“Business and human endeavors are systems… We tend to focus on snapshots of isolated parts of the system. And wonder why our deepest problems never get solved.”— Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization
“Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.”— Buddha
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”— Steve Jobs
“There are only three measurements that tell you nearly everything you need to know about your organization’s overall performance: employee engagement, customer satisfaction, and cash flow.”— Jack Welch, CEO General Electric
“Accept the fact that we have to treat almost anybody as a volunteer.”— Peter Drucker
“Customers do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of your customers.”— Richard Branson
“In the current volatile and uncertain environment, engaged employees are an essential component not just for success, but perhaps for survival.”— Nigel Paine
“You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.”— Anonymous
“To paraphrase Einstein, insanity is expecting employees to do one thing while rewarding them for doing something else.”— Robert G. Thompson
Quiet quitting: Bona fide trend, or just widespread perennial job dissatisfaction? A Gallup survey on job engagement says the latter. But something different and significant is clearly going on here. Is it related to the Great Resignation? Or maybe evidence of management ineptness in the new world of work? Maybe all of the above, which is much worse.
The answer here is kind of important. If we don’t really know what’s going on, we can’t effectively fix whatever needs fixing – if anything. Or we may well fix the wrong things, or simply create a much bigger mess that needs even more fixing. My guess is the latter here.
You do of course know what quiet quitting is, unlike myself who is for some reason not a TikTok fan or current-trend-follower. From Wikipedia:
“Quiet quitting is an application of work-to-rule, in which employees work within defined work hours and engage in work-related activities solely within those hours. Despite the name, the philosophy of quiet quitting is not connected to quitting a job outright, but rather doing precisely what the job requires. Proponents of quiet quitting also refer to it as acting your wage.”
Wikipedia usually has some very helpful information, unlike the above (e.g., “… acting your wage[!]”). Let’s try another usually-credible source on such matters – Investopedia: “What Is Quiet Quitting—and Is It a Real Trend?”:
- The term ‘quiet quitting’ refers to employees who put no more effort into their jobs than absolutely necessary.
- A 2022 Gallup survey suggested that at least half of the U.S. workforce consists of quiet quitters.
- However, skeptics question those numbers and whether quiet quitting is a new trend or simply a trendy new name for worker dissatisfaction.”
“According to the Los Angeles Times, the first known use of ‘quiet quitting’ was by Bryan Creely, a Nashville-based corporate recruiter turned career coach, who invoked it in a March 4, 2022, video posted to TikTok and YouTube.”
Gallup survey? Maybe we should ask Gallup as well …
Jim Harter writing in Gallup offers a rather astonishing statistic: “Is Quiet Quitting Real?”:
“Quiet quitters” make up at least 50% of the U.S. workforce — probably more, Gallup finds.”
“The trend toward quiet quitting — the idea spreading virally on social media that millions of people are not going above and beyond at work and just meeting their job description — could get worse. This is a problem because most jobs today require some level of extra effort to collaborate with coworkers and meet customer needs.”
“U.S. employee engagement took another step backward during the second quarter of 2022, with the proportion of engaged workers remaining at 32% but the proportion of actively disengaged increasing to 18%. The ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is now 1.8 to 1, the lowest in almost a decade.”
“The drop in engagement began in the second half of 2021 and was concurrent with the rise in job resignations. Managers, among others, experienced the greatest drop.”
“The overall decline was especially related to clarity of expectations, opportunities to learn and grow, feeling cared about, and a connection to the organization’s mission or purpose — signaling a growing disconnect between employees and their employers.”
Here is probably the real story, but well-disguised
Derek Thompson tells it like it is in The Atlantic: “Quiet Quitting Is a Fake Trend”:
“The hottest labor narrative right now is that everybody’s ‘quiet quitting.’ Starting this summer, popular videos on TikTok with millions of views have used the term to refer to the art of having a job without letting it take over your life. The alliteration crawled out of that social-media petri dish into the mainstream-media landscape. Since August, The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg have published more than a dozen articles and podcasts about the phenomenon. In the past month, I’ve received countless PR pitches on quiet quitting, many of them referring to the same Gallup study alleging that quiet quitters make up ‘more than half’ of the U.S. workforce. Quiet quitters are allegedly an ‘epidemic’ that is allegedly changing the workplace and, allegedly, making bosses very mad.”
