Hot on the heels of the Great Resignation, a new buzzword is stirring conversations about employee culture worldwide. “Quiet quitting” happens when workers only do the job they’re being paid to do, without taking on any extra duties or tasks.
On the face of it, quiet quitting seems like a passive act of resistance against the culture of overwork that soared amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But is it a cause for concern or just a TikTok fad?
“It’s a new name for an old behavior,” answered Mary-Lou MacDonald (pictured), national practice lead, health and performance, at HUB International.
People paring down their work output to find more balance in their personal lives is nothing new. The pandemic created a perfect storm for quiet quitting rather than being the source of the phenomenon.
“People have been pushed to the edge, given everything we’ve had to deal with around the pandemic. They’ve realized they’re in control of their health and wellbeing,” MacDonald said.
Quiet quitting is likely a result of burnout, an extreme and chronic form of stress which has skyrocketed in the last few years. A study by Canada Life last year showed one in three working Canadians felt burned out. Insurance (39%) was among the five industries that reported burnout rates above the national average (35%).
Health and patient care had the highest rate, with more than half (53%) of workers feeling burned out, including 66% of nurses. Staff in transportation, education and childcare, and first responders were also experiencing burnout in high numbers.
“It’s not necessarily that they don’t want to give their energy, innovation, and creativity to work,” MacDonald said. “Rather, they realize that discretionary work should no longer be considered the standard, especially when it comes at the cost of their relationships, health, and wellbeing. They want to provide that extra effort on occasion, and to employers they feel deserve it.”
More positively, the trend suggests more employees are being smart around setting boundaries to protect their wellbeing. “It’s not about quitting; it’s about readjusting and realigning priorities,” continued Macdonald.
The trend is also resonating strongly with younger employees. For MacDonald, quiet quitting reveals much about what the youngest cohort in the workplace values in their professional lives. With Gen Z set to become the dominant force in the working world, organizations should listen closely for cues on what these younger workers want and need to thrive.
“Salary used to be the biggest deciding factor for many generations when choosing a career, but, for Gen Z, there are more important things, like mutual mentorship, technology, and mental health,” said MacDonald.
The pandemic forced many companies to look at ways to support the mental health of all employees, regardless of generation. But, MacDonald said, for the most part, organizations and leaders were not well equipped for the task.
“Maybe the supports weren’t in place, or they weren’t robust enough or customized enough, or communicated well enough for the different generations. Many leaders were not trained to recognize when someone is struggling in the workplace, let alone what to do or say, or how to support them,” said MacDonald.
Rather than blame individual employees for quiet quitting, insurance companies must focus on how to prevent burnout, ramp up support for their workforce, and create a resilient organization.
“I always say it’s a shared responsibility. As employees, it’s our responsibility to bring our best selves to work every day, mentally and physically. That includes getting enough sleep, getting the exercise that I need to stay healthy and functioning at a high level, managing family or health issues I might have, and eating well,” MacDonald explained.
“It’s employers’ responsibility to create workplaces where individuals can thrive and do their best work, which means removing obstacles, making the work fair and equitable, and managing the workload and work pace that employees must deal with. They should also clearly communicate their expectations and timelines. Knowing your employees well and building supportive relationships builds mutual trust, which goes a long way.”
Leaders should strive to get more mental health education for themselves, so they can better support employees. That includes knowing where to direct resources and benefits so employees can easily access them, but it also means taking the initiative to spot warning signs of burnout.
“There are mindsets at work that leaders must be aware of, such as that of perfectionists and pleasers,” cautioned MacDonald. “Some are super passionate about their roles and will voluntarily overwork themselves.”
She said that individuals with these mindsets are more likely to burn out over time. “It’s the employer’s responsibility to be aware and remind those super passionate and perfectionist folks to set healthy boundaries themselves, and for leaders to model that behaviour as well. They should also avoid piling more work on to those employees they know will go the extra mile.”