We've heard about the Great Resignation and the Great Renegotiation, work/life balance and presenteeism. Now there is a new trend among unhappy professionals: quiet quitting. But it's not a new fad. As we hone our focus on Mental Health Month, we should see quiet quitting as a serious measure of the relationship between companies and the people they rely on.
Quiet Quitting happens when employees do only what is required from them and nothing more. They don't take the initiative, put in extra time, or spend more energy than their work hours require. This attitude might seem shocking to businesses. But it stems from long-held complaints, such as people working unpaid overtime or burning out due to scope creep and poor project management. Quiet Quitting is a passive rebellion based on the view that companies often take more from their employees than they give.
Sandra Crous, MD of PaySpace, believes that quiet quitting reflects a fundamental issue that can mirror the health of a company's culture:
"Quiet Quitting seems to happen in environments lacking certain aspects, such as good incentive schemes, public recognition and giving people a platform to be independent. It also stems from environments that are obsessed with hierarchy, as opposed to flat structures, and when leaders don't do enough to communicate the direction and purpose of the organisation."
A challenge for all organisations
Not every business can change how certain things work, such as hierarchy. But that doesn't prevent us from recognising quiet quitting as a sign that employees feel underappreciated, overwhelmed and out of control. These are aspects every establishment can address, especially since hybrid and remote work has catalysed the need to treat employees as professionals and colleagues, not commodities:
"Now that we are working remotely, there's even more emphasis on me to make sure that my colleagues are treated like adults, trust them, and provide them with the tools that let them exercise their independence. When you take that first step and say, 'I know you can do this,' then they will always do more than what you expect."
Leaders can help build such confidence in their colleagues through two avenues: context and autonomy.
Ensure that people understand what needs to be accomplished and how their roles contribute towards that outcome. Simply telling people what to do and expecting their salary to be sufficient motivation is not enough. It's not been enough for a long time - the advent of remote work, shaking up the employment status quo, lifts the lid on long-simmering workplace gripes. Communicating purpose and direction with colleagues is vital, especially if they don't spend as much time in the office.
"Remote work has given us the space to evaluate what we do against what is important to us," says Crous. "We find meaning in those other activities, whether it's cooking for our families, walking the family dog, or spending time with our friends. We can't expect a salary and employment to naturally match those benefits. I want the person to get excited about the role. But then they have to understand where we are. What are we building? What are we doing? Why is it important?"
Providing more autonomy is also essential to counter quiet quitting. Some managers might resent the idea, especially since it's become harder to gauge productivity in today's decentralised workspaces. But autonomy comes in many forms that help build trust and respect in small steps—for example, giving people self-service access to routine functions such as leave management.
Crous' experience stems from her role as a leader and the vantage of PaySpace's work in the payroll and HR arenas, demonstrating how little things greatly improve attitudes. For example, letting people use Whatsapp to access payslips, leave applications, or salary advancements greatly improve their sense of control and value. Investing in employee-facing systems that offer them more control over their schedules, responsibilities, and benefits goes a long way to reinforcing a positive workplace culture.
Quiet Quitting is a symptom
Work is overrated - it's our sense of purpose that matters. If colleagues know their part in the bigger picture, they gain some purpose. They don't have to love their jobs. They just need to see how their jobs contribute to the business goals. This is why output-based organisations generally fare better than ones that obsess about employee performance.
If you want to counter quiet quitting, it's not about a few isolated interventions but a thread of positive actions. Quiet quitting is a symptom of a workplace culture that needs more context and autonomy. There are no silver bullets.
"A single thing will not create engaged colleagues. It starts at onboarding, how you conduct meetings, how you encourage engagement, and if you foster a culture where people can talk about their problems. It's a change that has to come from the top. You can also conduct internal NPS and wellness surveys. Don't just look for big solutions - small increments can make a massive difference," says Crous.
Above all, leaders must realise the reality that feeds quiet quitting, "A job for the sake of is dead in the water. Business won't be relevant if they think like that. This isn't just about getting more from your colleagues. It's about becoming a place where people want to do their best."