Quiet Quitting is a Strong Call for Change in Workplace Culture and Leadership

The post-pandemic workplace is hit by buzzword after buzzword. First, the Great Resignation, where employees leave jobs in exchange for work-life balance and mental wellbeing, followed by the Great Reshuffle, where millions of people have left old jobs in search of those that align better with their values. Now, hot on the heels is another buzzword – Quiet Quitting.

Made viral mostly by Gen-Z on Tiktok, advocating “not to take work so seriously” and “just do what is required”, it raised some eyebrows expectedly. Are quiet quitters another word for slackers? Or are they smart workers who know how to assert healthy work-life?

Catchy trend names and entertaining Tiktok videos aside, the trends are strong indicators of what the future workforce wants. 

Some observations:

  • Employees aged 30-45 years old, the mid-career employees, form the bulk of people who left unfulfilling and “un-liveable” jobs during the Great Resignation
  • A survey by Indeed has indicated that 92% of 1002 Singapore workers aged 16 to 55 said the pandemic has changed their perspectives about life and work. They are no longer willing to stay in jobs they don’t love.

The trends seem to be varied responses by generations driven by the same need and want: fulfillment, work-life balance, professional growth, and equity.

The options available to the groups of employees, however, differ.

  • A mid-career worker, with more years of experience under his belt, might have more resources to enable a “quit, evaluate and restart” option.
  • A younger worker (Gen-Z and late millennials) or someone who might not be able to or need not consider a resignation, might take a different route. 

Hence, Quiet Quitting arrives.

The underlying issue, in my opinion, after speaking with hundreds of leaders globally, seems unaddressed. Hustle culture, poor work-life balance, and management styles that have made work “unloveable” and “unliveable” seems to be the culture that leaders have created over the years. It is now up to them to undo it, and undo it they must – if they want to retain high-performers, increase engagement, and maximize business results.

Quiet Quitting is a Strong Call for Change

Quiet quitting is not a problem if work gets done

According to a study conducted by Gallup, 50% of U.S. workforce are quiet quitters. Employers frown at the “quiet quitters,” believing it is synonymous with “slackers. ” Employees are pushing back against this label. One even took to social media that it’s not right to use the term ‘quitting’ as it would connote employees are acting badly, when in fact the term simply means fulfilling your job description and setting healthy boundaries. 

Whether Quiet Quitting should be associated with slacking or not is not the point. The buzz online has served its purpose. With Gen-Zs and Millennials comprising 75% of the workforce by 2025, employers, leaders and managers must take heed and pay attention to the hidden meaning behind the actions. 

Consider the following:

  • If work is done, and requirements are fulfilled, is that a fair enough exchange of deliverables and pay?
  • Commitment is a virtue. What will intrinsically inspire your employees to go above and beyond?
  • Does your team or workplace culture invite happy, healthy, and fulfilled human beings to come work and play?

Simply rethinking the first question alone might take the edge off when you think about that “quiet quitter” next door. 

Rethinking The Relationship Between Hard Work, Happiness, and Success

You might have heard of another buzzword: Hustle Culture. A term indirectly made popular by Gary Vee in his book Crushing It, the Hustle Culture refers to an overarching belief that the more you do, the more valuable you are. But this belief, while widespread and commonly assumed to be the norm and the way life is, has resulted in, I believe, something that an article by Malesic on The Guardian termed as the “burnout epidemic.”

The statistics are overwhelming. A Deloitte study showed that 77 % of employees have experienced burnout at their job. In contrast, a recent Gallup survey on Employee Engagement in the U.S showed that employees have been the most disengaged and unhappy. Engagement continued to dip, down to 32% in 2022, from 36% in 2020, while 17% are actively disengaged. 

Malesic sheds light on why people behave in a way that’s highly irrational when it comes to working – why many of us are driven by an unexplainable, internal compulsion that leads to burnout more than anything else. The compulsion to me has shaped our unexplainable madness to not only deliver but to over-deliver for a prolonged period, leading to the hustle culture, where we wear stress and exhaustion, and poor health, like badges of honor.

According to the author, burnout happens so often in our era “because the gap between our shared ideals about work and the reality of our jobs is greater now than it was in the past.” 

When the pandemic disrupted lives on a global scale, there were two vital lessons I believe many people discovered.

  1. Work is just one of the many important aspects of one’s life.
  2. Hard work does not necessarily lead to a good life  – one that’s filled with material comfort (riches), social dignity (status), moral character, and spiritual purpose (purpose). In contrast, work, for some, erodes good life. 

