Quiet Quitting: The New “Just Say No” Employee Pushback

Gone are the days when most employers could count on employees competing to go “above and beyond” to rise faster in their organizations. Employers now face “quiet quitting,” a trend that emerged in July 2022 from a viral TikTok video to become a phenomenon noted on Wikipedia and discussed in Forbes and the Wall Street Journal.

Quiet quitting is more than employees setting boundaries or intentionally putting a hard stop to their work day or work week so they can create a work/life balance. Checked-out quiet quitters simply slack their way through their workweek by doing the bare minimum needed to keep their jobs, thereby overloading their coworkers, frustrating their supervisors, and draining productivity from  their employers.

According ResumeBuilder.com’s August 2022 survey of 1000 U.S. employees,

  • 21% of surveyed employees admit to “quiet quitting” stating that they do only the bare minimum at work;
  • 5% admit doing even less than they’re paid to do;
  • 8 in 10 “quiet quitters” report they’re “burnt out”;
  • 46% of “quiet quitters” don’t want to do more work than they’re compensated to do or to compromise their work/life balance;
  • 1 in 10 employees report they put in less effort than 6 months ago;
  • 1 in 3 who have reduced effort have cut back the hours they spend working by more than half.1

What created quiet quitting?

Some describe quiet quitting as a coping mechanism that employees intentionally choose to reduce internalized stress.2 Others see it as a direct result from employees gaining “COVID clarity” concerning life priorities while working from home during the pandemic. They note that large numbers of employees became unwilling to sacrifice to “get ahead” with their employer, particularly after other employers desperate to fill vacancies wooed them with flexibility, higher wages, and greater benefits if they jumped ship.3 Still others view it as an outgrowth of employee cynicism and entitlement, with employees no longer believing they need to work hard to “get ahead.” Gallup’s 2021 survey reports that only 33% of employees feel engaged in their jobs.4

Don’t quiet quitters fear being fired?

What are employers doing and how have quiet quitters reacted? According to the majority (52%) of quiet quitters, their employers have “definitely” or “probably” noticed they’re putting in less effort.1 While 65% of quiet quitters admit they risk being fired, 97% state it would be “a little” or “very” concerning to lose their job, and yet this doesn’t appear to motivate them to change their behavior. According to the survey 91% of quiet quitters state their employers could motivate them to work harder, with 75% suggesting higher pay would do the trick. Another 48% stated that more paid time off would motivate them to work harder.1

The cost—to the workplace and the rest of us

Employees doing only the minimum impacts productivity. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “productivity fell at a 4.6% annualized rate last quarter…on the heels of the first-quarter’s 7.4% plunge, the sharpest decline in 74 years.”3 This contrasts with a pre-pandemic average increase of 1.3%.3

Employers, forced to pay more money for less productivity, charge more money for their products and services and pass these costs on to consumers, adding to inflation.

Employer solution

Four decades of management consulting have taught me that employers can spend hours struggling to motivate dis-engaged employees or instead work smarter to find employees who demonstrate accountability because they find satisfaction in work. In Managing for Accountability’s chapter 3 (https://amzn.to/3IKB0Yw), I outline how to find employees who like work and want purpose in their work life by asking questions such as: “If you were offered two jobs, what would lead you to choose one job over the other?”; “If you had to rank the order of the top three things you’re looking for in a good job, what would they be?”; “Please describe your work ethic”; “Are you more motivated by intrinsic or extrinsic factors?” and “Please describe what accountability means to you.”5

If you’re a quiet quitter

Finally, if you’re quiet quitter, consider the long-term effects to yourself. What’s your payoff from working with a fixed eye on “am I getting enough to do this next task?” Do you withhold your best and avoid stretching your skills? Has your workday become lackluster? Are you doing yourself and your career a disservice? If not, perhaps you can re-engage even as you set realistic boundaries that allow you work/life balance.

1 https://www.resumebuilder.com/1-in-4-of-workers-quiet-quitting-saying-no-to-hustle-culture/

2 https://abovethelaw.com/2022/08/why-quiet-quitting-is-simply-a-signal-that-workplace-burnout-is-real/?utm_campaign=ATL%20Weekly&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=223089521&_hsenc=p2ANqtz–WPGkwx1NkvQ4RnAeEgrfveOZZF4qbJiu0u0vz9bSS-f4rcKSVxGXv_rwOoQsp1US4PdASKGL7voZF7gHcytPJoNJDSv86WU6r59HqMFkpJJUe3U4&utm_content=223089521&utm_source=hs_email

3 Quiet quitting’ trend may lead to layoffs, and complicate the Fed’s inflation fight (msn.com)

4 Quiet quitting explained: Everything you need to know (techtarget.com)

5 Managing for Accountability: A Business Leader’s Toolbox, https://amzn.to/3IKB0Yw.

If you found this article useful, you might enjoy “Post-pandemic Management: Employees have changed; here’s what employers need to figure out,” https://bit.ly/3Oif5cy.

11 thoughts on “Quiet Quitting: The New “Just Say No” Employee Pushback

  1. Interesting post, though the stats don’t surprise me or seem unusual. they seem to fit the problem we had before the pandemic of most employees not liking their job.

