Why Employees Are Quiet Quitting — and What You Can Do About It

Collage mit einer jungen Geschäftsfrau

In this post, we cover everything you need to know about quiet quitting. We explain what quiet quitting is, the reasons people are quiet quitting, and what you can do about it. 

Quiet quitting is the latest buzzword to sweep the world of work, and it’s costing businesses an estimated $1.5 trillion per year worldwide. 

On the surface, quiet quitting might seem like a positive movement which rejects burnout culture and promotes a healthier work-life balance. But in reality, it’s often a symptom of bigger issues within your company. As such, employers must be able to recognize quiet quitting and address the root cause. 

In this guide, we’ll help you do just that. We explain:

  • What is quiet quitting?
  • Why are people quiet quitting?
  • What’s the problem with quiet quitting?
  • How can you tell if your employees are quiet quitting?
  • What can you do about it?
  • Quiet quitting: the takeaway

So what exactly is quiet quitting? Let’s begin with a definition in the next section.

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What is quiet quitting?

Quiet quitting describes the growing number of employees who are adopting a ‘bare minimum’ approach to work. It’s the opposite of hustle culture — a mentality which prioritizes work and promotes the idea of going above and beyond to succeed.

While the Great Resignation saw record numbers of people leaving their jobs, quiet quitting refers to those who are staying put in their roles but doing so with minimal engagement. Quiet quitters aren’t striving to exceed expectations or take on extra projects beyond the scope of their role. They’re fulfilling the basic requirements of their job description and nothing more. 

Quiet quitting is an expression of employee disengagement — and it’s more widespread than you might think. According to a study by Gallup, at least half of the U.S. workforce is quiet quitting. But if you consider the additional finding that only 15% of employees report being actively engaged at work, the number of quiet quitters could be even greater. 

Why are people quiet quitting?

There are multiple factors driving people to quiet quit. These include:

  • The general downfall of hustle culture
  • A widespread shifting of values and priorities
  • Burnout
  • The mismatch between salary increases and inflation
  • General job dissatisfaction

The general downfall of hustle culture

The Covid-19 pandemic had a major impact on how and where we work, but also how we feel about work. During the pandemic, people questioned their priorities and how they spend their time — and for many, it was a moment to reevaluate their work-life balance.

In some cases, quiet quitting may be a form of pushback against the oft-glorified hustle culture of waking up early, commuting, regularly working overtime, and striving for maximum productivity.

A widespread shifting of values

In addition to a more even work-life balance, employees are increasingly drawn towards work they consider to be meaningful. This is especially true of millennial and Gen Z employees, 77% of whom are more likely to apply for jobs that align with their values and prioritize kindness, mental health, and work-life balance. 

Ultimately, if employees feel disconnected from the company’s mission, they start to disengage and are no longer motivated to go above and beyond. Enter quiet quitting. 

Quiet quitting as a result of burnout

70% of employees experienced burnout in 2022, which typically leads to lower engagement and morale, and an increased likelihood of leaving the company. Employees may be quiet quitting in an attempt to set boundaries and ease their own burnout while still getting a steady paycheck.

The mismatch between salary increases and inflation

Generally speaking, current wages aren’t keeping up with inflation — leading people to question whether it’s really worth going above and beyond at work. In July 2022, the rate of inflation reached 8-9%, while the average pay increase was just 3.4%. 

Understandably so, employees are assessing the amount of time and effort they invest in their jobs and whether it’s reaping fair rewards. This effort-reward gap can be a source of demotivation, prompting people to scale back on the work they’re putting in. 

General job dissatisfaction

Quiet quitting may be the result of general job dissatisfaction caused by all the usual culprits: unclear job expectations, a lack of opportunities to learn and progress, and a lack of appreciation and recognition. 

What’s the problem with quiet quitting?

If quiet quitting is an antidote to hustle culture — otherwise known as burnout culture — then is there really anything wrong with it? 

Many would argue that quiet quitting is, quite simply, an application of the ‘work-to-rule’ tactic traditionally used by employees to protest against low pay and poor working conditions. When working to rule, employees do no more than the minimum required by the rules of their contract, leading to a slowdown in productivity. 

If that’s what quiet quitting is all about — protesting against unfair working conditions — then surely it should be seen as a good thing. Does the trend itself not indicate a healthier approach to work — one that normalizes work-life balance, prioritizes employee well-being, empowers people to set boundaries, and creates a culture where employee output matches employer recognition and reward?

The problem with quiet quitting is not that employees are refusing to go above and beyond, and it’s certainly not a bad thing that healthy boundaries and work-life balance are taking higher priority. The real problem with quiet quitting is that it’s often a symptom of a much bigger, more fundamental issue within your company.

Quiet quitting doesn’t merely boil down to laziness or lack of ambition. It’s a sign of disengagement, indicating that your employees may be unfulfilled at work, disconnected from the company mission, unhappy with their working conditions, burned out — or all of these things at once. And none of those make for a positive workplace culture. 

If left unaddressed, quiet quitting can lead to:

  • A lack of teamwork and collaboration, which may lead to inter-team conflict
  • Low morale — not just for the employee who is quiet quitting, but for their colleagues as well
  • Uneven workloads where others may be required to pick up the slack
  • Significant financial loss — it’s estimated that quiet quitting costs U.S. businesses up to $500 billion each year

As an employer, you shouldn’t be asking “How can I get my employees to do more?” Instead, you should be asking “What’s causing my employees to quiet quit in the first place, and how can I fix the issue at its roots?” 

