The Quiet Quitting Movement

A trend that has been gaining momentum, what role can HR play?

Quiet quitting is far beyond the latest workplace trend. This movement, one which isn’t entirely new, but has been piquing in popularity throughout the summer thanks to social media. Has organisations concerned about what the implications of employees quietly quitting will mean for their future stability and growth. 

If you’re yet to happen across the term, ‘quiet quitting’, then it’s safe to say that you’re late to the party, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Your management and HR leadership within your organisation could be well versed in people engagement to the extent that talent retention and employee well being is high on your strategic agenda. 

Quiet quitting is about bad bosses, not bad employees

What quiet quitting is, does not involve your employees resigning from their roles and the organisation in the traditional sense. Instead, the notion of quiet quitting is one where employees refrain from doing anything more or less than the description of what their job involves. 

Quiet quitting is not a resignation, but instead a gentle rebellion. 

Prior to quiet quitting

Many would argue that for too long and most certainly prior to the pandemic, organisations held the belief that the role profile for employees was the minimum expectation. Beyond the hours of work stipulated, duties and responsibilities outlined it became almost standardised practice that employees were expected to give much more to the organisation than what had been defined in writing. 

These unwritten expectations were baked into the culture of many teams, from entry level to management and senior executive. If you wanted to progress, keep pace with your workplace peers, do well in your appraisals, receive bonuses, pay increases or promotions, then the minimum would not be acceptable.

Beyond this, early starts, late finishes, taking fewer days annual leave or paid time off, working through sickness absences and bouncing back to work before stacked up to become much more than presenteeism. It became the expectation.

For every prospective employee, an interview process would shelter half truths about what working for an organisation would really involve. Along with it, employees would restrict the transparency about the parts of their lives that mattered most to them. This would include their hobbies, their families, their passions and most worryingly for some, their health challenges.

Organisations held the upper hand on what was acceptable behaviour, this, in turn translated to employees feeling like they had no choice but to fall in line with a workplace culture that expected so much, but would often fail to reciprocate beyond a minimal annual salary increase and some time bonus.

The movement

Although Quiet Quitting could be inferred as someone resigning from their position outright, it describes the act of employees seeking to take their power back against the hustle culture of going above and beyond what a job requires.

Quiet Quitting has followed what could be described as one of the largest collective burnout periods in modern history. The strain of the global pandemic, shifts to remote working and the latest shift to become hybrid working, has resulted in the expected malaise that can be felt from there being little distinction between work and homelife. 

The result of months of blurring of lines between work and home, employees feeling overwhelmed and under supported has led to, for many, a decision to step back to a position of nothing more, nothing less than what is required. 

For Human Resources professionals, this movement is a call to action. One that if left unanswered, could add to the detriment of the organisation’s future, at a time when the economic future rests on shaky ground. 

Tools for managing a quiet quitter

The task for Human Resources as this movement evolves, is to identify the root cause of quiet quitting. The discernment to identify whether the issue at hand is with the employees, or whether the catalyst for quiet quitting lies with the leadership and management of the organisation. 

Lacking motivation and burnout can, if left unchecked, lead to a stance of quiet quitting. For Human Resources this is an invitation to evaluate and engage. How noticeable the quiet quitting of the employee is will depend on the individual; their track record in the organisation and their previous level of engagement and performance in their role. 

Chances are that if HR has been called in to support a manager with the challenge of a quiet quitter, then the performance of the employee must be significant enough to have been noticed. 

If the dynamic of the employees team and previous performance is well understood by HR. Then your position as the HR practitioner will support the manager in deciding what next. 

  • Does the employee require additional support?
  • Have they been experiencing burnout?
  • Are they disillusioned with their role?
  • Has anything else contributed to this quiet quitting behaviour, such as not receiving a promotion or expected pay rise?
  • Or is the employee simply exhibiting a clear lack of continued commitment to the role and the organisation’s goals.

It’s vital to recognize however that an employee performing their role duties as defined by their job description, is not technically in breach of contract. Nor, is an employee who chooses to begin their working day or end it, in alignment with their contractual hours, under performing. It’s safe to say that the quiet quitting stance is much more nuanced than classic underperformance.

What is the impact of the quiet quitting behaviour?

How impactful the quiet quitting is, will vary depending on the individual’s position within the organisation. Furthermore, the interventions that follow in response to the fall back in output and productivity will also be determined by the nature of the change witnessed. 

Should the employee who has quietly quit hold a prominent position, perhaps they’re someone who has previously received additional responsibilities and or an individual whose performance in role and commitment to the organisation has been notable. Then the intervention needed is one that will benefit from an invitation to explore what is going on? What has prompted the change and what can the organisation do, to support the individual to not only return to previous performance and levels? But to also support them with the bigger picture challenges they may be experiencing.

Evaluate what previous performance reviews have indicated

Your organisation’s previous performance reviews should give a pretty strong indicator of how significant this change in employee performance has been.

Performance reviews are one important element in the broader set of processes that make up performance management

If the employee has a demonstrated history of underperformance and lacking engagement, then it’s vital that the manager is supported in taking steps that support the individual in making improvements, or, should it be in the best interest of the organisation and the individual, supporting a transition out from the role. The latter of these options must not of course be taken lightly. If the quiet quitting is resulting in underperformance that’s detrimental to the team, department or organisation then it’s crucial that a thorough capability procedure is followed. 

If, following an initial exploration of what the issue is and how the organisation can support improvements to performance. An employee’s performance still has not improved, then the option to investigate more formally, can help to determine the most appropriate next steps. 

The procedure to follow will be either one of Conduct or Capability and it will be essential to determine the validity of pursuing these routes in the case of quiet quitting.

Consider whether the organisation should do better

Ultimately the organisation has a responsibility to ensure there are few, in any quiet quitters. A stance that is agreed with by Vari, CEO of Lensa who stated, ‘Employers have to make an effort to enable people to have a say in their own future, as such I want them to stick around, and I’ll stick out my neck to encourage them to do so’.

How valued does the employee base feel by the organisation? How frequently are the ideas and feedback from the employee base being sought and actively evaluated? 

What has the organisation done as a response to the transformative period of the pandemic? Are Managers trained on how to effectively identify and support employees who may be experiencing stress. Or how to identify those that may be ready for a new challenge? 

Every employee has the right to make a decision: Are they only willing to do the minimum work necessary or do they believe in the organisation and its mission enough to have the desire to do more. 

For every HR professional, it is crucial they have the time and scope available to support the management and people of the organisation to do their best work. Sage HR, provides small to medium sized businesses effortless and effective HR management software that takes care of so many operational and administrative tasks. Freeing up time to dedicate to the people’s side of business. Enjoy a 30 day free trial today. 



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Written By

Jade Taryn Graham

Jade is the founder & CEO of Inspired a people & talent consultancy working with the most innovative early stage companies worldwide. Founder & CCO of Inspired Talent Media Ltd and contributing writer for Sage HR where Jade writes about people, leadership, work/life balance and change.