November 22, 2022

Reframing Quiet Quitting to Reengage Employees

People leaders and coaches discuss quiet quitting, why it happened, and how to respond

Quiet quitting has been the topic of the moment — an extended moment — for much of this past year. It’s been discussed by employees recognizing their need to pull back, employers trying to identify responses that reengage people, and analysts working to understand and contextualize what this means for this new world of work.

As we prepare for 2023, our team thought exploring this topic in-depth would be helpful in providing HR and people leaders with actionable and impactful ways to identify unhappiness, support managers, and make employees feel valued. With that in mind, we hosted a virtual event — Quiet Quitting: How to Reengage Your Employees — that brought together Bravely coaches and people leaders from Bonusly and Guru.

From that discussion, we’ve taken the biggest ideas and key takeaways and have included them in this blog post. Here’s what we learned.

What is quiet quitting?

According to Gallup, quiet quitters make up at least 50% of the US workforce. As for when this all started, the same report notes that there’s been a gap in engagement that started in the second half of 2021. But who are these people? What is quiet quitting?

To get the panelists and audience on the same page for the discussion, host and Bravely coach Ericka Spradley shared a definition of quiet quitting.

Quiet quitting is the practice of reducing the amount of effort one devotes to one’s job. It is employees deciding to work within defined hours and not extending themselves above and beyond.

Contextualizing the challenge of quiet quitting

While it’s more observable now than it was previously, the symptoms of quiet quitting have always been there, said coach Arielle Sadan. The reason it’s so pronounced today is because in our remote and hybrid work environments disengagement is easier to notice. It’s very easy to see when people are slow to respond to emails and Slack messages, or when their online status markers show they’ve been away extended periods of time.

“It’s not new, but it’s something that we’re feeling much more acutely, and it definitely helps that it has a trendy name.” — Arielle Sadan, Bravely Coach

Eunice Cho, People Partner & Talent Development Programs Lead at Bonusly, suggested we can trace these shifting needs of the workforce back to basic industrial and organizational psychology by looking at equity theory and motivation theory. “As humans, we all want to get back what we are putting in, and some employees feel that this isn’t happening. Some even believe that they’re expected to sacrifice their humanity and psychological well-being for the sake of output. They don’t feel valued or seen, holistically, as a person.”

Quiet quitting isn’t the only problem, and it’s not one-sided

There’s a reframing that’s needed to really put what we’ve been seeing over the last year into perspective. Quiet quitting implies employees are taking advantage of employers by doing the bare minimum. In reality, what’s happening is an indicator that employers simply aren’t meeting changing needs, said Matt Faden, People Ops Generalist, Guru. “The question we as people ops leaders need to be asking of our peers and our teams is how can we address the underlying issues that are driving the trend of quiet quitting and instead focus on reengagement or engagement.”

And quiet quitting isn’t the only problem. Looking at that issue alone puts the onus and burden on the individual when, in reality, there are a number of other system issues at play. Eunice noted that if we’re going to talk about quiet quitting, then we also have to talk about quiet firing and quiet promoting. They’re corollaries. Not receiving feedback or praise, having one-on-one’s regularly rescheduled or cancelled, and having no clear pathway to work on meaningful projects are all ways of employing quiet firing. As for quiet promoting, this looks like managers handing more responsibility to employees while pay and title remain unchanged.

The relationship between empolyee, manager, and employer needs to be a partnership — employees need to get back what they’re investing in their team and employer.

Identifying and responding to unhappy and disengaged employees

Disengagement happens for a variety of reasons, many of which managers and companies have the ability to respond to. The challenge with responding to quiet quitting over these past couple of years has been, again, the remote and hybrid work environment. In fully co-located, in-person workplaces we had the ability to see what was happening. Today, it’s much easier for employees not to show up to meetings, turn off cameras, and hide.

Surveys can be a great way of getting a pulse for what’s happening on a team or at a company, company, but they won’t tell us everything. It’s going to take both quantitative and qualitative data, and there’s a need to be even more intentional about communicating.

The important thing to keep in mind when responding to disengagement is how managers are being empowered. Managers have a huge impact on how employees experience a team and company, and if they aren’t empowered to do their job well then they — along with their direct reports — tend to suffer. With the right tools, managers can be successful in supporting the people they’re leading. Often, we think of manager tooling as training, development, and coaching, and those are all great. In addition, access to information about teams crucial. Survey results and interviews are valuable information, and responding to that information quickly is key.

Those are just some of the ways to recognize, respond to, and reverse the trend of quiet quitting. To hear even more of the thoughts and advice shared by our panelists, watch the full event recording.

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