The devastating impact of quiet quitting and how to tackle it

Wasif Kasim is a people-first leader that specialises in building highly engaged, profitable teams that deliver exponential growth. As an ex-CEO of an independent digital marketing agency, Kasim explores the fairly new phenomenon of 'quiet quitting'.

First the Great Resignation, now quiet quitting.

We’ve all had our fair share of dealing with the Great Resignation, now comes its sequel — quiet quitting, a new movement where employees reject the idea of “going above and beyond” in favour of doing “just enough”.

So, what is it?

The term was first coined on TikTok by @zkchillin and it’s now a global movement with over 8.2 millions views on the platform; a worrisome topic for employers around the world.

Strangely enough, quiet quitting doesn’t actually involve quitting your job, per say.

Instead, it’s a mass revolt against hustle culture and burnout. Employees have had enough of being overworked and exploited — and they are out for blood (quietly of course as the name suggests). Add stagnant pay and increasing cost of living to the mix and you’ve created a monster.

Employees are emphatically raising their middle finger, seeking revenge and refusing to go above and beyond; declining to do tasks they are not paid for and blatantly switching off the moment the clock strikes 5.

While “quiet quitting” in itself is a new term, this brings to light a related matter costing businesses $13.6 billion per year — employee mental health and burnout.

According to the 2022 Wellness at Work study by Employment Hero,

  • 53% of employees feel burnt out from work
  • 52% rate their work life balance as poor
  • 43% rated their productivity as average or low

The real question is, why does this come as a surprise to anyone? And why is this being treated like it’s something new altogether?

For too long now, employers have turned a blind eye or depriortised a focus on employee satisfaction and employee engagement; they are now bearing the brunt of it.

Why is it happening?

Put bluntly, you aren’t making your employees feel valued enough. They see through the fancy snacks, free lunches and the table tennis tables (AKA the facade of culture) — but don’t “feel” the genuine care factor.

While it mightn’t have been intentional on the part of employers and there has been discussion about the ‘entitlement’ of employees, the fact remains that employee satisfaction has been put on the back burner for far too long.

We all “pivoted” throughout covid, we all did “more with less” — it’s been almost 3 years since and people are exhausted.

Unfortunately, a lot of companies are still stuck in this mode, further aggravating the issue and ultimately manifesting in the form of resignations or quiet quitting.

As a business you need to get past “covid” habits, fall out of love with hustle culture and start focusing on employee satisfaction as your #1 priority.

Focus on what matters — be genuine

In my experience over the years, there’s only one thing that matters — truly caring for the success of your staff, both at work and outside work.

As an employer, this might seem expensive — but know that the costs of losing staff (up to 200% of the employee’s salary) far outweighs the costs of retaining them. No matter how big or small the business, actions will always speak louder than words.

For example, a CEO of a large billion dollar company I worked for personally ran an in-person feedback session across 500 staff on how we could improve the employee experience. This made me feel important and our opinions valued. Plus, he continually updated us on actions taken every two weeks, put new initiatives into play to address our feedback and eventually ran follow up sessions in a similar vein.

It wasn’t what he said that mattered — it was what he did.

For anyone looking to build a culture of highly successful teams (which in turn will battle quiet quitting and disengaged employees) — I highly recommend the Culture code by Daniel Coyle. In his words, culture isn’t something you do, it’s who you are. He breaks it down into 3 core buckets — build safety, share vulnerability and establish purpose:

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Genuinely show that you’re invested in the wellbeing and success of your staff, actively execute on your promises and things will start to turn around. This won’t happen overnight — but put the steps into play and you’ll start to see positive signs sooner than you think.

How to combat quiet quitting

To put things into context, I spent months head down in research trying to figure out where to start myself. After endless research, years of application and eventually significant increases in employee satisfaction ratings — here are some areas for you to consider as you start your journey:

  • Start from the top down

Unless change occurs from the top down, it will not be seen as a priority. From the CEO, to the founder, to the leadership team — make every interaction you have with your staff count.

