How to combat ‘quiet quitting’

Christie Jamieson outlines what HR can do to re-engage disillusioned employees

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‘Quiet quitters’ are employees who decide to do only what is specifically required of them at work and nothing more. For example, they may work only their contracted hours and refuse to take on any additional tasks without remuneration. Some businesses are consequently incurring a financial loss equal to 20 per cent of the ‘quietly quitting’ employees' annual salaries, while the annual cost to the UK economy amounts to some £340bn. Employers must be aware of this phenomenon and should consider what positive action they can take to combat it. 

‘The Great Realignment’

In the post-pandemic ‘Great Realignment’, workers worldwide re-evaluated their relationship with work and some made a conscious decision to reduce the importance they attach to their careers. Today, nearly 60 per cent of employees say they value better work-life balance more than a 10 per cent pay increase. This has arguably been a long time coming, given the number of employees suffering from burnout and poor mental health. 

The introduction and increased implementation of flexible working policies have helped to reduce burnout and such policies are here to stay in many sectors. At the same time, these changes have also contributed to the quiet quitting phenomenon. A further 60 per cent of employees have reported that they currently feel disengaged from their workplace, with a lack of office presence being cited among the top reasons for that disconnect. Traditional tactics used to create an inclusive and diverse workplace culture are simply not cutting it. Employers must therefore think innovatively to re-engage their workforce and prevent them from quietly quitting. 

Employers could consider enhancing family leave entitlements and flexible or agile working arrangements, introducing menopausal and fertility policies and, generally, paying greater genuine attention to employee wellbeing. Senior members of staff should set a positive example by demonstrating their own professional boundaries and encouraging others to do the same.

Effective managers

The Harvard Business Review recently suggested that employees may quietly quit as a response to feeling undervalued and unappreciated at work. Employees are still willing to go the extra mile, but only for employers that they trust and respect and, crucially, that they feel trust and respect them. 

Managers play a significant role in this regard, and their ability to build relationships with their employees is especially important. Managers should therefore seek to develop collaborative relationships with their team by encouraging open and honest communication and positive reinforcement. This could include finding common ground with each team member and keeping everyone up to date on all aspects of work, including support offered to staff. Managers should extend the spirit of open dialogue by offering regular one to one meetings during which employees should be invited to raise concerns and express genuine feelings about their work. This can enable issues to be directly addressed and resolved at the time, which can help avoid grievances being submitted and employees deciding to leave the business. 

What should employers do?

Where quiet quitters are identified, employers should invite them to discuss any issues and underlying factors contributing to their disillusionment openly. There may be reasons that the parties could work together to rectify, or the employer may be able to offer enhanced support. However, where performance tips from doing just what is required into underperformance, and this does not improve without good reason, formal warnings and other disciplinary sanctions may be appropriate. 

Some businesses have introduced, or may be tempted to introduce, employee-monitoring tools to combat quiet quitting. As well as monitoring emails, browsing history and telephone conversations, these days technology is also available to monitor keystrokes and mouse movements. These tools involve the processing of personal data and constitute an interference with employees' right to privacy (albeit that right is limited in the work context). 

If an organisation wants to use these types of tools, it must: (i) have a legal basis for doing so; (ii) conduct a data protection impact assessment that supports the use of monitoring; and (iii) crucially, provide sufficient notice to employees. The employer should also bear in mind the potential impact on employee relations, with the use of such tools suggesting a significant level of distrust of the workforce.

However, prevention is better than cure. Businesses that develop positive, professional relationships with their employees by valuing their contribution and genuinely listening to their concerns are less likely to have quietly quitting employees.

Christie Jamieson is an associate at Dentons