They say it came from TikTok. If you’ve heard or read the term “quiet quitting” recently, you might have wondered what it means and why everyone seems to be talking about it.

Simply defined, quiet quitting is when employees show up for work but basically stop trying. These workers fulfill the minimum requirements of a position to avoid getting fired, but they don’t do much, if anything, beyond that.

If the problem sounds familiar, it might be because some people used to refer to quiet quitters as “disengaged employees.” Indeed, employers have been looking for ways to boost employee engagement for years. However, a few things have changed recently.

How we got here

First, the rise of the Internet — and particularly social media — have made it easier for workers to communicate and commiserate about the downsides of employment, perceived or real. In some cases, misinformation and hysteria runs rampant, convincing employees that they’re being treated unfairly.
This makes quiet quitting seem justified.

Second, the pandemic happened. Its sudden onset in 2020 rapidly accelerated what was already a growing practice: remote work. Perhaps ironically, connecting to work remotely via technology can sometimes foster disconnection between an employer and employee. Someone working from home, with little regular interaction with a supervisor or fellow team members, may easily slide into disengagement.

Finally, there’s the Great Resignation. The trend of employees voluntarily leaving their jobs continues to negatively impact employers. Although low unemployment is generally considered a positive economic indicator, it’s a huge challenge for organizations looking to stay optimally staffed.

Moreover, the Great Resignation has signaled a shift in the power dynamic of employment — with employees in some industries now having more of an upper hand. This has driven many workers to literally quit. But, for others, it’s meant quietly quitting, confident in the knowledge that finding another job won’t be too difficult if they’re terminated.

3 steps to address the issue

So, what can employers do to manage this challenge? Here are three steps to consider:

  1. Assess the situation. Just how severely quiet quitting is inhibiting an organization can vary widely. While you shouldn’t ignore it, you also shouldn’t assume it’s a major problem without gathering data. Conducting employee surveys, holding honest discussions with supervisors and adhering to a comprehensive performance management process can all help you do so.
  2. Invest in leadership development. For all but the smallest organizations, pinpointing and addressing every quiet quitter is likely an exercise in inefficiency. Your best tactic is to train and upskill supervisors and other leaders so they can spot potentially disengaged employees and bring them back into the fold.
  3. Address the specific needs of each team and position. The purpose of a workplace team and the job description of each position tend to dictate the level of “care and feeding” that an employee needs. Forcing some employees into too frequent meetings or team-building exercises may only exacerbate the situation. However, others might need more interaction and attention, whether they realize it or not.

New term, real problem

According to Gallup’s “State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report,” at least 50% of U.S. workers can be defined as quiet quitters — and that could be an underestimate. Keep a close eye on employee engagement at your organization and take reasonable steps to strengthen it.