Quiet quitting is a topic that’s all the rage these days.
The term was popularised by an “employment influencer” in 2022 and basically means “doing the bare minimum to get the job done” or “refusing to go over and above”, all without actually resigning from the company.
More recently, in 2023, Gallup released its latest workforce report, including a statistic that “67% of employees are quiet quitting”.
This has brought with it a flurry of social media posting and commentary regarding quiet quitting and how to solve it.
But … is it something we need to solve?
Or is it something that will be fixed if we lead better?
What’s Wrong With Doing the Bare Minimum?
I feel like there is something a little off when people complain about quiet quitting.
If people are doing the minimum to get the job done, then the job is being done, right?
Or is the minimum not good enough?
There seems like there are other factors at play here.
Not to mention that there are different parameters, like quality, quantity and the number of hours worked.
Bare minimum quality means the lowest level of quality to get the job done. No gold-plating, just the essentials. At first glance, this seems smart, doesn’t it?
Then there is minimum quantity. Completing 10 things, when you are asked to complete at least 10 things. This is still within the boundaries, no?
And how about number of hours worked? If you’re contracted to work 8 hours and you work 8, is this not sensible? Looking after your wellbeing and your work-life balance and all those good things?
Bare minimum doesn’t sound that bad, does it?
Learn More: 5 Questions to Ask An Unmotivated Team Member.
If Quiet Quitting Is a Problem, Something’s Out of Balance
Let’s go back to quality, quantity and hours worked.
When considered individually (as we’ve seen above), these don’t seem to be a problem to me. Some people might even consider this to be a sensible way of operating.
But put them together and we might have an issue.
Let’s talk hours worked. 8 hours per day, and no more.
The question to be asked is can someone achieve the minimum quality and quantity standards working the minimum (contracted) number of hours?
If your minimum quantity target is to produce 10 things, but you need to work 12 hours to produce that many, then quiet quitting is going to be a problem.
If 12 hours is required to produce 10 things at the desired level of quality, then quiet quitting is going to be a problem.
So the problem might not be with the person who is “quiet quitting” (or coasting, or whatever you want to call it).
The problem might be with the role definition, along with the expectations of performance that are being communicated.
How to Solve the Quiet Quitting Dilemma
The general opinion seems to be that quiet quitting means that people aren’t motivated, but I’m not so sure.
When I break it down like this, quiet quitting doesn’t actually seem like a problem of motivation to me.
If we need our people to do more than they are being paid or recognised for, are we really asking for motivation?
Or are we actually asking for loyalty instead? Do we want them to push themselves to go “over and above” with nothing to really show for it? Sounds like a pretty lopsided relationship with our employees, if that’s the case.
Let’s look at some ideas to help with this quiet quitting issue.
1. Clarify Your Expectations Early
The more I think about this quiet quitting topic, the more I believe that a lot of it comes down to expectations.
People who blame the quiet quitters are saying that people should be working harder, doing more.
But the quiet quitters are doing the bare minimum, which is what they were originally contracted to do.
It appears that instead of hoping our people will do more or better, maybe we should instead set clear expectations about what is required. Set the minimum standards to be at the point where you are happy with the effort.
Then it comes down to holding people accountable for those minimum standards and creating an environment where people can feel motivated to achieve them.
We shouldn’t set a minimum standard, then silently expect people to be doing better than that. That’s a recipe for dissatisfaction.
We lose employees this way, because they’ll sense we’re dissatisfied, even if we aren’t saying it directly. And they know we can’t do anything about it… because contractually they aren’t obliged to do more!
Set expectations about quality, quantity and working hours and be happy with the minimum that you set.
And be sure to set these expectations early – before the person agrees to work with you. Give them a realistic preview of what to expect, and they’ll be able to meet your expectations.
2. Create a Realistic Role Definition
Having worked in a few of the big international consultancies for a while, I’ve had roles where I’ve had too much to do.
So what happens?
We work longer, into the night to get things done, for no more money (it’s about the prestige, you know). Until we get sick of that and leave, of course.
If you have expectations of quality or quantity that aren’t realistically able to be met during a standard working day, then you’ve got a situation which is untenable.
When the only way for someone to meet expectations is to do more than is expected, quiet quitting is likely, if people don’t resign, or work themselves to death.
I’ve always found that the best roles accommodate a mixture of the actual work, team activities (meetings etc) and space to work on improvement initiatives.
This provides people with autonomy, fulfilling work, an opportunity to contribute to the team and also to improve how you’re all working together. All within the space of a normal working day.
Be aware that this may mean that you need to hire more people to get the work done … which brings me to the next point.
Learn More: Roles and Responsibilities Unclear? Do This.
3. Do Less Stuff
A problem I see across many industries and organisations is that we’re always trying to do too much.
It’s the circle of organisational life.
Executive team sets too many priorities.
Middle managers feel unable to push back, so they push the work down.
Team members struggle.
Not everything is completed.
Executives are disappointed.
If you can’t hire the right number of people to do the work without everyone going over and above … then do less stuff.
In some situations, this isn’t easy. Think nurses in an emergency department at a hospital. If you’ve got a lot of emergency patients, you can’t just tell them to go home!
But in many other settings, this is definitely possible.
It just takes some sensible courage. Instead of ten things, try eight.
If you finish eight, then bring the other two back into the discussion.
Learn More: Taking On Too Much? Here’s Why.
Quiet Quitting Is Not the Problem
I don’t think quiet quitting is the real problem.
The real problem is that we’ve set an expectation within our organisations that going over and above is what everyone should be doing.
And everyone who isn’t doing that is an underachiever, or a quiet quitter.
Who the hell would want to work in an environment where they need to routinely do more than they are being recognised for?
Only those who are fearful of losing their jobs, or those who are supremely internally motivated by the work itself, that’s who.
But it’s easier to blame the quiet quitters than to turn the level down to eight, when it’s currently at eleven.
What do you think about this quiet quitting thing? Let me and all the thoughtful leaders know in the comments!