“But realistically, the term is more likely to validate managers who think that their employees are slackers than to help ordinary workers reclaim their soul. The sheer number of quiet-quitting articles from the perspective of bosses in The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg strongly suggests that the term is current among managers too. It offers a convenient explanation for ostensibly lazy workers. Complex questions such as ‘Am I running my team effectively?’ and ‘Is hybrid work actually working out for us?’ can be reduced to the confident diagnosis that young people just don’t want to work.”
Having the social phenomenon TikTok centrally involved doesn’t do a whole lot for credibility, yes?
No matter. Assuming that whatever Gallup measures as “engaged” vs. “disengaged” reflects to at least a rough degree the state of quiet quitters’ minds, the Gallup engagement trend chart above tells a pretty clear and quite different story:
- Roughly 30% of the workforce is “engaged”
- Roughly 20% of the workforce is “actively disengaged”
- The remaining 50% of the workforce is …? Partly engaged? Partly disengaged? Could care less about whatever-engagement-means? Or possibly, just possibly, these majority folks are simply normal people who generally try to do their best under a wide range of circumstances?
The Gallup survey chart helpfully omits the majority of workers, who are probably behaving like normal folks, and are therefore not very interesting?
So, quiet quitting is mostly about normal folks behaving normally
Who would have guessed? About 20% of the U.S. workforce (i.e., 20% of 165 million) seem to be much disturbed about their current employment. I’m surprised that it is so low.
Also a bit troubling is the survey’s 30% who are “engaged”. I’m surprised that this estimate is so high.
As someone who has been doing analysis and statistics for way too long to admit, I’d rate this survey somewhere between hogwash and alarmism. Useless unless you do TikTok, it appears.
But, like so much today, there is a real and important message hiding beneath the surface of all this fanfare.
Our world of work is changing hugely and unpredictably
You may already have noticed this major happening. COVID really put the pedal to the metal here, but the underlying drivers have been pushing hard for many years. Technology in particular. Workplace frustrations simply exploded during COVID times. Evidence of solid sanity out there, I think.
I really don’t know any people who are not sensibly “engaged” in their work. This “engagement” varies in nature and degree of course, but those “actively disengaged” (Gallup’s term) nearly always are in the process of actively changing jobs. Their new jobs will mostly be tackled with encouraging enthusiasm and effort, ending their participation among the actively-disengaged.
My take: significant “disengagement” has been with workforces forever, and probably much longer. People change, jobs change, job satisfaction varies. How amazingly new and revolutionary!
The real situation in work and workplace today has been addressed several times in posts here. See, for example, the one on work-life balance and another on the Great Resignation.
Today, however, we have work, workplace, and workers all undergoing major transitions. Transitions to exactly what is still unclear, at least to me, but these changes are epochal. It will quite a while before the dust settles on all of this.
In addition, I don’t believe that “quiet-quitting” actually exists except as a common phase of never-ending job changes. Sorry about that, TikTokkers.
Work, workplace, and worker dissatisfaction is real, and big
Somewhere in between Gallup’s 30% “engaged” (rah-rah folks?) workers and its 20% “actively disengaged” (and actively job-hunting), there is the mere 50% that is neither engaged nor actively-disengaged. According to Gallup, anyhow.
But this mere 50% of the workforce is not at all happy, from what I read and intuit. They are sufficiently engaged in their present work to avoid getting fired and hopefully to get a crack at something better within their current workplace. Just like normal folks, they mostly try their normal best at whatever their job situation requires and presents. Normal folks like them are not stupid.
Crud-disturbers who are presently making a big deal about alleged quiet-quitters are not just further muddying the already murky water but potentially causing some serious harm. Folks who buy into their machinations will find these to be often quite self-destructive.
Most normal people who I have met find some good things about nearly any kind of what I’d think of as a miserable work or workplace situation. They look on such situations as challenges, or transient, or even mostly fixable. They are at heart optimists. Normal folks.
Few of us can go into work each day without some degree of motivation and hope. This is just who we are.
