Quiet Quitting: How to Prevent & Combat it at Work

Home » Resources » Quiet QuittingUpdated: September 27, 2022

You found our guide on how to prevent quiet quitting.

Quiet quitting is a form of employee disengagement where team members stop going above and beyond and fulfill the bare minimum job requirements to keep their jobs. Examples of ways to prevent quiet quitting include maintaining boundaries, keeping increases in workload short-term, and properly compensating employees. This advice helps employers understand the reasons behind the phenomenon and give actionable steps to fix the problem. This concept is also known as “silent quitting.”

These tips are similar to employee retention strategies, tips for managing employee attrition, ways to deal with employee turnover, and techniques for managing workplace complacency. This concept is often paired with quiet firing and signs employees will quit.

This article includes:

  • what is quiet quitting
  • how to prevent quiet quitting
  • how to combat quiet quitting
  • how to deal with quiet quitting
  • how to know if your employees are quiet quitting
  • signs of quiet quitting
  • quiet quitting tips

Let’s get to it.

What is quiet quitting?

Quiet quitting is a relatively new term, yet not a new concept. The phrase, which gained popularity on TikTok, refers to a phenomenon when overwhelmed and overworked employees stop going above and beyond and do the bare minimum to get by at work. These team members may be in the process of job-searching or might have no intention of quitting yet no longer have the motivation to exceed expectations.

Quiet quitting is a form of employee disengagement, a rebellion against uneven work-life balance, and a silent form of non-compliance. While the employee is still fulfilling job responsibilities and is not necessarily insubordinate, they resist new responsibilities and often employ methods of avoiding extra effort beyond the standard job description. For instance, these employees may turn down new projects, stop volunteering for tasks, only take on easy assignments, or claim to be too busy to help coworkers or managers. Another term for this concept is “silent quitting.”

This trend is troubling because it signals a disconnect between the employer and employee regarding expectations. The root of the issue is not that the employee refuses to do more work than necessary. Rather, the employee does not trust their employer to moderate their workload or adequately reward them for their efforts. This phenomenon can erode the manager-employee relationship, cause or deepen dissatisfaction in the team member, and create conflict and a toxic work environment for other employees. Thus, it is in a manager’s best interest to recognize and correct the problem as soon as possible.

Learn more about quiet quitting statistics.

Ways to prevent quiet quitting

Here is a list of ways to prevent employees from quiet quitting.

1. Keep increases in workload short-term

In a perfect world, employees would have predictable and steady workloads. However, the business world is chaotic, and sometimes overtime is necessary. However, there is a difference between clocking in extra hours during the busy season or waiting for a new hire to start and constant overwork.

Continually working at or beyond max capacity is not sustainable long-term. Employees need days off to rest and mentally disengage and personal time to connect with loved ones. Most employees are not opposed to working extra occasionally, but when this willingness is abused, and a favor becomes a norm, problems arise.

If you ask employees to step up and assume extra responsibilities, understand that you are changing the operating agreement. The increase should be short-term and ideally optional. If the employee must assume these new duties indefinitely, then the new workload should be an official promotion or carry extra incentives. Otherwise, you remove employees’ autonomy and force them into an arrangement that differs from the role they agreed to when starting the job.

2. Properly compensate your team

Pay discrepancies are one of the leading causes of quiet quitting. The issue is not necessarily that employees are unwilling to do extra work but that they feel the likely rewards are not worth the extra effort. Managers may tease a raise that never comes to fruition, or worse still, refuse to acknowledge the extra work or talk about compensation, instead telling employees to “deal with it” or “be a team player.”

More than the money, the root of a problem is a lack of respect. Continuing to pile on responsibilities despite employees’ comfort levels, current workloads, or protests sends the message that employers only value output, not employee wellbeing. Heaping on extra duties against employee consent can feel like a violation of the work agreement and the job the team member signed on to do. Employees often feel taken advantage of and may think the company is trying to squeeze them for as much free work as possible. An equal exchange of labor for compensation is an integral part of maintaining employer trust. Without appropriate rewards for extraordinary effort, the employee will likely feel devalued.

