Quiet Quitting: What It Is and Three Ways We Can Prevent It

How to improve connection, trust and collaboration — and promote a more positive workplace experience by doing so

Photo Credit: aleutie for Adobe Stock

It seems like one negative headline after another, doesn’t it? Another phrase we have to Google and another strike against the workforce. Amidst what many are calling The Great Resignation, Moonlighting, and a tight labor market, now it seems that people are Quiet Quitting. In other words, people are doing the minimum amount of work required to not get fired. Engagement is low, passion is seemingly nonexistent and as for going the extra mile? There isn't a chance.

But why now? Why is this the first time we’re hearing about it? What are the factors contributing to quiet quitting today?

Eric Termuende
Eric Termuende

It's important to understand that we haven’t seen a labor market this tight since roughly 1970. With nearly 11 million vacant jobs across the country, retirements happening at a rate nearly double that of a decade ago, and unemployment at a near historic low of 3.5 percent, employees have more leverage than ever before. In other words, doing just a little work is still much better than having yet another vacant position that the team will inevitably struggle to fill. Our teams are able to quiet quit in ways they simply couldn’t in years past.

That said, quiet quitting isn’t new. Quiet quitting is simply disengagement rebranded. After all, the 1999 hit Office Space was a movie about quiet quitting, wasn’t it? Putting in the minimum amount of work just to get the job done and to ensure that the check clears every two weeks. I’d go so far as to say that perhaps we’ve all been there before.

Quiet quitting happens when one (or a combination) of three things happens:

  1. We feel disconnection from the people we work with.
  2. We feel disconnection from the work we do.
  3. We feel disconnection from the work the company does.

So what do we do if our team is quiet quitting?

The obvious answer would be to suggest that we build a culture of collaboration, to ensure that people are working together. But collaboration isn’t the action we need to be focusing on; rather, it is connection. Collaboration is like putting two kids who have never met before in a sandbox and telling them to play. Without trust and connection, collaboration is simply a pipe dream.

Here are three suggestions to improve connection, trust  — and then collaboration — on our teams, which will help us to mitigate quiet quitting and promote a more positive work experience: 

1. Talk About Our Four H's

Back in 2020, during the first wave of the pandemic, Cleveland Browns rookie head coach Kevin Stefanski wasn’t able to bring his team together in person. But he was well aware of the importance of having the team connect, even virtually. He brought them together via their virtual-meeting platform, and he shared with them his four H's: his heroes, heartbreak, hopes and history. His openness created an environment that invited others to share, too. Soon team participation became so extensive that they had to schedule additional blocks of time for sharing. Fast-forward to the end of that 2020-2021 season: The Cleveland Browns made it to the NFL playoffs for the first time in 17 years, and they won a playoff game for the first time in 28 years. Stefanski knew that when the team understood and trusted each other off the field, they’d play better together on the field. If you’re looking to connect with your team, try sharing your four H’s and inviting them to do the same. Or try gratitude moments, time where you can share appreciation and invite others on the team to do the same.

2. Shift From Checking ON Your Team to Checking IN With Your Team

Checking on has a feeling that you’re looking from above at how the work is going and whether the team is hitting targets. Instead, shift to checking in: an eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart conversation that gets at what people are personally working toward, what they’re excited about, and what they might be struggling with. Sometimes the best way to speed up human connection is to slow down the work. 

3. Build Your Own Test Kitchen

Instead of leaving all of the idea generation to management, consider innovation meetings where every two weeks for 15 minutes (as a suggestion), we ask each other what you can start, stop and continue doing. There is no doubt that our teams have been inspired by people and the world around us and can bring new ideas to the table. We also know that yesterday’s best practice isn’t necessarily today’s best practice. Innovation meetings keep everyone involved, invite fresh ideas regularly and show the team that you value their opinions.

With much of the workforce being remote and distributed these days, it is more difficult to have our teams connect with one other and the work they're doing. Quiet quitting is the result of what happens when we don’t take the time and make the effort to ensure that the incredible people we work with feel appreciated and valued for the work they do.

Unless we create a workplace that people want to be a part of instead of feeling like they have to be a part of, it won't matter whether that workplace is in the office, remote or hybrid: The labor market is too tight and the grass is going to be perceived as being greener on the other side. But keep in mind that the grass is greenest where it is watered; your team will only find new pastures if the one they're on isn't properly cared for.

Eric Termuende is a workplace culture expert, author and keynote speaker. He was a featured presenter at Northstar Meetings Group's Destination California, August 28-30, 2022, in Monterey, California.