Culture   //   August 25, 2022

Is it wrong for a worker to participate in quiet quitting?

Quiet quitting — the newly-coined term that refers to pushback on hustle culture — continues to make headlines. But many are criticizing the term as misleading.

These critics have a point. After all, it doesn’t involve quitting of any kind, but refers more to a worker’s establishment of firm work-life boundaries and a refusal to bow to workplace pressure to go above and beyond their core job description. That’s why some employers believe the furor that’s erupted around employees that claim they have embraced this mindset has been overblown.

Others are of the mind that anyone who describes themselves as a quiet quitter should resign and find a job they do want to go above and beyond for. Patrick Manzo, CEO at employee experience platform Kazoo + WorkTango, is in this camp. “Why is it important to have engaged and inspired employees? Those people will be more productive, more creative and do better work than people who are doing the minimum necessary to avoid being fired,” he said.

But most experts agree that at the core of quiet quitting is a much-needed discussion around employee engagement. 

Why quiet quitting points to a disengaged employee

“Quiet quitting is an important reminder for everyone to find signal in the noise,” said Paul Rubenstein, chief people officer at people analytics firm Visier. “Sometimes the signal isn’t who’s being loud, but who’s being quiet.”

Rubenstein said the onus is on employers to ensure they’re regularly engaging with employees, whether it’s with performance reviews or career development plans that take into account their personal lives and major life events that affect their productivity.

“Feeling like you want to quiet quit is a moment in time,” added Rubenstein. “When it’s a repeated pattern, there’s something out of balance with your job.”

"Not every worker will be in harmony with their boss and job and that's okay. They shouldn't torture each other with quiet quitting."
Paul Rubenstein, chief people officer at people analytics firm Visier.

That’s the threshold where Rubenstein said it’s unfair for an employee to all-out quiet quit.

“Not every worker will be in harmony with their boss and job and that’s okay,” said Rubenstein. “They shouldn’t torture each other with quiet quitting. If you’re thinking about quiet quitting, double down and decide hey I deserve to be engaged and I want to feel like my work makes an impact and I want my manager to help me on that path, or I’m not doing any favors, let me get out.”

Rubenstein said he believes engagement should be constantly fostered through one-to-one meetings, discussions with someone you trust in the company, having transparency and providing a sense of belonging. Manzo said he agrees.

“We need to make sure that the employee is supplied with the why,” said Manzo. “Why should I care about this job? Why should I care about being creative? Why should I come up with new ideas? Why should I do more than the absolute minimum necessary to avoid being fired?”

Manzo said the answer will vary depending on the company and individual, but the key is making sure an employee sees their job as a professional development opportunity.

Transparency is key

Andrew Filev, CEO of collaborative work management platform Wrike, said it’s important for employers to have transparent conversations with potential employees from the get-go.

“People need to join the company that reflects their culture,” said Filev. “When they join a company that doesn’t reflect their culture, they start to be very, very unhappy there…it’s going to hurt them and their peers. It’s important to do good by the people you work with.”

Filev said that quiet quitting isn’t fair for anyone, and that if someone would prefer a slower pace then it’s better to find a company that doesn’t require an overly fast one. At the same time, it’s important that managers are mindful of life events that affect how engaged an employee is.

“I always believe that transparency, even if it’s hard, benefits everybody,” said Filev. “The right company, the right manager, they talk to them and get a mutual understanding which helps them blend the work with other people and doesn’t let anybody down.”

If it’s not working to the point where the employee feels so disengaged that they want to do the bare minimum, it’s better not to force the partnerships, Filev added.

Quiet quitters might actually be the most reliable workers

However, not all bosses agree that quiet quitting a bad trait. Joe Alim, vp of product operations at employee perk stipend software company Compt, said he doesn’t mind hiring someone who might technically fall into the category of a quiet quitter.

“This has a lot to do with a general lack of transparency with job expectations and growth opportunities during the hiring process and throughout working in the position,” said Alim. 

An early conversation around whether a potential new hire has the opportunity for a promotion if they go above and beyond is beneficial, he added. If that individual learns from the start that there is no room for a promotion within the first year or two, then it might mean they won’t work extra hours.

“Some people are completely content with a steady paycheck and taking care of their sole responsibilities,” said Alim. “They are some of the most reliable people as well. If you’re not doing more than your sole responsibilities, I’m still happy and I consider you’re doing a good job.”

"They are some of the most reliable people as well. If you're not doing more than your sole responsibilities, I'm still happy and I consider you doing a good job."
Joe Alim, vp of product operations at employee perk stipend software company Compt.

Alim said it’s important to look at why a job candidate may not want to put in extra hours. Folks might be burned out from a previous job and looking for a steady income where they only do exactly what’s been outlined for them — and then disconnect after their contracted work hours, guilt-free.

“It has been refreshing,” said Alim. “We are attracting candidates who are scarred and don’t want to enter a company with unrealistic expectations.”

Once such a candidate has onboarded, it’s important for a manager to continue the conversation by asking them how they feel about their position, their compensation and whether they need a vacation. Or ask if there are any important life events happening, how they feel about the transparency of information or the company’s performance, or just generally what’s on their mind.

“Plenty of managers think that not going above and beyond is a negative,” said Alim. “That could put you at risk. Try and be realistic and have these conversations with your manager. If your company culture and manager have that expectation, you have to ask if that’s the right place for you. Make a conscious decision to say yes or no.”