Quiet quitting is one of the hottest topics in HR and business right now. In our latest Leadership & Legal, Steve and James tackled the topic head-on. 

But what really is quiet quitting? How does it affect your business…and what can you really do about it? 

It actually has nothing to do with quitting your job. In a nutshell, quiet quitting is when an employee decides they’ll do the bare minimum needed to keep their job…and nothing more. They’ll do what’s on the job description, they’ll clock out right at 5 pm every day, and they will never take on extra projects. 

Some say that’s laziness – and others say that’s setting boundaries at work. 

Either way, it’s definitely a sign of low engagement, which can cost your business big time. 

Let’s dive in a little further. 

Download a podcast episode of this conversation by clicking here!

Quiet Quitting is Not a New Phenomenon

Steve and James both agreed that quiet quitting is not a new phenomenon at all. For as long as people have been working, there have been people who went above and beyond, and people who put in the bare minimum.

It may be a new term and a new discussion, but “quiet quitters” have been around for decades!

What’s Really Behind Quiet Quitting?

So what really causes quiet quitting?

There’s a variety of factors driving people to quiet quit right now.

To start, it’s an employee’s job market. People know they have options. If recruiters are blowing up their inbox offering them other jobs, they’re not nearly as worried about being fired or facing backlash from their boss for doing the bare minimum.

At some companies, people quiet quit if they see underachievers being paid the same as overachievers. In these situations, they may feel there’s no incentive to work hard if they’ll make the same amount as the underperformers anyway!

Steve also emphasized that he thinks there’s a huge responsibility on individual leaders to drive engagement. He pointed out that most leaders actually don’t know how to lead – which James concurred with.

James mentioned that in the most of the lawsuits he works on, the leaders were never trained, or oftentimes didn’t even WANT to be leaders!

We train new managers to manage people – but not how to lead people.

Can Employees Spy on Teams…And Should You?

James clarified that legally, you can use bossware to “spy” on your teams. He also believes you should probably monitor engagement to some extent.

On the other hand, Steve believed that one of the most important pieces of leadership is knowing where someone is at – without spying on them.

He said that if you wait until there’s a problem to ask someone how they’re doing, you are part of the problem!

Most companies have policies that state they can monitor keystrokes, clicks, browsing activity and so forth. However, if you actually do closely monitor your team’s activity, you’re likely to kill engagement as people feel like they’re being babysat.

How Do You Unlock Discretionary Effort Instead of Quiet Quitting?

So what can leaders do to make sure more employees are putting in discretionary effort rather than quiet quitting?

It starts with setting measurable expectations.

Most job descriptions (and leaders) never set clear, measurable expectations for their employees.

If you don’t know what’s expected, people often get flustered, which has a demotivating effect.

On the other hand, employees may not realize they are underperforming if you never set the right expectations from day one.

Steve also commented that a lot of leaders aren’t honest with their teams about their performance. It may hurt someone’s feelings to give honest feedback but lying or sugarcoating it also erodes trust.

Advice for Those Who Are Considering Quiet Quitting

Steve and James also discussed advice they have for those who are quiet quitting or considering quiet quitting. Steve emphasized that we know the economy is going to take a turn for the worse sooner or later. If you’re quiet quitting or obviously putting in the bare minimum, you will probably be the first to go if your company needs to make cuts!

James mentioned that at his firm, if an employee receives a 3/5 or less score on employee performance, the board starts asking whether that individual should have a future at the company.

The Hazards of Quiet Firing

Many employers have “quiet fired” employees to avoid termination lawsuits. In brief, quiet firing is when an employer wants someone off their team, but doesn’t want to fire them, so they make the person’s job more and more unpleasant, so the employee quits on their own.

It may protect you from termination lawsuits, but if the individual is part of a protected class (women, a minority group, or even someone with a disability like anxiety or other conditions), then you open yourself up to a discrimination lawsuit in the process.