It is vital to keep pay competitive with market rates and current living standards and to boost compensation in response to extraordinary effort or results. Keep in mind that compensation can be non-monetary and take the form of recognition, perks, benefits, and flexibility. However, if you are severely underpaying staff, then making a case for ancillary compensation will be less convincing.

Learn more about employee benefits and perks.

3. Make stepping up optional

Not every employee has the same career ambitions or wants additional responsibilities. Career changes should be two-way conversations. Rather than assuming employees want to climb the corporate later or are ready to take on new challenges, test the waters and try to guage how your worker feels about expanding their role. Your team member may have a vision for their future that is different from your expected path. You can offer employees extra opportunities and encourage them to try new tasks, however, you should not force them into leadership roles, especially if they come with new responsibilities but no official title, influence, or pay.

These conversations tend to be most productive when they sincerely express your belief in the employees’ abilities and potential. The new role should also benefit the employee’s career and not solely be a way to relieve your managerial burden.

4. Listen to your employees

Quiet quitting does not start quietly. Often, employees express concerns that managers acknowledge yet fail to fix or outright ignore. Team members who feel like their managers are oblivious or apathetic to their problems may take action by taking inaction. Worse still, these employees lose faith in their leaders.

Listening to your employees and validating their feelings and experiences can go a long way in preventing team members from checking out. Empathy is a powerful tool in the fight against quiet quitting. When employees feel like you understand them and have their best interests in mind, they are less likely to take matters into their own hands and fade away into the background of your workplace.

Regular meetings and conversations with employees are a great start to this strategy, and practicing active listening will make the method even more effective.

For more advice, here is a list of check-in questions and a guide to virtual 1:1 meetings.

5. Maintain boundaries

Quiet quitting allows employees to set boundaries and prevent coworkers or managers from overstepping and intruding on personal time. Before employees resort to this extreme reaction, you can reinforce those boundaries on employees’ behalf.

For example:

  • emphasize that answering after-hours calls or emails is optional
  • introduce an on-call system
  • develop a way to mark messages as urgent and define the guidelines of what constitutes an appropriate after-hours emergency
  • reward employees for staying late by allowing them to leave early another day
  • intervene when coworkers pressure each other to overwork and create a way for staff to safely report this occurrence
  • give employees random paid personal days

Advocating for employees can be a highly effective method of preventing quiet quitting. The more vocal you as a leader are about employees’ right to private time, the less likely team members will be to overstep those bounds. Employees will be thankful for you for being in their corner, and you speaking on their behalf will save them the stress of confrontation.

6. Be upfront about role growth

A common gripe of quiet quitters is that they wind up much more than they were initially hired to do. The reality of the ever-changing business world is that most jobs evolve beyond the job description in the posting, especially in startups. It is not unheard of for positions to widen in scope with time. However, when these changes happen soon after hire or are drastic, employees may be caught off guard.

One way to prevent employees from feeling like you pulled a bait and switch on the position is to be upfront about role growth in the interview stage. For example, you can mention that you eventually envision the position expanding to include different duties. Discussing this possibility early allows you to manage expectations and find a candidate comfortable with this growth.

It is also helpful to give accurate timelines about when this change might occur.

7. Employ employee recognition strategies

Quiet quitters tend to feel under-appreciated. When the work goes unnoticed and un-praised, employees feel they could stop without leadership catching wise or caring, and they are often correct. In other words, employees feel as if, “if no one cares either way, why try?”

Employee recognition strategies are a great tool to battle this mindset. By acknowledging and awarding employees for standout work, you show your staff that what they do matters to you and the organization. In addition, employees who receive visibility and acknowledgment are less likely to fade into the background.

Check out this list of employee recognition ideas.

8. Build rapport and relationships

Quiet quitting is the result of a disconnect between employees and employers. Building rapport and relationships with employees is one way to bridge this gap. Team members who feel like their bosses are human beings, and not merely authority figures or faceless entities, tend to feel a stronger sense of commitment to the job. These employees are more likely to express dissatisfaction, enabling leaders to resolve the issue before it progresses to quiet quitting. Nurturing strong social ties between employees and their coworkers and management can encourage a sense of duty and a drive to avoid disappointing colleagues.