Those who think they can get away with “quiet-quitting” for any extended period are just fooling themselves out of a job – and going into a really tough job market today. Most managers will see this sort of behavior and do what they can to correct it, before beginning the process of quiet replacement.
A far better approach is to become active in work and workplace fixing
Today, work-life balance can be addressed so much more readily than probably at any time in history. Amazing advances in technology are facilitating this major transition in many different ways.
For those who simply need a new work situation, there is a huge trend underway to freelancing and self-employment. A past post looked at this trend. See also here and here.
The current economic downturn – recession, or more likely now, depression – is going to give many workers an involuntary experience of job and work transitioning. Noisy quitting. Hopefully, most will use this experience as a way to address their main concerns about their current employment.
Robin Madell writing in US News suggests that this trend is mostly one affecting the younger workers: “Can Quiet Quitting Hurt Your Career?”:
“Paul Lewis, chief customer officer at Adzuna, a global job search engine, notes that the trend has its roots within the younger workforce, with the #QuietQuitting hashtag racking up millions of views on social platforms, particularly TikTok.
“’There’s much evidence to suggest that younger, less established workers were some of the hardest hit by the pandemic, suffering from layoffs, pay cuts, and social isolation,’ Lewis explains. ‘With this in mind, it’s unsurprising that this demographic is now the most concerned with maintaining a healthy work/life balance, feeling respected and secure at work, prioritizing their mental health and wellbeing, and having enough time outside of work to pursue their passions.’”
Roger A. Reid writing in Medium.com gets right to the point: “Quiet Quitting is the Newest Trend in Pushing Back Against Demanding Bosses, Irrational Deadlines, and Less Pay For More Work. It’s also the fastest way to commit career suicide.”:
“Quiet quitting may have been coined to describe a rebellious spirit, but in reality, it’s the badge of a coward.”
“Quiet quitting leaves a trail of excuses and disappointing job reviews. Because it’s obvious — you quit your job a long time ago. You just haven’t left yet. And from the company’s standpoint, you’re beginning to smell. Seriously, can you blame them?”
“Reducing your commitment to your job is not about burnout, a lack of challenge, or the size of the paycheck. It’s about correctly matching your interests and talents to a career that gets you excited and that motivates you to put in a few extra hours a week because you enjoy the work.”
Measuring worker “engagement”? Why?
You will not be surprised to hear that there are at least a gazillion employee surveys that claim to quantify “engagement.” After all, if you can’t measure it, you can’t fix it. At least, so say the survey sellers.
From my quick look at a few of these, my impression is that they are at best useless, and at worst destructive. They are mostly an invitation for response-fakery. Why? Because the questions asked or statements presented have “correct” responses obvious to anyone who is a typically conscientious worker.
Engagement, assuming that this nebulous term has any real meaning in practice, is something far more complex than can be adequately defined by a few statements like “I feel a strong sense of belonging to my organization.” “Belonging to my organization”?
Most normal people do not “belong” to an organization in any respect. They are there to do their job as well as they can. If they feel that they are not being paid enough, then they either work with their boss to get a raise or to change the work required, or they start looking for another job.
Only engagement experts may actually belong to their organizations. Us normals do our jobs well enough in a wide range of respects to earn our paychecks and even earn promotions. We may regard the organization as mostly a piece of crap, but out of self-respect we do a largely commendable job. That’s just who we normals are.
I have worked for a number of organizations that I regarded as “okay”, “marginally acceptable”, or worse, but I and most of my coworkers did generally good or better work despite the organization. Were we “engaged”? Did we “belong” to the organization? A very strong “no way”.
Some of my bosses were great people and I willingly gave them my best effort. The company, if I thought about it at all, was irrelevant. At best.
Quiet quitting, despite its current TikTok trendiness, seems much more like widespread but perennial job dissatisfaction. While this perception has been with us since jobs were invented, its degree and extent vary with the times. Today, we have (or did have) a strong jobs market, plus technology-enabled alternatives of great variety and attractiveness. We also have a much greater value placed on our work-life balance, in which we do the best we can for our jobs but not at the expense of our lives. Quiet quitting will likely fade away shortly as the job market tightens and layoffs get serious.
