without the individual leaving or facing formal disciplinary action. Informal discussions are likely the best approach in the first instance,” she says.

While employers might be alarmed by workers getting disengaged from their work, at the same time, Tom Cornell, senior psychology consultant at HireVue, notes it is important to remember that employee motivation and engagement are not constant. “Both will naturally fluctuate because of a number of factors, such as the cost of living crisis we are currently seeing in the UK,” he says.

With this in mind, he advises business leaders and talent professionals to be careful not to punish troughs in engagement without first understanding what is driving the individual to quietly quit. “If [leaders] do this, they will ultimately push the individual to quit, leading to a loss of talent and a decline in business productivity,” Cornell warns.