Here is a list of relationship-building ideas and activities.

9. Monitor mood and behavior changes

Quiet quitters are not chronic under-performers but tend to be disillusioned high-performers. If your superstars pull back, take note. A sudden drop in productivity or enthusiasm can be a red flag that trouble is brewing. When outspoken employees go quiet in meetings, and key contributors are suddenly nowhere to be found, do some digging to get to the root cause. This behavior may not indicate quiet quitting, as the employee might simply need a break to recharge or may be facing personal difficulties. Regardless, it is important to be aware of the state of your employees and keep a watch for team members acting out of character.

10. Support employee wellbeing

Many employees frame quiet quitting as an essential part of mental health. However, this step is unnecessary if employers proactively address workers’ needs. When you prioritize employees’ mental, physical, and emotional health, employees feel less need to defend themselves against potential harm by pulling back professionally. Ideally, you should be an ally to your employees, not a danger to their wellbeing. By emphasizing your commitment to employee wellbeing and taking action to back up these promises, you establish the workplace as a safe space and help your employees be fully themselves and tap into their full potential while on the clock.

Check out this list of employee wellness program ideas.

11. Encourage breaks and sustainable growth

Work ebbs and flows, and employees need breaks and the chance to recharge. A slight dip in productivity is no need for alarm. It is only when complacency becomes the norm that a problem arises. There is a middle ground between constant hustling and quiet quitting. Similarly, there is a happy medium between rockstar and burnout. To prevent employees from contemplating quiet quitting, encourage breaks and sustainable growth. You can set reasonable goals that challenge employees without overwhelming them, and you can empower your staff to take time to recharge and regroup instead of giving up.

Here is a list of employee break-room ideas.

Causes of quiet quitting

Here are some of the main factors that lead to employees quiet quitting.

1. Excess workload

One common complaint from quiet quitters is “doing the work of 2 to 3 employees.” Quiet quitters tend to be once-passionate employees who were overburdened and overworked to burnout. Often, this increased workload comes as a result of staff turnover. When one employee leaves, other team members pick up the slack until a new hire arrives, rather than the manager scaling back the workload. Employees can become exhausted and frustrated when there is a long wait for a replacement team member or frequent turnover.

This overwork can also result from an employee picking up the slack for other team members and a lack of accountability within the group. An overly-competitive atmosphere can also create these conditions. Employees may feel the need to take on extra work to keep up with coworkers or to prove themselves. In many cases, conversations about workloads are one-way, with the employer dictating expectations with no room for the employee to voice concerns or negotiate limits.

Whatever the reason, the result is that employees have more work than they can handle long-term with no clear end to the effort and no means of reducing the workload.

2. Poor compensation

One argument for quiet quitting is “only doing the work you are paid for.” Many quiet quitters feel they do too much work for too little pay.

The real root of the problem is that employees feel improperly rewarded for the amount of effort put forth. In return, employees scale down that effort. Often, these team members have asked for better compensation and been rebuffed or strung along, or they have reason to believe that the employer will not be receptive to these requests.

Money aside, the issue is a matter of respect. When not being awarded for working extra, employees feel like the employer does not correctly value the employee’s sacrifice and effort. As a result, employees feel taken advantage of.

It is worth noting this compensation can be more than salary. For example, beyond an immediate pay raise, the employer might offer a guarantee of a promotion with a clear timeline for compensation increase. The employer could also provide benefits and perks like extra days off, free meals, and autonomy to choose projects.

3. Blurred boundaries

Quiet quitting is sometimes a reaction to poor work-life balance and a disregard for work and personal life boundaries. Perhaps coworkers or managers constantly call or email after hours and expect the employee to answer. Maybe work interrupts vacations, or managers turn down PTO requests.

This reaction results from repeated overstepping, not the occasional work emergency. Employees who feel that the company will not respect and protect their personal time resort to extremes and enforce those boundaries absolutely.

4. Lack of manager support

Employees are often able and willing to endure tough work conditions when they know the boss is in their corner. A caring and considerate manager can go a long way in keeping employees motivated. However, team members are more likely to check out when they feel their managers do not have their best interests in mind or cannot advocate for them. When employees feel like their leaders cannot or will not help them, those workers help themselves by putting up barriers.

