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Screenshot of Google Trends 'Quiet Quitting' trend graph, with trend line going from 0 to showing significant searches and activity.
Search term ‘quiet quitting’ interest over the past 90 days – reaching a peak on Aug. 24, 2022

The days of #riseandgrind and #hustleculture seem long gone. Enter boundaries, strict 9 to 5 schedules, and the trend sweeping newsfeeds and social platforms: quiet quitting. 

Quiet quitting isn’t in and of itself malicious. It’s about setting boundaries and reclaiming time. As with most things though, it requires a balance.  

We spend most of our day at work. So, how do employers help employees find fulfillment so it isn’t just another corporate transaction at the end of the day? How can we set expectations so both the employee and employer are heard? This is especially important in a remote setting, where transparency can be hard to give.

While your HR team may be nervous about the implications of quiet quitting, addressing this head on can prevent it from happening in the first place. It’s an opportunity to rethink your culture so your employees will stay engaged and invested. 

What does quiet quitting mean? 

Quiet quitting is a bit of a misnomer. It just means that you’re doing what your job description says, within the time frame you’re supposed to be working. However, you’re not going above or beyond what is required. Yet quiet quitters make up half of the U.S. workforce. And the percent of employees under the age of 35 who are engaged in work has dropped by 6%.

It’s a stark change from the 2010s. Millennials may know hustle culture intimately because they entered the workforce during the 2008 Great Recession. With little job security, Millennials were forced to grind to maintain some stability. Thus, ‘hustle culture’ was born, as well as all the flexing and ‘performative workaholism’ that came along with it. 

As with most things, the COVID-19 pandemic provided a stark contrast to reality. With the exodus to remote jobs for knowledge workers, the fear and grief of an unknown virus, and the blurring of home and work (and time at all, really), it’s no wonder 71% of knowledge workers reported feeling burned out. While some companies have embraced remote work, many employees still struggle with leaving work behind when they’re no longer shutting laptops and commuting home at the end of the day. Now, work is home, and with no separation it’s easy to work all hours. 

As Gen Z continues to enter the workforce in droves, they’re learning the lessons reaped from their forebears: Work should not consume your life. One way Millennials and Gen Z differ? What they want out of their jobs. Gen Z wants face-to-face interactions and mentorship. If they don’t get what they need from their job, they’re happy to tap the breaks and “quiet quit” because it’s not worth it. For Millennials, they want purpose and work-life balance out of their roles. And when they “quiet quit”, it’s typically more likely due to burnout.

How are remote companies impacted by quiet quitting?

Productivity, company culture, and morale are all at risk from quiet quitting – though if people are participating in it at your company, your culture was probably lacking in the first place. A finding by Harvard Business Review showed that least effective managers had three to four times as many people who were quietly quitting as opposed to the most effective leaders.

It’s easier for employees to disengage remotely too, if not given the proper tools or motivation. The number of remote or hybrid employees that believe someone encourages their development has dropped, as well as their belief that they have opportunities to learn and grow. Less than four in 10 employees even know what is expected of them at work. 

Why are employees quiet quitting?

While having a fulfilling job is a goal for many, it can make it disappointing and easier to check out if a role doesn’t meet those expectations. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a senior research scholar at Clark University, said in a CNET article, “That [fulfilling job] ideal collides with reality for most people. As desirable as that ideal is, it’s awfully hard to find work that can live up to it because … a job is not created to fulfill people, jobs are created because people need things done.”

He cites emerging adulthood as the push toward finding a fulfilling job for people new to the workforce, as well as the shift to a more individualistic culture brought on by manufacturing and the knowledge economy – rather than it being a generational divide. This is an idea that Hannah Grady Williams, a Gen Z expert that consults for top companies on how to attract and retain young talent, challenges companies on, as Gen Zers and Millennials often get a bad rep for job hopping or disengaging.  

“Gen Z would stay at companies for 10 or more years if the culture and the team are something that we resonate with and adore. Now, how often does that happen?” Williams says. “Our standards for what that team and culture is are so much higher than other generations.”

For companies, it’s about finding a way to tap into employees’ value while also delivering on their own culture. But how do they go about creating a strong foundation for that?

How to counteract quiet quitting

Here are three ways you can prevent quiet quitting, especially among Gen Z, according to Williams:

1. Ask and meet your employees’ needs 

“Gen Zers, unlike millennials, are not fascinated by technology because we grew up so integrated with it. Instead, we want face to face interaction. We want stability with companies. We want to be in mentorship environments. The first thing I advise for companies is to get great tech flexibility and autonomy built into your culture, then you can get more personalized with your team. Gen Z expects personalization because we’ve grown up with it.” 

“What I encourage companies to do is at your team meeting, say, ‘Hey guys, I’ve seen this TikTok trend going around. It’s called quiet quitting. How many of you are familiar with it?’ And then have them raise their hands and start the conversation – even asking what they think we should do about it.”

This kind of approach helps ease the secrecy and fire drill approach that companies can take when it comes to circulating work trends. 

3. Engage your community

“Pre COVID, it was very normal to see people working away from the office be more productive. And now we’re in an environment where that’s the standard and there’s no tools to keep the team engaged. That’s where we’re seeing startups form to solve the problem. And that’s why I love what Airspeed is doing, being able to get to know your team separately from the workplace and what they’re into.” 

Knock the quiet out of quiet quitting. Just like closed door meetings are a risk to transparency and good culture, so too is just ignoring this phenomenon and acting like all is well. That’s the exact opposite of what Gen Zers and other digital natives want in a remote work environment. By being transparent, encouraging healthy boundaries, and engaging your employees, employers can get ahead of quiet quitting and evolve their company culture in the process. 

Engage your employees with Airspeed’s free, culture-building Slack apps. Unlock complimentary Early Access now.

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