The Cure to Quiet Quitting isn’t More Quiet, It’s Curiosity

There are many causes for quiet quitting, but let's also talk about the cures.

Quiet Quitting is getting a lot of attention lately. It refers to the idea that more and more workers are putting in the bare minimum to meet job requirements and collect a paycheck. They're not going above and beyond, they're not solving problems, they're not seeking out opportunities to collaborate.

Unlike actual quitters who've contributed to record high quit rates the past year, "quiet quitters" aren't looking to change jobs, but they aren't looking to advance, either. Depending on who you ask, the practice is either lauded for its pushback against burnout or hoisted as a red flag for disengagement.

Both perspectives are right, and both require attention.

Because what quiet quitting is really referring to is the increasing number of workers who feel disconnected from their work, from their managers, their colleagues, from their purpose. Quiet Quitting may be a new term, but what it represents is not.

Gallup recently released survey data on employee engagement, which experienced another setback during the second quarter of 2022. Gallup discovered that while the proportion of engaged workers remained unchanged at 32 percent, the proportion of actively disengaged workers increased to 18 percent, resulting in the lowest ratio of engaged to disengaged workers (1.8 to 1) in almost a decade.

The decline began in the second half of 2021 and spurred the naming of another trend: The Great Resignation. Managers experienced the greatest drop in levels of engagement, which is particularly problematic since managers play a critical role in employee engagement. If our managers are disengaged, then everyone is.

In our whitepaper, The Manager Meltdown, we refer to this as a cycle of scarcity:

"Scarcity of any type — time, food, money — causes "tunneling" according to authors Sendhil Mullainathan, a Harvard economist, and Eldar Shafir, a psychologist at Princeton. In their book, Scarcity (2013), they argue that tunneling is the result of an "emergency of the moment" mindset that causes our cognitive capacity, particularly our capacity for problem-solving, to diminish. This results in people, "borrowing time by postponing projects that are tomorrow's emergency, not todays." In other words, it's difficult to grow, expand, produce when there is always a fire to extinguish.

When employees are in a cycle of scarcity, they're options are to work harder, only to fail and burn out, or leave. Quiet quitting presents another option: give up and coast.

But scarcity can't exist with engagement. Our follow-up whitepaper, Lighting the Fire Within, explores both the causes and the cures of disengagement, calling on employers to think like seismologists:

Just as seismologists study the internal structure of the earth to identify factors that contribute to or predict earthquakes, employers must understand the internal, or personal, needs of employees that contribute to their engagement. Then, employers must decide how they'll respond to what they learn. Ignoring what they learn, giving it lip service, perpetuates a cycle of scarcity — triggering more and deeper fractures. But acting on what is learned, digging in and understanding what employees need and finding creative ways to provide it — consistently and persistently — helps perpetuate cycles of engagement.

In the paper, we outline the specific and immediate steps employers can take to heal existing fractures and prevent further ones. Success in implementing these steps results in engaged employees who:

  • Solve problems before problems arise
  • Look for opportunities and seize them
  • Identify needs and address them
  • Care for and give credit to colleagues
  • Make an impact — on the work, and on one another
  • Enjoy what they do and who they do it with
  • Recruit great people to work with them
  • Make things happen

The antidote to quiet quitting isn't more quiet, it's curiosity.

And maybe that curiosity will result in the employee making a different choice.

Regardless, there's a lot happening at every layer of existence right now and one of the greatest gifts we can offer someone is our genuine interest in their life and success, and concern for their well-being. For all the advancements technology affords, for all the worlds and possibilities it joins and opens, it cannot replace the relationship between an employee and manager. Employees feel cared for when their abilities, interests, and aspirations are reflected in the projects they work on, the professional learning opportunities they're provided, the responsiveness and encouragement they receive from their manager. Nothing keeps people more productive and engaged than connection — to people and a purpose, belonging — to a team, a company, a mission, and success — personal, professional, and relational.

That way, even when the great employees do make a different choice, they'll remember how they were treated. One day, they might even return, and they won't be so quiet about it. Maybe they'll shout it from the rooftops.