These managers are not necessarily bad bosses but may be unaware, overwhelmed, or noneffective in easing the burden on employees. In many cases, employees express their concerns and ask for help, but the leaders act too slowly or never take action. Often, rather than empathizing with employees’ struggles or offering solutions, the managers simply push workers to soldier through. Employees take matters into their own hands and pull back when their managers do not have their backs.

Learn more about signs of a good manager and signs of a bad manager.

5. Unclear or shifting expectations

“This is not the job I signed up for” is the mantra of quiet quitters. These employees feel employers have unrealistic expectations and unreasonable demands. Simply put, quiet quitters feel like their companies ask too much of them. Perhaps managers keep adding responsibilities outside of the job description without prior discussion. Maybe the employee winds up working an entirely different position than what they were hired for and expected or takes on a dual role and does the work of two or three different positions. Maybe goals and metrics change constantly or are unclear altogether. The employee may believe they are doing well or going above and beyond, but the boss keeps asking for more or fails to give feedback about job performance. Perhaps leadership promises payoff for this hard work yet keeps moving the goalpost.

Sometimes, the employee misunderstands managers’ expectations, and the employer fails to rectify this misunderstanding.

6. Poor communication or conflict resolution skills

Sometimes, quiet quitting comes about because an employee does not know how to express their issues or is afraid to rock the boat. The team member may assume the manager is ignoring or dismissing their concerns when the employee is not adequately explaining these problems to leadership or is wrongly assuming that leadership is already aware. Maybe the employee is afraid of conflict and never raises the issue, quietly pulling back instead of looping in the boss.

Fault does not lay entirely on the employee. The employer is responsible for creating a safe environment where employees feel comfortable speaking up. It is also helpful to provide communication and conflict resolution training.

Here are communication games and conflict resolution activities to help employees learn how to tackle troubles more effectively.

Effects of quiet quitting

Quiet quitting can affect the employee, their coworkers, and their employer. Here are some of the results of quiet quitting.

1. Disengagement and dissatisfaction

Disengagement and dissatisfaction are the main results of quiet quitting. The employee clocks in and cooperates yet fails to find much meaning in the job and feels apathy. This blasé approach is not an optimal way to work. While work should not be an employee’s whole life, the team member should care at least a little. Job satisfaction is important. With adults spending an average of 40 hours per week and approximately one-third of their lives at work, every employee deserves to feel like that time is more than just a way to pay the bills.

While refusing to obsess over work might make employees happier than constant hustle and stress, finding true balance and fulfillment would make these professionals happiest. Quiet quitting is settling and does employee wellness a disservice.

2. Stymied career growth

Taking on new challenges and responsibilities is essential for career growth. However, employees who decline to expand their horizons and take on new tasks and duties often damage their long-term career prospects. These setbacks go beyond upsetting the employer and not getting promotions. By rejecting new experiences and opportunities in their current workplaces, employees can sabotage their personal growth and pass on the chance to make themselves more marketable within their industries.

3. Inter team conflict

Quiet quitters tend to be less team-minded than they once were and prioritize self-interest, which can cause friction with coworkers invested in teamwork and the company mission. The attitude can cause a divide among teams, and a problem with one employee may quickly become a problem with all employees. Team members may feel abandoned or like their coworker does not care about them. Extra work may fall on the rest of the team. These conditions can lead to passive aggressiveness or direct confrontation. Neither outcome is ideal since trust and dependability are essential for teamwork. In an ideal situation, every employee has a manageable workflow and can rely on teammates rather than employees needing to adopt an “I need to look out for myself” mentality.

4. Low workplace morale

One employee’s low morale can spread and affect coworkers’ moods and performance. Granted, quiet quitting is often a symptom of a dysfunctional system, and a sole employee is not solely to blame for mass demotivation. However, attitude is contagious, and an upset or apathetic employee can take a toll on peers, especially if surrounding coworkers are highly empathetic. Most folks would rather work with passionate and happy colleagues when possible, and a dissatisfied team member can affect the outlooks and experiences of the rest of the group.

