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Quiet quitting: The HR guide

What it is, what’s causing it, and tactics to beat it
Quiet quitting: The HR guide

It’s fun to be in HR right now. If you didn’t already have enough to deal with—like trying to recruit in a historically challenging labor market, or managing health and safety during Covid and navigating the various challenges of an in-person vs. remote workplace—you now have quiet quitting to add to the list.

But as it turns out, quiet quitting doesn’t have to be a challenge. Handled right, quiet quitting can be an opportunity for employers to reconnect with their employees, understand their changing needs and concerns, and—if you play your cards right—distinguish yourself as an employer that cares.

Let’s see how.

What is quiet quitting?

It’s actually a misnomer. It actually has nothing to do with employees quitting (except in extreme cases, as we’ll explore). One HR specialist actually called it, “The most worthless term.” Instead, quiet quitting simply refers to an overall trend of employees becoming less engaged with their work.

In fact, this reduced engagement is only one side of things. Because while quiet quitting is increasingly becoming a priority for HR, studies show that most employees are relatively happy with their work—and that said happiness isn’t stopping them from looking for a new job:

  • 86% of employed Americans say they are very or somewhat happy in their current job, with 14% saying they are not very happy or not at all happy.
  • 50% of employed Americans are currently looking for a new job, 36% passively and 14% actively.
  • Nearly half (46%) of employed Americans who say they are very or somewhat happy at their current job are still either passively (34%) or actively (12%) looking for a new job today.

This is important to remember. Even as you take steps to combat this trend, remember that talent management is changing, and recruiting needs to change with it. But more on that later.

Why are employees quietly quitting?

There are several different causes for quiet quitting, some of which are universal and others which are more specific.

A growing need for work-life balance

Many argue that it’s simply a symptom of employees’ growing need for work-life balance. For a long time, employees were expected to give far more than their “9-to-5” to their work, and the result was that work tended to take over their lives. Employees are finding themselves exhausted with this. Quiet quitting, then, is simply the manifestation of employees trying to instill boundaries around their work life, and is being misinterpreted as disengagement because for so long, an employee who set boundaries in their work life was a disengaged employee.

Burnout and dissatisfaction with work

Another major reason given for quiet quitting is that employees no longer feel they want or are able to give their 100% to work. For some, it’s because they’re burned out; for others, it’s because they’re feeling taken advantage of, or that being asked to work so hard just isn’t fair. As employers ask their employees to give more of themselves to their work (a request likely exasperated by the recruiting challenges many employers are facing), these employees are reacting to what they view as either an unfair or an impossible request by simply disengaging.

Poor management

Of course, not all cases of quiet quitting are in response to overall work trends. In some cases, it’s in response to poor management. Since employees rarely have the power to do much about poor management, disengaging and giving less and less of themselves is a common response.

Lack of employee engagement

And on the flip side, some cases of quiet quitting aren’t a response to anything in particular, but simply the manifestation of employees who were never engaged to begin with. These employees haven’t so much been given a reason to disengage as that they haven’t been given a reason to engage.

Exasperated by remote work

Whatever the causes of quiet quitting, many find that it’s being exasperated by remote work. Building an engaged workforce is harder when that workforce is remote—both because employees feel less connected and because it’s harder for employees to recognize the engagement of employees who aren’t in front of them—and when there are reasons for employees to not engage, the challenges of remote work only make those reasons stronger.

Is quiet quitting actually a bad thing?

It depends on the degree of the quitting. Like we saw above, for many employees, they aren’t disengaging at all. They’re just trying to find work-life balance. To them, quiet quitting is an entirely healthy step in them being able to give more of themselves to their work without burning out.

In more extreme cases, though, it means disengaged employees. In these cases, quiet quitting can result in decreased engagement, interest, productivity, and overall less happy employees.

Tactics to combat quiet quitting

  • Pulse surveys. Survey employees anonymously to get a pulse on how engaged your employees are, how happy they are, and so on. Surveys are a great way to directly ask your employees how they’re doing, and making the survey anonymous allows them to be honest without the fear of repercussions. However, remember that surveys are just the first step. They won’t have a lasting impact—and can even backfire—if you don’t do the next step . . .
  • Take action. Once you know what some of the issues are (either through surveys or a different method), take action to address those issues to build (or rebuild) trust and transparency. These first two steps go hand-in-hand. Employees want to be heard, but if you ask them what’s wrong and then simply excuse it without taking any action, the temporary goodwill you might have earned through the survey will be completely lost due to inaction.
  • Have honest communication with your employees. Of course, you won’t always be able to deliver on everything your employees want. That’s the nature of any workplace. In those situations, having an open and honest communication with your employees explaining that you understand their concerns and this is what you can do about it and this is what you unfortunately cannot do is the best response. Employees understand you can’t deliver everything. They just want to be listened to, their concerns addressed, and—in those areas where their concerns cannot be addressed—be spoken to with honesty and respect.
  • Boost employee engagement with both temporary and long-term solutions. There’s a common belief among HR that employees simply aren’t interested in staying in a company as long as they used to. Studies show, however, that that’s not true. One of the reasons given, then, for reduced employee retention is because management isn’t doing enough to make their employees feel appreciated. It’s therefore important to try different solutions to solve that. Temporary solutions like events and performance rewards might not solve any overall issues (unless the issues are strongly related to lack of rewards and/or events), but they’re a great way to inject both excitement and an overall feeling of value in the company. Long-term fixes, on the other hand (like reevaluating how you measure performance and helping your employees grow in their field), help boost employee engagement overall.
  • Embrace employee advocacy. This one might sound counterintuitive. After all, if employees have an issue with you, how would the solution be to ask them to do you a favor and be your advocates? The truth is, however, that employee engagement differs across your company, so while some are less engaged, others may be fully engaged and ready to advocate for your brand. Employee advocacy is an excellent way to both foster engagement among your happier employees, since engaged employees are more likely to be advocates, as well as showcase an exciting program for less-engaged employees to get involved in.
  • Use social recruiting to find employees excited about your brand. The above tactics will help you build a more engaged workforce with your current employees. But you also don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to attract top talent when many are actively and passively looking for new opportunities. Social recruiting is the #1 way to find candidates that are a strong fit for your employer brand—and will therefore naturally be more engaged.
    • This tactic isn’t only important because your employees might be disengaged and unhappy, but also because employee happiness may not equal employee retention. As we saw above, though many employees are happy with their current position, that isn’t stopping them from searching for new jobs. So yes, you definitely should continue to do everything you can to build and engaged and happy workforce, but you also don’t want to miss out on finding new talent by using social media recruiting to reach passive candidates open to making a move and empowering happy employees to be your advocates and ambassadors—which, as we saw above, can also reengage disengaged employees.
  • Build a culture of work-life balance. As we saw above, some employees are quietly quitting because they’re trying to maintain work-life balance. Rather than fight that, support this healthy side of quiet quitting by providing improved work-life balance so these employees feel supported.

For over ten years, CareerArc—the world’s only social media recruiting and employee advocacy solution built for talent acquisition teams—has helped companies large and small find the candidates they need on social media. Want to learn more? Click here to find out what we do, or here to see a free demo.

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