Working 9 to 5 and that’s it! What do we mean by ‘quiet quitting’?


Quiet quitting, sometimes also called silent resignation, has recently become an important focal point for human resources and management teams. So why the fuss, and what do we really mean when we talk about the quiet quitting phenomenon?

What is quiet quitting?

When an employee chooses the quiet quitting route there can be several motivational factors. Whatever the reason though, they are not unwilling to work or refuse to fulfil the demands of their role, but they are not prepared to do more than the minimum effort to do so. Essentially, they have taken a sort of work-to-rule-based approach to their employment. They will do the job, but that is all.

It is a mistake to think of quiet quitting as an employee simply working to the letter of their job description though. It’s important that employers are careful not to fall into the trap of reducing the importance of this phenomenon. That simple description is trivialising what can be a problem with far-reaching repercussions if it isn’t recognised and addressed. An employee who is in this mindset is disengaged from more than their daily tasks. A quiet quitter can also lose their goodwill towards their employer, become cynical about the business, and negative with the team around them. The bottom line is that quiet quitting can be extremely toxic in the workplace.

What motivates people to ‘quietly quit’ and why is it a problem?

Social media site, TikTok is thought of as being key to popularising the ‘quiet quitting’ approach. Certainly, there was a sudden boom in the number of people posting videos using the description in early 2022. The practice of quiet quitting itself though seems to have followed hard on the heels of the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, lockdowns, and is a partner to the great resignation. It could well be a result of the introspection, and focus on personal values, that people often focused on during lockdowns and other restrictions. Employees who are knowingly participating in quiet quitting often feel they are rejecting an overemphasis on career and the hustle culture mentality. Rather than taking the resignation and new job route though, they choose to stay in their role but reduce the importance of work in their lives to improve their work-life balance.

Ironically, quiet quitting can actually feel as if it is supporting a more balanced life because of the way it manifests. Finishing on time, switching to an out-of-work mindset, ignoring emails outside the workplace, focusing on relaxing and so on are very effective ways of reducing stress. Effective work-life balance is undeniably a good thing. As an HR professional, I would be the first to warn against the problems caused by workplace stress and the dangers of burnout.

Part of the reason quiet quitting can be such a problem is that it is coming from a different perspective than either the great resignation or someone adjusting to a better career/family balance. Without wishing to oversimplify, the difference is that someone choosing to change their career to get a better work-life balance is saying ‘my work is important to me and my is also life is important to me, so I will balance them by changing the work element and resigning’. While that may be inconvenient for the employer and temporarily stressful for the employee, it is driven by a positive desire for growth.

When someone engages with quiet quitting, they are likely to be coming from a very different angle. They could almost be thought of as saying ‘My job is not as important as other aspects of my life; therefore, I will do the minimum possible because it is only there to support me’. That is a very different and much less positive attitude. In the long run, the temporary high of taking what is seen as a work-life balance decision can turn into a lost career path, isolation from colleagues, being passed over for promotion and advancement, and many other issues.

Quiet quitting is a danger to success

What all this can mean is that you have an employee that is disengaged and not interested in their workplace and role. In fairness, there are certainly some roles where this is, if not acceptable, certainly not unusual. However, take that disengagement and work-to-rule approach and apply it to most job roles and it becomes something a lot worse. A ‘that will do’ approach in leadership, project management or creative roles is a worrying prospect. The thought of a customer support team member doing the minimum or a salesperson, or logistics manager not trying to get ahead of targets is a worrying one.

To put that into perspective if you described an employee as ‘reliable, turns up and leaves on time, always performs adequately when given specific tasks’ it is not exactly damning, but is certainly missing some key desirables. ‘Arrives ready to work, shows initiative, team player, always puts in extra effort and shows initiative’ are noticeably missing from that description. Quiet quitting is not a problem because the work is not being done. It is a problem because it is being done but with no desire to do so at an outstanding level.

Your workforce wanting to achieve and their engagement with company culture is a key part of the success and growth of any business. This is particularly true heading into some troubling economic times. Average performance on the other hand is never a goal of a successful business. Quiet quitting and the drive to excel are simply not compatible.

Call us on 01604 261380 or book a slot in our HR chat room and let’s talk about how we can help if you are seeing quiet quitting and demotivated employees in your workforce.