For those of you on top of the HR buzz terms, the latest to be coined is “quiet quitting”, and there’s a lot being written about it. Sifting through articles from all around the world will lead you to discover that the term actually has two two different meanings. One interpretation is when an employee deliberately gives less than maximum or just does the minimum in order to avoid being fired. The other is where an employee chooses to engage but actively avoids burnout, by balancing their work with other interests.
Now, clearly these two definitions depict very different behaviours. And given the numerous articles, social media and TikTok posts on the subject, this is another situation that calls for a bit of source criticism in order to understand how the two ways of thinking and behaving are being confused, lumped together and tarred with the same brush. This mixing of phenomena is not helpful to employees or employers – it’s acting as click-bait for leaders and employees alike, doing nothing more than distracting. Simply put: it’s a storm in a water glass.
However, when we are able to take a step back, analyse this new so-called ‘trend’, there are some important underlying factors to be considered.
Quiet Quitting – The Coasting Definition
The situation where an employee follows their job description to the letter and doesn’t do anything more than what’s prescribed or expected, is not a new phenomenon. For those of us who have been in the workforce for decades, we know that there’s always been a group of employees that do barely enough so as not to get fired – just a little bit less than minimum to slide under the radar. There have been many names to address those behaviors, “slacking”, “goofing off”, “coasting”, “cruising”, “staying under the radar”.
Avoiding Burnout Is Not Quiet Quitting
In the second instance described, where an employee still cares about their job, and is highly productive but balances work with other interests. Well, we just don’t accept that the term Quiet Quitting applies.
It is OK for people to shift their mindset and not think about work 24/7. They can still be productive and committed to their job and their career. Gaining new perspectives and having interests outside of work, and not constantly thinking about work can actually make people better at their job! At Spotify, we want people that are engaged and like their work, doing their best, but we also want them to have a life outside of work, finding ways to recharge, whether that’s through bonding with family or friends, or taking part in hobbies or sports. This should not be defined as Quiet Quitting – it relates to setting healthy work boundaries. Therefore, we define it as Healthy Engagement. And, we’d go as far as saying that Healthy Engagement is a very strong antidote to Quiet Quitting (the ‘coasting’ definition).
Creating Healthy Engagement
Having a healthy company culture that aspires to fight “quiet quitting” can be evoked by focusing on Healthy Engagement. This means engaging employees in a sustainable way, and making sure they are neither burning out, nor logging out.
As humans, most of us want some autonomy at work – it makes us feel trusted to do a good job. Most people also find motivation in meaningful work as we want to contribute to something bigger than ourselves, which is why a purpose driven culture is so important. And lastly, we humans are curious creatures – we like to learn, grow and try new things. So, too much demand and control, lack of encouragement for new initiatives or
experimentation will not bring engaged employees, but will more likely produce “quiet quitters”.
You should build a workplace that recognises and welcomes diversity and people from all walks of life. Inclusion should be the norm! But you should also be cognisant of the fact that your company won’t appeal to everyone. The stage the company is in (start-up, scale-up, mature), the pace, the ways of working, how you define career and growth, the way you collaborate and do business, your values, are all influencing factors to a company’s culture. The specific combination of these factors are unique to your company. This is why you should be very clear about your company’s values, ways of working and expectations in all communication with potential candidates. They are all indicators of your company’s culture and help candidates understand what they are signing up for. Otherwise, the risk is you hire great people that might turn into quiet quitters when their expectations are not met.
Belonging is a huge piece of creating Healthy Engagement as it’s connected to our self-worth as humans. We have a human need to belong to a group, and the feeling of being excluded is one of the most painful emotions a human can have. Psychological safety comes from feeling a sense of belonging and low psychological safety is related to apathy or anxiety, which decreases employee engagement. It’s not surprising that an environment of fear, untrusting managers and lack of role clarity can produce teams of quiet quitters.
Work-Life Balance In The Long Run
There’s a lot of discussion around creating work-life balance in the HR industry and across workforces around the world. In truth, there’s no such thing as work-life balance in the short term, which is why some new concepts try to break the labelling of balance, which is often perceived as some perfect equilibrium between work and personal life.
The way we see it at Spotify, is that no matter what label is used, there will be days when it’s all hands on deck, when deadlines demand complete focus. The trick is to balance it out in the longer term so there’s a chance to re-charge after an intense period, and most important of all, that the culture backs this up! For example, it’s of no use to offer unlimited days of vacation in your company if the culture implicitly says you are not supposed to take time off. No use to offer parental leave to all employees, if your employees are not taking the time with their new families because managers are not supportive of it.
The leaders in your company should not only inspire and drive vision, they should also role-model and encourage employees to take time off to recharge, spend time on personal interests, so that they can be and do their best when they are at work.
In conclusion, whilst quitting is certainly the latest buzz term and not a new phenomenon, thinking through the definition and what action you can take to avoid having a workforce of coasters, is definitely useful. It’s important to recognize that avoiding burnout is not the same as coasting, and that encouraging your employees to aspire for ‘work-life balance’ in the long run can keep your workforce full of healthily engaged people for years to come.
A final piece of advice when creating a healthy workplace is not to forget that setting clear expectations, following up and recognising great work, is crucial. But not with the mindset of control and checking boxes, but because you care about both the employee and the company’s success. Leading in today’s complex world challenges us to think of ways to achieve the company’s mission and goals while treating their employees as adults (trust), guided by strong values and expectations (in our case: innovative, collaborative, sincere, passionate, playful) and focus on the wellbeing of their workforce. That’s how you create Healthy Engagement – the perfect antidote to quiet quitting.