You’ve probably heard a lot of talk about “quiet quitting.” Currently making the rounds in think pieces and social posts all over the internet, the term seems to have an overwhelmingly negative connotation. Yet, despite its name, quiet quitting doesn’t technically involve any quitting.
Not even close.
It simply means you invest as much energy as necessary to complete your work without going above and beyond or burning the midnight oil. No extra hours, additional responsibilities, or prioritizing work over family and friends.
If we’re being entirely honest, it seems a little … well, illogical to label something so straightforward as doing your job as problematic. Work, by definition, is contractual. So, if professionals are fulfilling their end of the bargain, there shouldn’t be any issue.
Setting healthy boundaries and advocating for greater work/life balance should be praised, not discouraged.
So, what gives?
Perhaps the more cynical hot takes here stem from the traditional belief that we all live to work. But the world is changing. Fast. And as workforce trends shift towards the opposite — that we all work to live — it’s made some folks uncomfortable. That discomfort, fear, or frustration has convinced them that they need to put their foot down and demand more.
Hence this misguided notion that doing what you’re paid to do isn’t enough.
Yet, while the entire concept of quiet quitting has some of us scratching our heads, maybe there is a small sliver of truth to the narrative that people aren’t working to their full potential. But here’s the twist: it isn’t the quiet quitters (roughly 50% of the current workforce) we should be concerned about.
A new Gallup survey found that 18% of US employees are “actively disengaged” at work — the highest rate since 2013. That percentage may seem rather insignificant, but it costs businesses anywhere between 450 and 550 billion dollars (about $1,700 per person in the US) each year.
The actively disengaged aren’t just coasting or unhappy at work — they’re resentful that their needs aren’t being met, and that resentment manifests itself in ways that completely undermine what fully engaged employees accomplish.
But what’s the cause? What motivates people to check out at work?
In truth, there’s a lot that could be driving this, and none of the contributing factors seem to be related to complacency or laziness.
Here’s what’s really hurting engagement and fostering quiet quitting:
What’s that old saying? People don’t quit their jobs; they quit their bosses. We’ve all heard it, and data tells us it still holds true.
Since 2019, the number of young workers who feel that someone encourages their development at work has dropped significantly — 12 points — and less than four in ten say they even know what’s expected of them at work. What’s worse, only 42% of employees say they trust their boss. And when leaders don’t prioritize connecting with their employees in meaningful ways — like by recognizing milestones and engaging on a personal level — it can lead to lower productivity and high turnover, or “quiet quitting”.
The monetary impact is significant. A range of costs are associated with replacing an experienced employee, including the cost of covering the vacant position, finding a replacement, and getting a new person up to speed.
On average, every time an employee leaves, it takes 6–9 months of salary to find and onboard a replacement. For perspective, if a former employee made $40,000 per year, that’s anywhere between 20–30,000 dollars in sunken costs.
People are taking a step back to reevaluate their priorities and take stock of what matters in life. A global pandemic, inflation, and war overseas have us all on edge and the impact has us floundering both at home and at work. According to APA’s 2021 Work and Well-Being Survey, three in five professionals report negative effects of work-related stress. Meanwhile, 36% report cognitive weariness, 32% report emotional exhaustion, and 44% report physical fatigue.
That’s a 38% increase since 2019.
But some professionals are more susceptible to stress and anxiety than others. Health workers have long faced systemic challenges in the healthcare system, leading to crisis levels of burnout. They’re overworked, undervalued, and paid just enough to keep their heads above water. Looking at the bigger picture, this tells us why there’s a projected shortage of more than 3 million essential low-wage health workers in the next five years.
Lack of Career Growth
Our data shows that long-term career training opportunities play a significant role in how and why candidates choose their employers. And 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if their employers invested in their learning and development.
Moreover, 87% of millennials say professional development or career growth opportunities are especially important for them. The problem? There’s a perceived — and perhaps very real — sense of lack of upward mobility in the current landscape. And when people feel like they’re treading water, they start looking for easier ways to stay afloat. Disengagement and quiet quitting is one of the first things to happen.
Therefore, if you expect more engagement and less quiet quitting from your employees, they need an understanding of how their hard work drives the business forward and a concrete career path.
The vast majority of executives, nine out of ten, say their company has a deep knowledge of their workforce — what motivates them, their interests, and their skill sets. But only 60% of workers agree their bosses genuinely understand who they are, as professionals and as people.
There are deeper, more pressing issues at play here than quiet quitting.
To find better solutions, leaders need to recognize that they’re entirely disconnecting from their workforce, perhaps now more than ever before. They don’t have a firm grasp of how their employees are feeling, what they want, and what they need. Without meaningful discussions, in-depth surveys, and the patience to listen, employers and their teams will only drift farther apart.
The answers aren’t easy. However, we can certainly tell you that not demanding more from an already physically and emotionally exhausted workforce may not be the best approach.