By now most people have come across the term ‘quiet quitting’. Reviewing some of the literature published on this subject, I am going to discuss what it is and hopefully taking a balanced approach, consider some of the implications for both employees and employers. I will also look at the potential impact on the employment relationship and the health of the psychological contract.
Where reference is made to employment protections and employment legislation, I am writing from a UK perspective. The opinions expressed in this article are wholly my own.
What is quiet quitting
Initially the term may appear confusing as anyone quietly quitting is not actually resigning; they do not intend to leave their job and are typically carrying out sufficient duties within the scope of their job description to not be sacked.
In the most general terms, anyone who engages in quiet quitting will carry out their duties in terms of their job description, but will not go beyond that, what we call discretionary or citizenship behaviour (going above and beyond) (Klotz and Bolino, 2022).
Looking at that definition, it does make you wonder why we have all the fuss if we are talking about employees actually doing their job and fulfilling their duties in terms of their contract of employment. In theory that all sounds fair enough; and to some extent we have always seen situations where some employees fit into this category (Basiouny, 2022; Christian, 2022) – the term ‘jobsworth’ springs to mind.
Secondly, with the rise in Trades Union activities, we are seeing examples of employees, Trades Union (TU) members working to rule which means not doing anything outside their contract – no overtime, no working beyond your finish time to complete a task and not taking on additional duties which are not part of your job description.
Both of these examples have negative connotations attached to them and generally would have a negative impact on organisational productivity and performance.
We should now look in more detail at the two different ways quiet quitting is being used to explain employee behaviour in the workplace today. We will also look at some of the debate surrounding some of the interpretations. It is going to be important for organisations going forward to be aware of these differences and manage their quietly quitting employees appropriately.
Quiet Quitting – Type A
Quiet quitting Type A are unhappy employees who feel that all the extra effort they have been putting in is not valued and they are not compensated (paid) appropriately for the work they have been doing and so are pulling back and not engaging in the discretionary efforts they used to. This group do not believe that they are being treated fairly.
There is some evidence that these ideas about the imbalance in the wage/effort bargain were present prior to the Covid-19 Pandemic, but employees feeling that they had really pushed themselves to go that extra mile were not recognised or rewarded for this – they were putting in even more effort and feel like their employers just expect this level of effort without any equivalent increase in their wages (Christian, 2022). Consequently, we now have employees who are deciding to quietly quit and withhold the additional effort and tasks they were completing previously.
There has been some discussion in the researched literature that this is limited to the younger generations, mainly Gen Z (Christian, 2022; World Economic Forum, 2022), but there is evidence to indicate that it is more widespread and spans all generations active within the workforce (Rosalsky and Selyukh, 2022) so it would be unwise to simply dismiss the trend as a generational fad that will pass.
I wonder if anyone has looked at the relationship between TU activity and the economic concerns about cost of living with spiralling prices and demands for increased salaries and the increase in quiet quitting activity. Both amongst union and non-union member employees as I suspect that this will also be fuelling this phenomenon, or may contribute to its maintenance.
Quiet Quitting – Type B
Just as Type A increased activity in quiet quitting as the world recovered from the Covid-19 lockdowns and the pandemic and are now facing increasing financial hardships, Covid-19 can also be seen as the trigger for our Type B quitters.
Type B employees are definitely not looking to change jobs, and as opposed to Type A who want recognition for their efforts, Type B want a better work-life balance (Pearce, 2022). The Pandemic was a massive experiment of home and remote working which showed us another reality; One where we could work less, have a better work-life balance and could reduce the stress experienced through our jobs. Type B quitters are opting out of engaging in discretionary behaviours because they want a different work/home lifestyle so they decide to only work during their contracted hours and not going above and beyond.
While Type A employees may re-engage with their employers, going the extra mile if they feel a new pay and reward package reflects their efforts, it is unlikely Type B quitters will.
Is Quiet Quitting an option for all employees?
There is some discussion in the literature about marginalised employees who are not able to quietly quit their employment; who are pressurised into going above and beyond, fearing dismissal if they do not comply; if this is the case steps will require to be taken to ensure these employees are not treated unethically. (Bero, 2022; Rosalsky and Selyukh, 2022)
What does Quiet Quitting mean for employers?
Employers are seeking stability in their workforces. They will be looking for them to work hard. They will want engaged employees who are routinely going that extra mile. So this highlights a major shift in the psychological contract (the expectations that the employer and employee have of each other and ideally it would be balanced and we would have harmony) but with the growth of quiet quitting we can see that there is an imbalance of expectations between the parties, which can lead to conflict.
I believe we are at an interesting junction for human resource management and the future health of the employment relationship. We have 2 groups of employees, both engaging in silent quitting but for very different reasons and different desired outcomes. We have a serious economic situation with inflation and rising prices which may hamper the ability of employers to meet the demands of staff looking for pay rises which they feel reflect their efforts; because of the economic situation in many quarters, we will also see increasing TU activity and therefore potentially increasing numbers of staff engaging in quiet quitting (working to rule). All the while staff, while operating within the terms of their contracts of employment, are being less productive. Organisations will need to be creative in the solutions they come up with to engage with the quiet quitters and identify the steps that will re-engage them in their employment and boosting performance again.
Organisations (and managers) will need to be careful that they do not simply redefine job descriptions so that what is considered as discretionary behaviour is not simply redefined as core duties in terms of the job description and the contract of employment. It may be that role profiles need to be updated/adapted but this should be done properly through job analysis to define the job (job description) and job evaluation to determine the value of the job (setting the wage)(Klotz and Bolino, 2022).
Discretionary behaviour is a result of an engaged employee who is motivated by and committed to their job and their organisation. It is not something organisations should take for granted and they need to be putting measures in place to create the right environment to produce engaged employees willing and happy to go that extra mile.
- Basiouny, Angie, (2022); Why Managers Aren’t Worried About Quiet Quitting; Knowledge at Wharton; September 13, 2022; Why Managers Aren’t Worried About Quiet Quitting – Knowledge at Wharton (upenn.edu); last accessed 19/9/22
- Bero, Tayo, (2022); ‘Quiet quitting?’ Everything about this so called trend is nonsense; The Guardian; 8 September, 2022, ‘Quiet quitting?’ Everything about this so-called trend is nonsense | Tayo Bero | The Guardian, last accessed 19/9/22
- Christian, Alex, (2022); Why ‘quiet quitting’ is nothing new; BBC Worklife; 29th August, 2022; Why ‘quiet quitting’ is nothing new – BBC Worklife; last accessed 19/0/22
- Klotz, Anthony C. and Bolino, Mark C., (2022); When Quiet Quitting is Worse Than the Real Thing; Harvard Business Review; 15th September, 2022; When Quiet Quitting Is Worse Than the Real Thing (hbr.org); last accessed 19/9/22
- Pearce, Katie, (2022); What is ‘quiet quitting’?; The Hub; September 12, 2022; What is ‘quiet quitting’? | Hub (jhu.edu); last accessed 19/9/22
- Rosalsky, Gred and Selyukh, Alina, (2022); The economics behind ‘quiet quitting’ – and what we should call it instead; npr; September 13, 2022; The economics behind ‘quiet quitting’ — and what we should call it instead : Planet Money : NPR; last accessed 19/9/22
- World Economic Forum, (2022); What is quiet quitting?; Sept 2, 2022; What is quiet quitting and why is it happening | World Economic Forum (weforum.org); last accessed 19/9/22