    It seems like this has been an ongoing dynamic of various times of malaise and frustration that goes in cycles. I’ve never found paying more, or expecting less (time off) was a sustainable answer… at best it bolsters attitudes for a few months. The focus by on meaningful Purpose is a deeper way of connecting, but it is in the original hiring where the foundation is created. I’ve always been guiding by hiring for skills, fit, and motivation… with most of my focus on understand how, what and why someone is motivated to determine if it is fundamentally positive in nature and fits the job.

    Skills can be taught, fit can be coached and tweaked, motivation is nearly impossible to change. Alignment of a company’s purpose with someone’s inherent motivation is the magic.

    1. “Skills can be taught, fit can be coached and tweaked, motivation is nearly impossible to change. Alignment of a company’s purpose with someone’s inherent motivation is the magic.” I love this! You are so correct with this!

  2. Quiet Quitters – love it! Over the past two years I have seen quite a few emerging trends and this one is highly prevalent! There are those who accept your job offer, come to work, and almost right off the bat do as little as possible for long amounts of time. When you address their behavior they get offended and then wonder why they aren’t getting a raise or a promotion for merely coming to work, and then ask if they can work remotely. Well, no you cannot, if you aren’t performing in the office my thoughts are you are not going to miraculously turn into an achiever at home. I’ve seen companies jump through hoops trying to raise morale and heighten engagement to be met with an attitude of apathy.

    My mind questions is this the result of Covid or is it the fallout from a whole generation being given ribbons for participation? I remember about 12 years ago during a roundtable meeting, a presenter told us that we would have to adjust our expectations regarding the candidates we get. They said, it will not be strange for a person to have 17 different jobs on their resume. Back then I thought, who would do that and why? And now its a reality and people are honest as they list all of their 3 and 6 month job stints at company x. When you ask them why they left they tell you I wasn’t receiving enough pay. Yet, here they are at an interview with no current job trying to assure you that they are a good choice. I’m a firm believer that what you do to others you are perfectly capable and willing to do to me.

    I’m optimistic. I choose to believe there are still people who take pride in their work and like giving their best every day. It is up to leaders to be creative and build capacity so if they have to they can wait for the right person vs. pulse hiring.

    1. Gina, awesome comment. You’ve joined Larry, Susan, Ky, Dena and others who are truly adding value to this blog. Yay!

    2. Personally, when it comes to government workers, I first noticed this phenomenon as a preteenager in the late 1950’s, so it is nothing “new”. State highway workers would sleep and goof off “on” the job and actually brag about it. A classmate’s father would hunt when he was supposed to be delivering rural mail. I’m sure these were the tip of the proverbial iceberg. In 1996, I accidently caught a Pa. state trooper backed into the woods sleeping. He reacted in a very over the top authoritarian manner; however, since I had done nothing wrong and was almost twice his age, I didn’t let him intimidate me. I will say, neither of us left feeling comfortable about the incident.

  3. During my lifetime, I have interacted with state, local, and federal employees throughout my life including the military (as active duty and a veteran).

    Accepting the risk of being accused of “painting all government workers with the same brush”, an early observation has been reinforced over the years.

    IMHO, there is a disproportionate number of “quiet quitters” in these occupations. Until now, I wasn’t aware of the “label”.

    1. Agreed, as you & Ky note, this has gone on for a long time and it’s only now attracted a “name.” It’s part of why I left state employment and started my own consulting business.

  4. In some workplaces “quiet quitting” has been going on for decades and now extends to the new hires. I can’t imagine working like this, so I don’t really have a good response. Some of these folks spend most of their time at work complaining about their work and coworkers instead of actually going to their workstation and getting down to work. In the end, it isn’t so much “quiet quitting” as do they ever actually do any work, and how much is that, exactly?

  5. Work is the “doing” bit of a career, while a job is a bit of one’s life purpose.
    When one finds a job that fits into life’s purpose, the action (responsibility ) is a means to hone one’s skill and a way to offer service for a greater good.

    But if there is no purposeful life or more significant cause, even 2 hours of work drags a two years journey.

    Yes, some job environment does not foster well-being, but this quiet quitting will steal experience, resilience, contentment, etc. from a lot

    Our body records our mindset, behavior, and attitude, which becomes our somatic programming. It then runs automatically as a subconscious mind.

    Entitlement creates depression, while motivation and celebration of what you are rewarded as a form of value exchange breed a growth mindset as well as significance and satisfaction.

  6. You’ve missed the elephant in the room.

    During the past decade, many workplaces have been overwhelmed by folks sometimes described as “woke,” “progressive,” “Karens,” or other labels described best as fellow employees who are constantly on the prowl for actions, words, and workplace environments that don’t fit their political ideology. I’ve worked many jobs for the past 45 years, and there’s been a slow and steady erosion of humor, camaraderie, and what used to called basic workplace standards about hard work and honesty.

    Talk to anyone who lived in a country run on socialist or communist principles. Practically everyone practices “quiet quitting.” It’s summed up in the old joke shared by workers in the Soviet Union: “We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.”

    When you’re working in an environment where you can be fired or your career is on the line for telling joke, who wants to work hard? When you know that that hiring is based on diversity and you’re not the right skin color, why work hard? And for that matter, if you’re the right skin color, why work hard when employment is assured? If your workplace is focused on the same outcome for everyone – aka equity – why work hard? When employers start the interview process asking for a DEI statement as a way to winnow out those who disagree, why work hard if you get the job?

    As workplaces embrace “woke” and “progressive” approaches, expect it to look more and more like working in Moscow, circa 1965.

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