Quiet quitting: Should businesses be worried?

Driven by TikTok and influencers, adopted by burnt-out Gen Zers and feared by (some) bosses, the ‘quiet quitting’ trend is the latest talking point in the workplace. Ifty Nasir, above, CEO and founder of Vestd, looks at what it means and how your business could be affected

Depending on your perspective, quiet quitting could be seen as a positive move that has seen employees taking back control of their working lives, or the age-old phenomenon of doing the bare minimum to get by.

As predicted, lockdown led millions to reappraise their working lives and everything that came with them: the daily commute, the packed schedules of meetings, the forced ‘fun’ of team-building away days and office socials.

First came the ‘Great Resignation’ – something I have previously described as more than just a trend but a ‘complete societal shift’. In many ways quiet quitting is different, but it is certainly connected. And, I believe, it could be just as much of a shift for society.

Enough is enough

Rather than simply handing in their notice, as so many dispirited workers did after lockdown, quiet quitters are staying, but demanding more fairness from their employer.

That means no more working late into the evening, no more catching up on work at the weekend or being available to call and email at all times. In short: a healthy work-life balance, and pay that actually matches the value of the work they put in.

It’s hard to argue with any of this.

We know that unreasonable demands have been heaped on employees for many years. We have all had the dreaded Friday evening email asking for a ‘quick favour’, that is anything but quick to deal with, and can torpedo your whole weekend. We’ve all felt the resentment of consistently slogging away above and beyond for the boss with no thanks and no hope of a raise in sight.

If people are starting to stand their ground on these things, then more power to them. As Alyssa Burnette writes on our blog, ‘that’s not refusing to pull your weight – that’s refusing to be used’. 

Licence to kill time?

Understandably though, there is another version of all this. Going by the well-established 80-20 principle – that in a typical organisation 80% of the work is being done by 20% of the staff while the less active majority reap the benefits – employers are rightly sceptical of a mass movement that demands less activity for the same pay. One of the concerns about a four-day week, for instance, is it doesn’t suit every industry, nor every worker.

While a lot of people may be idling, doing the absolute minimum possible, others are extremely busy in the office. What some consider being unfairly asked to do more than they’re being paid for, others see as an opportunity to excel, move up, and drive the company to new heights in the process.

In reality, both of these things are true. There are overly demanding, even exploitative bosses, who knowingly pressure staff members into doing more than they’re being paid for. But there is also a case to be made for expecting staff to do 100%, even the extra 10%, for the good of the company and their own careers.

Managing change

Understandably, business leaders, particularly those in SMEs, will be wondering how they can turn to the tide of quiet quitting. Avoiding it comes down to having reasonable, respectful expectations, and enabling staff to be productive during working hours.

That means fewer and shorter team meetings and avoiding putting pressure on your team to work into the night or over the weekend (or compensating them well for doing so). It also means dropping the sometimes unnecessary team-building activities that take people away from their desk or eat into their private lives. A culture that helps people to feel valued means they’re less likely to quit in general, whether quietly or not.

I firmly believe that people are less likely to quit, quietly or otherwise, if they have vested interest in the company – what we call the ‘ownership effect’. A company share scheme is an effective way to achieve this, and such schemes can now be easily rolled out in smaller businesses. The rationale behind them is clear: people are more likely to go the extra mile if they can see a meaningful reward at the end.