New Ways to 'Check Out' at Work: Dangers for the Workplace
I have previously blogged about “quiet quitting.” In July 2022, a TikTok user with numerous followers posted that he recently learned about quiet quitting and said: “You’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond. You are still performing your duties, but you are no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work must be our life.”
Attributes of Quiet Quitters
According to a study by Gallup, quiet quitters make up at least 50% of the U.S. workplace. 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. According to Gallup, many quiet quitters fit its definition of being “not engaged” at work -- people who do the minimum required and are psychologically detached from their job. This describes half of the U.S. workforce. Gallup found a decline in engagement and employee satisfaction among remote Gen Z and younger millennials – those below age 35.
According to research by LLC, when quiet quitters decide to do the bare minimum in their roles, they’re often pushing some of their responsibilities off on others, whether they realize it or not. Naturally, that isn’t going to go over well with some of the quiet quitter’s colleagues. In the LLC report, 62% of employees surveyed said they are annoyed by the trend of quiet quitting, with 57% stating that they had to take on extra work because a colleague had quietly quit.
Indicators of Quiet Quitting
According to Beth Braccio, writing for Business Management Daily, possible indicators of quiet quitting include:
- Not bothering to attend optional trainings, meetings, or social events.
- Keeping communication and interaction to a bare minimum.
- Unwillingness to volunteer for extra duties or to take on challenging assignments.
- Arriving and leaving in exact accordance with scheduled work hours.
- Not answering emails, texts, or calls outside of work hours.
- Cynicism or apathy about new procedures or initiatives.
- Following directions and completing work but not generating new ideas or producing beyond basic expectations.
I don’t know how anyone could defend these behaviors, yet many do. To me, it reflects the lack of a strong work ethic in society and self-serving behavior on the part of the quitters. How can a manager depend on a worker who has ‘checked-out?’ Moreover, because these kinds of behaviors mean other employees must pick up the slack, a culture of distrust could arise and create a toxic work environment.
Sometimes employers are their worst enemy. The term “quiet firing” is when an employer tries to get away with providing the bare minimum in terms of pay, benefits, support, and other resources. Employers also pile on extra work and project an attitude that if you don’t like it, you can leave. When an employer engages in quiet firing they disrespect employees, engendering fear that their jobs may be on the line, and they can create a contentious workplace environment that spreads to other workers.
What Motivates Conscious Quitting
Lately, I’ve been reading about “conscious quitting” and how it differs from quiet quitting. The logical assumption is that conscious quitting entails a choice to knowingly step back from one’s work obligations because of a practice, or lack thereof, of one’s employer. However, there is a lot more to it than that.
“Conscious quitting” is a new workplace buzzword that describes employees leaving their current workplace for companies that better align with their environmental and social values. Not to be confused with quiet quitting, conscious quitting often involves actual quitting and stems from fundamental ethical and moral concerns, rather than general grievances like job dissatisfaction and limited growth opportunities.
Issues like corporate responsibility, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and global warming have consistently ranked as high priorities among Gen Z and Millennials. However, while these concerns are nothing new, recent data suggests that conscious quitting may be more widespread than previously thought.
A KPMG survey of 6,000 UK employees has revealed that 20% of office workers would turn down a job if environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors were lacking, while 82% see ‘shared values’ as a key consideration while finding new work.
These beliefs aren’t hypothetical. The research also found that one in five workers have turned down opportunities that don’t align with their values, with this portion rising to one in three for Gen Z employees ages 18 to 24.
In a survey of 4000 U.S. and UK workers released by Polman, it was found that three in four employees wanted to work for a company that has a positive impact on the world, compared to only two in the UK-focused survey. A stunning 45% of workers would consider quitting their position if their company didn’t deliver a positive impact, with even higher numbers being recorded for members of the Millennial and Gen Z workforce.
Some reasons that lead people to ‘conscious quitting’ are:
- An excess workload
- Poor compensation
- Blurred boundaries
- Lack of manager support
- Unclear or shifting expectations, and
- Poor communication or conflict resolution skills.
An article by Teambuilding.com also provides some signs that someone could be thinking about “conscious quitting.”
- Decrease in productivity
- Sudden change in pushback
- Stops volunteering or taking initiative
- Avoidance and distance
- Lack of teamwork.
What Is Loud Quitting?
Another descriptive term making the rounds is “loud quitting.” Loud quitting is not a Gen-Z or millennial trend as some might think. Instead, it is cross-generational. It is also not just about prioritizing boundaries over a hustling culture, but rather about how employees are expressing their discontent for their jobs publicly. Loud quitting involves actively disengaged employees taking “actions that directly harm the organization, undercutting its goals and opposing its leaders. In other words, loud quitters used to be quiet quitters, but instead of remaining quietly disengaged, they are now taking steps to actively influence workplace disengagement.
Inflammatory digital communications that permeate the workplace are a favorite tool among loud quitters. These communications can destroy relationships, cause morale issues, risk waves of resignations of skilled talent overnight, increase the workload of remaining workers, disrupt the company’s operations, and result in lost revenue due to diminished productivity.
Takeaways for Employers
Alan Persaud and Rocio Blanco Garcia provide excellent advice for employers to deal with the problem. Riding on the coattails of quiet quitting, loud quitting is here to stay – at least for now – and this is how employers can combat it:
- Identify Quiet Quitters. Before quiet quitters transition into loud quitters, employers should identify less-productive employees and engage with them. Employers should assess why an employee may have become less productive and should listen to the employee’s concerns, recommend solutions to address concerns, and empower the employee with tools to be more productive.
- Educate and Mentor. Workplace trainings are an important tool to keep employees and management informed of expectations and foster an inclusive environment where employees feel heard and respected. A mentorship program can offer employees the opportunity to be matched with a more senior employee who can become the ear they often need to communicate their frustrations and who can offer solutions, thus minimizing the risk employees will resort to TikTok or Instagram to air their grievances.
- Review Handbooks and Policies. Employers should review their employee handbooks to ensure the policies concerning professionalism and communication are up to date, apply equally to employees working remotely and in-person, and are enforced. An open-door policy can encourage employees to come forward with concerns and foster a culture where employee input is valued.
- Find the Right Fit. Employees involved in recruitment and advancement should carefully match candidates to the roles for which they are hiring. The focus should not be exclusively on the skills presented on paper. Soft skills should also be considered.
- Document. Employers should document all instances of loud quitting to identify trends. Is there a common cause to which employees are citing as the reason for their resignation? If so, employers should be addressing the root cause and taking steps to correct any issues. Employers should also conduct exit interviews to gather data that can help improve the workplace.
- Seek Help. Employers should regularly consult with their employment counsel for the best recommended practices and risk avoidance measures.
Checking out from one’s job and job responsibilities can be harmful to an employee’s performance evaluation and carry through to the interviewing process if the employee leaves the employer.
Employers should become proactive to identify the warning signs and deal with the effects of quitting on creating an ethical environment in the workplace.
Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on July 11, 2023. You can learn more about Steve’s activities by checking out his website at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.