What workplace conditions might they be protesting against? What’s causing them to disengage? Where are company expectations and employee expectations misaligned?

The goal is not to get employees to do more work than necessary or to relax their boundaries. It’s to address the root cause of their quiet quitting — to help them re-engage with and find meaning in their work, to ensure expectations are aligned, and to generally create a better employee experience. 

With that in mind, let’s explore some of the tell-tale signs of quiet quitting. 

How can you tell if your employees are quiet quitting? Signs to look out for

It can be difficult to recognize if an employee is quiet quitting, especially in remote and hybrid working environments. Some tell-tale signs to look out for include:

  • Regularly declining or missing meetings
  • Frequently starting late or leaving early (beyond the scope of your flexible working policies)
  • A noticeable or sudden drop in productivity for no obvious or known reason
  • A general lack of enthusiasm (this may be noticeable in conversation or in meetings)
  • Less engagement in, and contribution to, team projects
  • Withdrawing from colleagues
  • Unwillingness to share feedback, not having an opinion, or a lack of interest in making improvements to team processes

None of these signs alone should be taken as definitive proof of quiet quitting. But if these behaviors seem to be the default mode for your employee(s), it’s worth exploring the reasons behind them. 

Smiling employee is shaking hands with her team leader.

What can employers do about quiet quitting?

If you want to avoid the fallout of quiet quitting, it’s important to tackle the root causes. Here are five measures you can take to address quiet quitting and boost employee engagement:

  1. Align expectations and ensure workloads are manageable
  2. Set clear boundaries and encourage a healthy work-life balance
  3. Give recognition
  4. Tackle burnout head-on
  5. Help your employees find meaning in their work

Let’s consider how you can implement these strategies.

1. Align expectations and ensure workloads are manageable

Quiet quitting may be a form of protest against unmanageable workloads and unreasonable expectations. Whether you want to re-engage a quiet quitter or prevent quiet quitting in the future, it’s important to create a culture where realistic workloads are the norm. 

Check in regularly with your employees to discuss their workload and establish, together, what’s reasonable and feasible. If you suspect (or know) that an employee is struggling to manage their tasks, work with them to identify what kind of support they need. 

This builds trust and keeps expectations aligned. It also shows your employees that they can count on you — they don’t need to quiet quit in order to take control.

2. Set clear boundaries and encourage work-life balance

Your employees may be quiet quitting as a way to set boundaries which otherwise aren’t in place. If your current culture makes it difficult to have a healthy work-life balance, quiet quitting may feel like the only way. 

As an employer, it’s important to establish boundaries on your employees’ behalf — and to lead by example. Make it clear that employees are not expected to work or respond to emails outside of business hours, normalize saying no to unreasonable requests, and advocate for flexibility and taking time off. 

If healthy, respectful boundaries are already in place, your employees should feel empowered to maintain a healthy work-life balance without quiet quitting. 

3. Give recognition

79% of employees report that they would stop quiet quitting if they received more recognition. Employee recognition can take many different forms — from a simple “Thank you” for someone’s contribution to a project, to more concrete rewards (monetary or otherwise).

Encourage managers to show their appreciation frequently (not just in performance reviews) and to tie their positive feedback to something specific the employee has done. Recognition can also come from peers — you’ll find twelve best practices for peer-to-peer recognition in this guide.

As you weigh up different recognition strategies, consider how different team members might prefer to be recognized. Many people prefer to receive recognition privately, while others like to be praised publicly. 

4. Tackle burnout head-on

Quiet quitting may be a response to burnout, so any re-engagement strategies should seek to address burnout. Besides keeping workloads manageable and helping employees to achieve a good work-life balance, employers must also be taking measures to protect employee mental health. 

Among the biggest risk factors for employee mental health are stress, long and/or inflexible working hours, poor communication, discrimination and exclusion, and skills being underutilized. 

We’ve outlined five strategies to support mental health in the workplace in this guide. These will help you to address and prevent employee burnout, reducing the likelihood of quiet quitting.

📢  Have you heard?
Workations can help to combat burnout. In episode 13 of our podcast, we take a closer look at workations and how they make employees feel empowered and inspired. Listen here:

5. Help your employees find meaning in their work

Earlier in this post, we mentioned how today’s employees increasingly value work which they deem to be meaningful — as well as companies which align with their own personal values. This is especially true for younger employees, who are also more likely to quiet quit. One study found that quiet quitting ‘appeals to’ 82% of Gen Z and millennial workers. 

If you want to keep employees engaged, you need to help them find meaning in their work. While it may not be possible to change your company mission, you can find out what matters to your employees and what kinds of projects or opportunities they would value. 

Whether it’s introducing more variety, providing opportunities to lead or take part in social initiatives, or setting more meaningful goals and professional development pathways — if you can help your employees to (re)connect with their work, they’ll naturally be more engaged. 

Quiet quitting: the takeaway

Quiet quitting isn’t just a case of setting healthy boundaries and maintaining a work-life balance. It’s a sign that your employees feel disengaged, dissatisfied, or unhappy in some way. As an employer, it’s important to recognize quiet quitting and address the root causes — before they lead to major company-wide issues. Use the strategies outlined in this guide to improve the employee experience, boost engagement, and ultimately create a culture where quiet quitting doesn’t feel like a necessary measure. 

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Discover specific ways to increase employee happiness in the workplace in our free booklet “The Keys to Employee Satisfaction.” 

Anika Wegner

Anika Wegner

SEO Content & Blog Manager — Exploring other cultures through language is particularly important to her. That's why she loves writing for Babbel about topics, how companies can benefit from language-learning solutions.