Don’t Stay Silent In An Era of Quiet Quitting

CATEGORY: Blog Posts
CLIENT TYPE: Public Employers
PUBLICATION: California Public Agency Labor & Employment Blog
DATE: Oct 18, 2022

What is “quiet quitting?”  After a recent tiktok post went viral, as described below, quiet quitting has been all over social media and the internet.  A google search on “quiet quitting” turns up 315,000,000 hits!  But what exactly is quiet quitting, where did it come from, and what should public agency employers do about it?

Where did quiet quitting come from?

Before we can discuss what exactly quiet quitting is, we need to understand our current work environment.  Gallup’s “State of the Global Workplace 2022 Report” looked at workers’ engagement at work around the world in 2021.  The report found that in the United States and Canada, only 33% of employees reported they felt engaged at work.  In addition, employees in the United States and Canada reported experiencing a lot of the following emotions:  41% daily worry, 50% daily stress, 18% daily anger, and 22% daily sadness. Globally, the Gallup report found that stress among the world’s workers in 2021 reached an all-time high, again, after it did so in 2020.   These numbers suggest workers are burnt out.

While this report is disappointing, it is not surprising.  The Covid-pandemic created stress for everyone, including public agency employees.  In addition, over 47 million Americans quit their jobs in 2021 in “The Great Resignation.” Even for employees that did not quit, many reevaluated their priorities.  The pandemic shifted many employees’ priorities concerning work-life balance, their mental health, and their relationship with their job.  As employees’ work lives’ shifted, so did their views on work.

What is quiet quitting?

Quiet quitting is not actually quitting.  TikToker @zkchillin’s video post spurred the recent viral frenzy over quiet quitting.  His video, which has received 3.5 million views, describes quiet quitting as “not outright quitting your job, but quitting the idea of going above and beyond. You’re still performing your duties, but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life — the reality is, it’s not, and your worth as a person is not defined by your labor.” Another sentiment that has been making rounds on social media is #actyourwage, which expresses the idea that employees should not take on tasks for which they are not compensated, such as after-hours meetings.

The notion of quiet quitting and #actyourwage is that a person is not defined by their job.  Employees should just do their job duties – only what they are paid for.  But is just doing your job duties quiet quitting?  Is coasting at work quiet quitting?  Is logging off at 5:00 p.m. quiet quitting?

An employee who satisfactorily completes their job duties and takes pride in their work, but simply does not want to get ahead is not quiet quitting.  An employee that works efficiently and productively all day but promptly leaves at the end of the work day is not quiet quitting.  Rather, an employee who is quiet quitting is doing more – or actually less – than just avoiding extra work or not responding to after hours’ emails.  Rather, the essence of quiet quitting is an actively disengaged employee.  An employee who not only does not want to get ahead, but rather, is doing the bare minimum to keep their job, such as completing the assignment but maybe it’s late, not thorough, uninspired, or full of typos.  An employee who no longer takes pride in their work, no longer cares about their job, feels unfulfilled, or feels burnt out.

How should public agency employers address quiet quitting?

As an employer, you don’t want to wait until emails go answered, you get poor work product, or projects go uncompleted before addressing the situation.  When asked about quiet quitting, U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said “It shouldn’t get to that.”  Walsh explained: “If you are an employer, you should catch on early enough that your employees aren’t satisfied, aren’t happy, and then there needs to be a dialogue, a conversation.”  Here are three steps public agencies can take to prevent quiet quitting:

  1. Check in with your agency’s values. Quiet quitting is emerging among workers who feel disengaged, unsupported, unfulfilled, and burnt out at work.  Could your employees be experiencing those feelings?  In the everyday business and routine, it can be easy to lose track of the agency’s values.  Check in and audit your agency – are the daily routines, schedules, and work environment in sync with the values and goals of your agencies?  Are employees supported in their jobs?  Are they overworked?  Are their accomplishments recognized and successes praised?  Evaluating these concerns may let the agency know how employees are feeling to prevent quiet quitting from arising.
  2. Don’t rush to blame the employee, but look to understand the reasons for the change in an employee’s behavior. If you notice an employee with a strong performance has recently been showing signs of quiet quitting, do not ignore it.  Meet with the employee to discuss the change in performance and find out the causes.  It is also important to keep in mind that there could be a medical issue that may be impacting the employee’s work performance, and you may need to engage in the interactive process concerning potential accommodations.  Since quiet quitting symptoms may emerge when employees feel disengaged or unsupported at work, a dialogue may lead to understanding and better work performance.  Generally, poor performance should be documented and may need to be disciplined.
  3. Set realistic job expectations. Quiet quitters claim they don’t want to go above and beyond their job duties.  As such, it is critical that employers provide accurate and realistic job expectations, especially for new hires.  If someone is expected to respond to emails after hours, that should be explained.  If someone typically has 9-5 work days, but at times has urgent projects requiring longer hours, that should be communicated from the start.  Communicate clear expectations about remote work options as well.

Navigating changes to the workplace from the pandemic can be challenging.  By being alert to the symptoms of quiet quitting, and taking affirmative steps to support and engage employees, public agencies can help retain a thriving workforce.

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