This is not to villanize the unhappy employee but to emphasize the importance of quickly countering the problem.

5. Decreased output

One of the most obvious outcomes of quiet quitting is decreased output. Employees fulfill the basic job requirements but no extra. While no employee should have to do free labor, quiet quitting squanders potential in other areas. Creativity and collaboration suffer when employees check out. While the employee might go through the motions and hit numbers, these individuals may not contribute to office camaraderie, discussions, brainstorming sessions, and culture. Then, the whole organization loses out on the impact this individual could bring to the table.

Signs of quiet quitting

Here are some warning signs of quiet quitting.

1. Decrease in productivity

A decrease in productivity is one of the biggest signs of quiet quitting. Superstar employees suddenly scale back and become average employees. Output drops. Perhaps the employee stops striving once they hit monthly metrics or quotas. Maybe the employee stops speaking up in meetings unless directly addressed. Taking a break can be healthy, and constantly giving 110% can lead to burnout. However, managers should note and monitor this kind of change in performance, as it could be indicative of the beginning of quiet quitting or the presence of another problem.

2. Sudden change in pushback

A normally cooperative employee turning argumentative is a sure sign of trouble. Sometimes, a quiet quitter may argue as a means to stall or avoid taking on work. However, a vocal employee who suddenly turns silent can be a sign of disengagement. Likewise, an employee who once shared respectful, constructive criticism suddenly having no opinion may signal feelings of helplessness and giving up.

3. Stops volunteering or taking initiative

Once upon a time, your employee came to you with new ideas. They were proactive about solving problems and brainstormed better ways of doing things. Your staff pitched in and contributed during meetings. When you asked for folks to tackle tasks, your employee’s hand was the first in the air. Now, this employee only follows instructions and no longer takes initiative. Maybe they drop out of committees or pass on joining new projects. You must approach them, they no longer approach you. This behavior change is worth noting, as it may signify a shift in mood, attitude, and job satisfaction.

4. Avoidance and distance

Quiet quitters tend to be conflict-averse or may simply be tired of conflict. Instead of bringing the problems to the forefront, they simply disappear. This employee may be constantly and conveniently busy or may not be present to ask for help. Answering workday emails or instant messages hours or days later becomes a norm. The employee misses meetings and does not reach out to find out what they missed. In a remote work environment, they set their status constantly to “unavailable.”

This team member may also become socially distant. For example, the employee may avoid common spaces or team gatherings and keep conversations short and guarded.

You may also notice changes in attendance. The employee may take more personal and sick days, especially during busy or critical company times. This team member may also stop picking up shifts for coworkers. Employees are entitled to personal time, but guarding that time to extremes may signal a deeper issue.

5. Lack of teamwork

It is important to note that being a quiet quitter does not necessarily mean being a bad teammate. On the contrary, these employees may still do the expected work and may even go above and beyond for a coworker if not for the company.

However, a lack of teamwork can be a side effect of quiet quitting. Because it is hard to maintain neutrality and avoid stepping up when teammates are in trouble, many quiet quitters withdraw from the team entirely.

Also, even if the employee does not mean to harm the group, holding back as an individual can damper the team’s full potential.

Here is a list of ways to improve team cooperation.

Tips to fix quiet quitting

Sometimes, managers fail to notice signs of quiet quitting until after an employee has mentally checked out. Here are suggestions to solve this type of disengagement.

1. Have an open and honest conversation with the employee

The most effective way to address quiet quitting is to have an open and honest conversation with employees. You can take the “quiet” out of “quiet quitting,” by airing the issues out in the open. For the employee to feel comfortable enough to be honest, you should clarify that this talk is not a punishment.

Rather than scolding the employee for decreased productivity, you can frame the conversation as “I noticed a shift in your performance recently. While I understand that everyone needs an occasional break, I’m concerned that perhaps you’re dissatisfied with some parts of your job and want to ensure that there are no issues that I’m overlooking. I wanted to give you a chance to tell your side of the story because I’d love to find a solution together.”

For more ideas on approaching these conversations, check out this guide to giving employee feedback.