The global pandemic has taught people two vital lessons in life.

Once people realized that the path to true happiness and a purposeful life lies in enriching life outside of work, trends such as Great Resignation, Great Reshuffle, and Quiet Quitting began to emerge. 

Quiet quitters are not unengaged employees. They simply have found purpose outside of work or alternative ways to be fulfilled. So as long as they are reasonably competent.

Leaders have the power to reshape the workplace culture. So instead of the hustle culture, create a culture that attracts the right people. To help you do this, consider the following:

  • What is your belief about hard work, happiness, and success? For instance, have you subconsciously encouraged people to be “work saints,” where people need to keep proving their worth?
  • Where does life sit in your organization in relation to work? 
  • What workplace practices that encourage the hustle culture can you begin to shape and change? 

If all we want to do is keep pushing ourselves from one accomplishment to another, then all that awaits is burnout. As Malesic rightly pointed out – under the outdated operating model, our accomplishments matter less than the constant effort toward the next accomplishment. In that model, there can only be a continuous struggle. 

To increase engagement, fulfillment, and purpose, we must reshape the relationships between hard work, happiness, and success.

The younger generations are already redefining the relationship between work happiness and success. Employers and managers need to do the same.

three woman sitting on white chair in front of table
Photo by CoWomen on Pexels.com

Lead the Way to Love+Work

If we take away “proving our worth” to others out of the equation, what will win the hearts of employees, and engage the minds of Quiet Quitters?

New research from Marcus Buckingham has emerged – love for work. The latest data indicates that love for the content of work is the strongest predictor of retention, performance, engagement, and resilience. 

This means employers and leaders must look beyond increasing pay packages – a wage war must not be the only strategy to win talent because someone will always be able to outbid you. Neither is offering full flexible work arrangements, perks in the office, stylish meeting rooms, and belief in the organization’s mission, the only solutions.

Listen to the conversations online. Why are quiet quitters disengaged from work?

melancholic woman watching video on laptop at home
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Common reasons include “horrible bosses”, and “lack of growth”; other times, it’s “work they hate.”

Ultimately, all businesses need to retain talent and build a strong pipeline of leaders to ensure good economic performance and longevity.

So, leaders need to redesign work that people will love enough. In doing so, you will stand out in the employer market. Because the fight for talent (and survival) is real, and only the most attractive workplace will win.

If you are thinking about skipping this part because talented people with the right skills are easy to find, think again.

  • Employers globally are reporting a record number of job vacancies that seem to be increasingly difficult to fill. Since May 2021, U.S. employers have reported more job openings than the total number of unemployed Americans 
  • Gen Zs are job-hopping even more frequently compared to Millennials, so employers need to brace themselves for the constant churn. Gen Z workers will comprise 30% of the workforce by 2030 so if you don’t design jobs that they love, then it’s very difficult to even meet your minimum head count.

Here’s the silver lining. 

Employees actually have a healthy sense of realism and don’t expect themselves to love every part of their jobs. What they are expecting is some percentage of the work that is enjoyable, although what that percentage is is variable. This part requires more engagement and figuring out, and the benefits outweigh the costs because it will

  • Reduce burnout
  • Increase happiness and engagement
  • Increase profitability and efficiency as a result of higher engagement 

A more sustainable and promising approach for all employers and decision-makers today: design jobs that people will love. 

Here are some questions to get you started in designing work that people can love:

  • How aware are employees of their strengths and weaknesses? 
  • Are employees encouraged and coached to exercise wise choices in the content of work that helps them glow and grow? 
  • What support and mentoring or coaching is available for employees to amplify their strengths and minimize weaknesses? 

That’s a lot of choice and agency we want to offer to employees. Perhaps fundamentally, the greatest leadership challenge of all is the distribution of power and decision-making between organizations and employees, bosses, and teams. 

The trends we are witnessing are not structural challenges but mindset in nature. Only when leaders and decision makers shift their mindsets will there be widespread organizations that nurture employees to be whole, contented, and fulfilled individuals. 

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Take advantage of Chuen Chuen’s extensive experience coaching leaders worldwide and her deep expertise in designing agile leadership corporate training solutions for your teams. No matter which stage of leadership you are at, we can partner with you and meet your business needs. Explore our executive coaching programscorporate training coursesor hire Chuen Chuen as your speaker so that your organization will become agile and adaptive.

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