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The past few weeks on social media have given rise to a new term within conversations around workplace culture — “quiet quitting.” There’s been an influx of talk about the phenomenon after it went viral on TikTok, with journalists and LinkedIn gurus eager to give their opinions on the trend.
Everyone from Arianna Huffington to The New York Times has commented on the topic, and it’s created a storm of conversation. Often these opinions are a total dichotomy of each other, but where everyone might agree is that quiet quitting seems to represent a breakdown in communication and connection — one that we all need to fix.
What is quiet quitting?
For the millennials and Gen-Zers who have popularized the idea of quiet quitting, it is the antithesis of the toxic “hustle culture” that has plagued them for the past decade or so. Additionally, after the substantial upheaval and significant workplace changes during the pandemic, it was seemingly inevitable that some would claim their autonomy back by whatever means necessary.
Against a backdrop of cutthroat competitiveness, peer comparisons and an always-on culture of ubiquitous technology, many individuals have experienced poor mental health and burnout. This led to an initial breaking point in the form of the Great Resignation, and now again with some workers proudly talking about quiet quitting.
For those individuals, quiet quitting is the process of coming to work to achieve the minimum requirements of your role in the time that you’re there, then leaving. No offers of overtime, no stepping outside your designated obligations, no going the extra mile. It’s the silent withdrawal of extra labor to mitigate what are perceived as unreasonable pressures.
For some senior business leaders though, quiet quitting is far more troubling, and something that employees should pull back from. In a viral post on the topic, Arianna Huffington wrote “Quiet quitting isn’t just about quitting on a job, it’s a step toward quitting on life.”
Whatever your feelings about the issue, the problem seems to be that everyone believes they’re in the right — causing a troubling lack of meaningful connection between employers and workers. I want to suggest that the division quiet quitting represents can be fixed with effective workplace communication.
Conflict and disengagement in the workplace
A 2022 report from Gallup states that as few as 21% of employees now class themselves as engaged at work.
Despite having been on the rise for some years, this 21% represents a stagnation of wellbeing and engagement metrics. The biggest leaping-off point for this is, of course, Covid-19. In 2021, when countries started to reopen following the pandemic and many people returned to the office, commuting five days a week suddenly seemed expensive and needless. Work itself may simply have seemed less meaningful in light of the trauma of the pandemic.
Millions of employees reassessed their priorities and reinvented their relationships with their employers and roles. For people who didn’t (and still don’t) feel that organizations have communicated transparently with them, quiet quitting is a reasonable response. For CEOs and others who didn’t have access to employee voices telling them how they felt, it’s perhaps something that is harder to understand.
Fortunately, good communication is one of the great salves to disagreement and conflict. The question being asked in many organizations is how they can communicate better so that employer and employee can enjoy a healthy and prosperous relationship. How can we reconnect so everyone feels informed and part of a community with a healthy relationship to work?
How to help re-engage and reconcile
Building a culture of communication means creating something that goes beyond top-down push messaging. Empowering staff to contribute and comment, having regular surveys to check sentiment (no, a once-a-year eNPS poll isn’t enough) and making leaders visual and present can all help. However you get there, it needs to be multidirectional and achieved through a wide range of communication channels.
From an organizational side, employers must invest everything in their teams to complete tasks frictionlessly, ensure the culture is healthy and adequately reward a job well done. But it’s also necessary to build a lively community that everyone feels part of. This includes connecting remote, frontline, and deskless workers through mobile technologies or in-person events.
In return, those employees who do feel silently disengaged may reappraise and recognize the efforts made to listen and rebalance work with life. With better channels available for them to speak, one hopes they too will want to re-establish a meaningful connection. That certainly doesn’t mean going back to working till burnout, it just means re-opening the channels that quiet quitting suggests have shut down.
Let’s not be quiet, let’s be noisy — let’s have dialogue and debate.
How can modern workplaces get there?
Most enterprise-level organizations recognize that managing internal communications through a digital workplace is the best way to encourage employees to collaborate, innovate and, perhaps most importantly, communicate.
Transparent and engaging internal communications strategies capable of generating open conversation now tend to mix workplace culture with employee recognition, values, DEI, company goals, strategic targets and critical information.
In the most successful cases, eliciting contributions from across the organization is married with content from the leadership team, helping to encourage greater involvement. And, to combat work-related pressure, greater awareness of well-being initiatives and mental health ensures teams have all the resources available to them if they feel anxious.
Reassessing internal communication and building bridges between everyone is necessary as we experience a moment that feels frayed. Through a combination of technology and expertise, every company can realign and create a new kind of workplace that minimizes conflict and empowers openness and engagement.