- Jonathan Small in Entrepreneur targets Gen Zers and Millennials: “People Are Starting to Get Really Annoyed by ‘Quiet Quitting’”
“What started off as a form of quiet rebellion has now become a insufferable nuisance, a new survey finds. Burned-out Gen Zers and Millennials across the country stopped over-extending themselves at work to take more time for mental health. The Tik Tok trend then morphed into a series of offshoots, including quiet firing, quiet hiring, and fast quitting.
“But now, some in the workforce are starting to say enough is enough. They wish the quiet quitters would just quit already.”
“A new survey by LLC.org looked at the most annoying coworker habits and found, you guessed it, that quiet quitting was among the most irritating.”
“More than six-in-ten (62%) find the trend incredibly annoying, with more than half (57%) saying they’ve recently noticed a colleague who has ‘quiet quit.’ Of those, 57% say they’ve had to take on more work because their colleague decided to do less. LLC.org surveyed 1,005 full-time employees across the U.S. Fifty percent of respondents were male, and 50% were female, with an average age of 38.”
“And boy, were they testy. A majority of workers (83%) say they work with someone who gets under their skin. According to respondents, 22% say it happens daily, while nearly half (47%) say it happens a few times per week.”
“Gen Z is the most annoying generation, according to the survey, with 59% of respondents saying Z is the least productive.”
“In-person coworkers are more annoying than remote coworkers, and mid-level coworkers are the worst of all the tiers (33%). Other coworker annoyances include: complaining, laziness, arrogance, and interrupting.”
- Anthony C. Klotz and Mark C. Bolino offer a Harvard Business Review opinion on this topic: “When Quiet Quitting Is Worse Than the Real Thing”:
“While much has been written about the Great Resignation, a new term has emerged to describe an increasingly common alternative to resigning: ‘quiet quitting.’ Driven by many of the same underlying factors as actual resignations, quiet quitting refers to opting out of tasks beyond one’s assigned duties and/or becoming less psychologically invested in work. Quiet quitters continue to fulfill their primary responsibilities, but they’re less willing to engage in activities known as citizenship behaviors: no more staying late, showing up early, or attending non-mandatory meetings.”
“At first glance, this may not seem problematic. After all, these employees aren’t disengaging from their core tasks — they’re just refusing to go beyond them. But for many companies, a workforce that is willing to go beyond the call of duty is a critical competitive advantage. The reality is that most jobs can’t be fully defined in a formal job description or contract, so organizations rely on employees to step up to meet extra demands as needed. As such, it’s hardly surprising that many leaders have reacted quite negatively to the quiet quitting trend. Indeed, many leaders we’ve spoken with have argued that losing employees who want to leave is difficult, but having them not quit is even worse, as their unwillingness to go the extra mile often increases the burden on their colleagues to take on extra work instead.”
“Furthermore, while going above and beyond can come at a cost for employees, in a healthy organization, these costs are typically counterbalanced by benefits such as increased social capital, wellbeing, and career success. The quiet quitting trend suggests that employees are increasingly feeling that this exchange has become unbalanced: Employers are demanding additional effort from workers without investing in them enough in return. And critically, as the economic outlook worsens and outright quitting becomes less feasible for many people, this quiet alternative is likely to become increasingly common.”
- Victoria Masterson has this article on the World Economic Forum (WEF) of all places: “What is quiet quitting?”:
“Is quiet quitting just a social media trend? The hashtag #QuietQuitting has now racked up more than 17 million views on TikTok. Press articles worldwide have used the term and the noise has spread to Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media sites.”
“Adult Gen Zers are big influencers on social media and about 60% say they post content they hope will change the world, according to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer. Those aged 18-26 are the most worried about security, health, finances, social connections and keeping up with change, the Edelman survey of 36,000 people found.”
“But workforce studies on the changing world of work support the rise of quiet quitting – and suggest it’s more than just a social media hashtag.”
“Is COVID-19 behind quiet quitting, then? COVID-19 has changed the world of work – and how seriously we take it. Twenty-something Gen Z workers, in particular, may have joined the world of work during the pandemic “with all of its dislocating effects” – especially remote working – notes The Wall Street Journal in an article on quiet quitting.”