2. Suggest a compromise or make a grand gesture

Sometimes, circumstances are beyond a leader’s control, and you may not be able to satisfy your employee’s needs. For example, if a labor shortage leads to understaffing, then you may not be able to guarantee a balanced workload. Instead of doing nothing, offer a compromise. While you may not be able to check all of the employee’s boxes on their wish list of the perfect role, and every job has some thorns, you can likely make some gestures to improve the team member’s work experience. Instead of throwing your hands up and insisting, “there is nothing I can do,” suggest alternatives or agree to at least some of your team member’s terms.

Also, quiet quitting often happens after an extended period of inaction. You can make a grand gesture to show your employees that you are serious about changing. For instance, if you have faced a wave of quiet quitting after a season of understaffing and overwork, then you could close the business for a day or week and give employees paid time off to recuperate. These meaningful acts can be the first step toward regaining employees’ confidence and rebuilding the relationship.

3. Fulfill your promises

Follow-through is critical when addressing quiet quitting. Lip service will not solve your disengagement problems. It is not enough to simply promise to change and help your employees, you must act in good faith and take visible steps towards fixing the issues. Taking action can show employees you are serious, sincere, and supportive. The simple act of trying can go a long way in restoring employees’ faith and work ethic.

4. Watch and wait

It is important to understand that you may not be able to reverse quiet quitting overnight. It takes time for employees to get to the point of checking out, and it will take time to rebuild their trust in you and the workplace. Pushing employees to return to their previous state of engagement immediately can cause the staff to tune out further. While you should not delay taking action, do not expect instant results. Instead, be patient, keep monitoring the situation, look for small signs of encouragement, and stay focused on your own performance instead of trying to rush your employees towards reconciliation.

5. Perform an exit interview

Sometimes, it is too late to fix quiet quitting, and the employee not-so-silently quits. Even if an employee decides to part ways, it is worth trying to improve the work environment so that you can retain current and future employees and protect their passion for work. You can sit down for an exit interview with the departing employee to pinpoint the specific causes of the motivation breakdown and gain insight for improvement.

Conclusion

Quiet quitting can be tricky to spot because some warning signs, like absenteeism, low mood and morale, and changes in work performance, may be non-intentional or signals of other conflicts. However, regardless of the cause, it is typically a good idea to address shifts in mood or performance or concerning employee behaviors.

Some workers champion quiet quitting as a positive step towards a healthy professional life. However, there is a difference between work-life balance and quiet quitting, and the latter is not an optimal outcome. Quiet quitting involves a disconnect between employer and employee, leaving the worker dissatisfied and demotivated.

While there may be initial relief in scaling back responsibilities and reclaiming time and autonomy, the refusal to take on new challenges can slow employees’ growth and hurt their careers long-term. There is a difference between drawing boundaries and putting up barriers. Not to mention, this attitude can leave employees unfulfilled. The worker may think that this step is healthy and necessary, however, quiet quitting is harmful to the employer and the employee.

Workers deserve to have reasonable working conditions and demands, positive cultures, and the chance to be passionate about their jobs and to learn and grow while still having a life beyond the office. It is the responsibility of leadership to nurture these conditions and fix workplace dysfunctions so that employees can strike a healthy work-life balance without checking out.

Next, check out these guides to good leadership qualities, management vs leadership, and leadership books.

FAQ: Quiet quitting

Here are answers to common questions about quiet quitting. 

What is quiet quitting?

Quiet quitting is when employees stop putting in extra effort and do the bare minimum to get by at work. These team members are not outwardly non-compliant and may not cause obvious conflicts. However, quiet quitting still presents a problem because these employees are not engaged and satisfied and tend not to trust leadership, and true collaboration and innovation fail to flourish under these conditions. This blasé behavior can also cause tension in teams.

How do you know if an employee is quiet quitting?

Signs of quiet quitting might include decreased productivity, changes in attendance, avoidance and distance, refusal of new responsibilities or projects, and no longer taking initiative.

What are tips for dealing with quiet quitting?

Some tips for dealing with quiet quitting include having honest conversations with employees, fulfilling management promises, and offering a compromise.

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Author: Angela Robinson

Team building content expert. Angela has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and worked as a community manager with Yelp to plan events for businesses.

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