The quiet-quitting reality

It’s really about engaged employees and effective employers

Quiet quitting has dominated recent discussion about our workplaces. In case you missed the buzz, this represents the idea that discouraged employees are not actually quitting, but are psychologically detached from their work and not giving their maximum effort.

One way to describe this are workers who do the minimum required during their regular work hours, constantly watching the clock and stopping at exactly at 5 p.m., or whatever time is required. Another aspect are workers expected to work very long hours who might work hard for 40 hours, but are unwilling to go above and beyond the minimum time required.

Either way, the thinking goes, employees can get away with quiet quitting, because there is a nationwide labor shortage and unprecedented job security. It is hard to fire someone who is getting some work done, even though it may not measure up to what the boss is hoping for.

While today’s employees may be emboldened to act this way, this is hardly a new idea, even if the term “quiet quitting” may be.

The Gallup organization has been polling on American worker engagement for more than 20 years, and the results have been discouraging. Employee engagement peaked at only 36 percent and is most recently down to 32 percent. According to Gallup, “quiet quitters” make up at least 50 percent of the U.S. workforce.

Quiet quitting likely contributes to the historic drop in the government’s workplace productivity data as well, although there are also other factors: supply chain problems, the pandemic hangover and changing employment dynamics. Sixty percent of young remote or hybrid workers report that they do not clearly know what is expected of them.

Another study found that remote workers were more productive than those who worked from the office, so more analysis is needed as our workplace goes through rapid changes in this post-Covid era.

There seems to be a social reckoning on the importance of work to our quality of life. In the past, ideas of status and worth as a person were defined by career choices. Younger people are questioning this with increased emphasis on work-life balance. I totally agree that work is only one aspect of quality of life that includes family, friendships, health, volunteering, hobbies and spiritual values.

However, work is important — one of the major ways we spend our limited time on Earth. Who wants to just go through the motions for so many hours of our precious life? Work should be about more than a paycheck, a means for each of us to apply our skills and values as we earn a living.

We are right to expect that work be meaningful. A key aspect is leadership, how bosses engage, inspire and manage their direct reports. Managers need to clearly communicate their vision and how employee work contributes to a larger business purpose.

The most successful managers take time to get to know their employees as people, rather than seeing these interactions as mere business transactions. Benjamin Franklin once observed, “No one cares what you know until they know that you care!”

Documenting clear expectations and measuring work results are also important. Businesses need to do a better job of measuring employee productivity by output rather that micromanaging how people use their time, whether in the office or remotely.

Being clear about managing time is also important, including expectations for answering emails after work hours. I have argued in other columns that expecting employees to work more than 50 hours, outside of emergency situations, is unproductive. Are you really getting that much more from tired, stressed and overworked employees?

Are you prioritizing what is most important, in the spirit of the urgent-important matrix promoted by Steven Covey? Does working long hours have more to do with status and work culture than it does with actual work productivity?

The bottom line: Leaders who communicate a clear vision, manage expectations and priorities, and show that they care about their employees have far fewer quiet quitters on their team. We each have an extraordinary opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives, including our own. Don’t underestimate your impact!

Douglass P. Teschner, founder of Growing Leadership LLC, can be reached at


Categories: Business Advice