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What is Quiet Quitting?

People are asking me what this is all about. So, here are my thoughts

What is Quiet Quitting?

Quiet quitting is a passive, aggressive way for employees to make a stand against their employer in terms of making them notice that the employee is dissatisfied with their working conditions without actually having to verbalise it.

Unhappy employee quiet quitting
Quiet Quitting

Where there is a clear case of being overworked and undervalued, and other methods of communicating dissatisfaction have failed, quiet quitting (or working to rule) is potentially an effective way of self-moderating the workload. However, this is not a sustainable method to address the issue.

In cases where the employee has perceived that their workload or working conditions are not fair, and have not made all reasonable attempts to discuss this with their employer, quiet quitting can cause what would otherwise have been a solid employment relationship to break down.

3 ways to discuss your concerns effectively to avoid quiet quitting

So how can employees bring their concerns about their working conditions out onto the table in a more meaningful way that is more likely to result in improvements being agreed upon?

  1. Employees should attempt to discuss their concerns with the Line Manager or other managers within the business. To help the manager to understand the problem, employees should have examples of when overwork has caused them stress or has had other negative impacts on them. The manager can then properly assess the workload or working conditions in a balanced and fair way.

  2. If talking to the Line Manager has not brought about the desired change, the employee could raise a formal grievance to a more senior member of staff. The grievance should state clearly what the concerns are, how they impact them, and what they feel could or should be done to resolve it.

  3. Hopefully, the grievance process will have resolved matters or brought about a more in-depth understanding of what is fair/unfair. However, if the grievance process does not bring about the desired changes and yet the employee remains dissatisfied, undervalued, and unsupported, the employee can choose to find alternative work elsewhere.

Employees are not shackled to their employer and especially now, in a tight labour market, there is a war for talent meaning that employees are able to choose where to work. Unscrupulous employers that do not value staff or insist on taking advantage of employees, or are genuinely struggling and unable to improve working conditions, are well advised to take notice that employees are no longer willing to put up with poor working conditions and will leave if they feel that this is the only way to improve their wellbeing. Employers risk not being able to run their businesses well if they treat staff in what is perceived to be an unacceptable way. They may lose their best staff and be unsuccessful in their attempt to replace them causing much disruption.

Is quiet quitting the right way forward?

However, employees should also beware! Whilst power appears to be shifting since the concept of quiet quitting went viral, sometimes we must see the wider picture and it is not always true or correct to assume that the employer is not valuing their staff in the right way. Making a passive, aggressive stand such as quiet quitting can be problematic and troublesome for all parties. In extreme cases, quiet quitting might also be regarded as unofficial industrial action so members of a union are advised to speak to their union rep before taking such measures.

Quiet quitting may cause employees to miss the opportunity to resolve things amicably and end up with no other option but to actually quit or be dismissed for underperformance. Employment contracts often include flexibility in terms of daily duties and if an employee unreasonably refuses to carry out reasonable duties they can be lawfully dismissed.

My advice to all parties is to talk. Discuss concerns openly and with the right intentions. Be open to listening to other viewpoints and engage in conversation professionally so that everybody can get across what they want to say and feel heard.

Ultimately, if the employment relationship has come to the end of the road, the employment relationship will naturally finish. It cannot always be the case that everybody gets what they want – employer or employee. Quiet quitting is not the most effective way to go about things and can lead to an employee losing their job when things weren’t actually that bad to begin with.

Whilst this blog has been written directly in response to the TikTok craze and the seemingly new fad to encourage others to rebel against their employers, this has prompted people to get involved in the conversation and has highlighted some important issues that should also be part of this discussion.

Quiet quitting vs Mental health

In a conversation with Simon Millington, tutor of MHFA courses, an area to explore further is the underlying cause for some employees to become associated with quiet quitting. It is possible that employees that have poor mental health could follow a fad they have come across on TikTok without understanding the potential consequences. But more importantly, employees with poor mental health may have withdrawn productivity for entirely innocent reasons. Employers that are investigating the issue within their businesses should therefore be open to looking into what is causing people to appear to be ‘quietly quitting’ without leaping to an assumption that this is a passive, aggressive act and is actually something that the employee needs support with. There is a real danger that employees with mental health issues may become camouflaged if this TikTok craze really takes off.

According to a recent study by Deloitte published in March 2022 “Mental Health and Employers. The case for investment – pandemic and beyond” presenteeism is a leading cause of mental ill health and this can manifest itself in reduced productivity. Therefore, the connection to ‘quiet quitting’ cannot and should not be ignored. Especially as presenteeism may itself have come about through the inability to communicate that work has become too much.

I would really like to explore this further, so please do join in the conversation. If you are a Line Manager and are concerned about your team quiet quitting, read our article on employee motivation to help avoid the situation!


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