Quiet quitting: what should HR managers do about this phenomenon?

“Quiet Quitting” is reshaping the post-pandemic workforce. Instead of leaving, employees are putting work-life balance over hustle culture. Harmful or healthy?

Abbi Melville • 
Quiet quitting: what should HR managers do about this phenomenon?
  • “Quiet Quitting” is a post-pandemic trend where employees prioritise work-life balance.
  • Led by Gen Z, it’s a holistic response to burnout, rejecting “hustle culture.”
  • Businesses reliant on unpaid overtime may face challenges; embracing flexible roles and AI can help.

Quiet quitting is an apparent new form of employee disengagement which has emerged post-pandemic. Rather than raise their concerns with their HR manager or line manager, or actually quit, the quiet quitter chooses to remain in post. But from then on, the quiet quitter does not go above or beyond the call of duty, and just meets the minimum requirements of their job description.

Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace study suggests that around 50% of the workforce may be quiet quitters. However, we need not be too alarmed by this figure as the quiet quitting movement doesn’t seem to be centred around employee disengagement, as the term suggests.

The term, quiet quitting was casually introduced to the world by a gen-Xer on a TV talk show, according to this World Economic Forum article. However, it was a gen Z influencer, coder and musician, Zaid Khan, who, a few months later published his 17 second quiet quitting origin video which immediately went viral on TikTok. In the video Zaid described quiet quitting as, “You’re still performing your duties but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life.” Rather than disengagement, gen Z is defining a new form of engagement.

This post-modern quiet quitting attitude is a new, more holistic type of engagement. It’s about doing what is needed at work, investing more in your life – and having a great work life-balance.  It’s arguably a reasonable, and not necessarily jaded point of view.

Quiet quitting is motivated by a desire for work life balance not disengagement

According to an organisational expert speaking to GQ, quiet quitting is a holistic response to post-covid burnout which has especially blighted generation Z.

“Our ‘work’ and our ‘life’ aren’t easily disentangled,” explains Dr Maria Kordowicz, an associate professor in organisational behaviour at the University of Nottingham. “The quality of one directly impacts our experience of the other. Quiet quitting is about a conscious effort to uphold our wellbeing in the way we work, rather than risk burnout through working long hours or defining ourselves simply through our work.”

What can or should be done about quiet quitting?

It’s not clear what or even if a remedy should be applied to the quiet quitter. This is because when we look at the findings of this June 2023 London School of Economics (LSE) study,  quiet quitting seems to manifest itself as simply a reduction of working hours and a greater move toward work-life balance. The LSE researchers aren’t suggesting that quiet quitting is accompanied by a disaffected attitude. Disengagement is something else and should be addressed by other appropriate means.

Statistics show that the UK workforce worked 28 hours less per year post-pandemic with this being most pronounced in younger workers with gen Z and millennials working up to 56 hours less per year post-covid. Baby boomers were working the same while Gen X showed only a modest decline.

Is quiet quitting harmful to a business?

Since there is little evidence that quiet quitting comes with disaffection and a reduction in effort, it may not be harmful to a typical business.  

However, companies with long hours cultures, (and who rely heavily on unpaid overtime), may have greater resourcing challenges as quiet quitters tend to reduce/limit working hours. (The LSE reported that unpaid overtime has been a key contributor to business productivity since the 2008 financial crisis.)

How can organisations deal with quiet quitting?

Quiet quitting is largely confined to the so called ‘laptop class’, (younger, degree educated workers), who can remote work and have unrivalled choice and flexibility in how they work.

Boomers and gen X are generally not quiet quitting and employers could make greater efforts to reach out to this generation to offset any shortfalls in output stemming from quiet quitting. In addition to this, employers could begin to invest in HR software tools that enable them to effectively engage with the gig economy to build an agile organisation that can upscale quickly as needed. This would involve HR mangers working with people managers to redesign jobs to create more flexible, part-time, and freelance roles within their teams to effectively engage the gig economy.

Also, the fact that the LSE reported that the UK is heavily dependent on overtime suggests that there is a massive opportunity to improve efficiency to maintain necessary volumes of output. AI tools are now exploding onto the scene and are now able to make the typical worker more efficient and employers should encourage workers to utilise such tools effectively by developing a proactive AI usage policy.

So, is your organisation seeing any evidence of quiet quitting? If so, we’d love to hear how you are adapting to it?