Spend 10 minutes in the morning to walk around the office and mingle with different teams, take people out for a coffee on their birthday, set up a simple in person forum to publicly recognise star performers; the little things go a long way.

Show your team you’re human, you’re accessible and that you don’t always have all the answers — but you genuinely do care about each person as an individual.

  • Set up a reliable feedback loop — and act on it

For many employees, sharing feedback is scary, with fear of being punished for their thoughts. It’s a paramount that you create a safe, anonymous and simple mechanism for staff to give their honest feedback. You’re always better off knowing about a problem and figuring out ways to address it than having it left in the shadows to fester, destroying staff morale and productivity.

Once you’ve set up this easy mechanism (tools like OfficeVibe, CultureAmp and others are great), consistently monitor and act on the feedback you receive and share back to the business the actions taken. Accept feedback without playing the blame game, address it and move on.

In parallel, implement a more direct line of feedback — where senior leaders and the CEO consistently catch-up informally with employees one-on-one over a coffee. Consider initiatives like a CEO lottery (check out Donut, a brilliant tool that automated this) — a weekly coffee catch-up between the CEO and a randomly selected employee; a simple yet effective way to break down barriers, get feedback and show people you genuinely care.

  • The little touches all add up

It’s often the intangibles that make the biggest difference — the bits that you can’t really measure. The CEO sending you a message when they’ve heard you’re unwell, the CEO welcoming you, by name, on your first day at work, the employee welcome packs, the random walk around the block with an employee when they’re looking down, the bonding that happens between teams during free lunches and beyond. Focus on the little human touches that make work feel less like, ”work”.

Some guidelines for managers

The best managers excel at engaging their teams to deliver outstanding results.

Managers have a huge responsibility — one that dictates a whopping 70% of the variance when it comes to employee engagement and satisfaction. It’s up to them to create safe environments, empower employees to take responsibility for success, all while keeping productivity and profitability in mind.

I’ve experimented a lot with this over the last decade, but it all boils down to the basics:

  • Take one-on-ones seriously. Don’t just make this a box ticking exercise, or even worse, skip the regular calendar check-in entirely. This is your chance to build deep relationships, gain trust and truly understand what motivates your employees.
  • Once you have a real understanding of what your employee wants to achieve over the next 2 years (a pay rise, promotions, new skills, etc.), create clear steps on how they can achieve this, along with realistic KPIs and milestones to monitor their progress.
  • When they do reach their KPIs, reward them proactively. A top performer should never have to “ask” to be rewarded — if they end up having to consistently, you will end up losing them.

Some guidelines for employees

The job market may be better than ever, but remember, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

26% of workers who left their job realised they made a mistake — it’s not always worth the gamble and the pressure that comes with changing jobs isn’t exactly a walk in the park.

Instead, tackle the problem head on — have frank, polite, open, honest discussions with your manager. Most managers are there to help, just ask them for it.

Be empathetic, smash your KPIs and act according to the role you want to have. Have the numbers to back up requests for pay rises. You’ll be more likely to get what you want, without the need for any quiet quitting along the way.

What’s next for workplace culture?

Well, it’s time for you employers to pull up your socks and get cracking.

You either spend millions replacing top performers, or spend a fraction of that cost to retain your employees — and put quiet quitting to bed for good.

Let’s break out of hustle culture, be vulnerable and be genuine. Let’s care for each other’s success and do what good humans do — going above and beyond to help each other out. Whether the Great Resignation, quiet quitting or fighting burnout — it all comes back to the human touch and showing true care for your employees. Ignoring it won’t help your business grow, but being proactive and creating a highly engaged workforce will. Once you do this, your business will benefit tremendously, you’ll get incredibly invested employees, and you’ll finally be able to put quiet quitting (or whatever its next evolution is) to bed, for good.

Wasif Kasim, founder of Wasif Kasim Consulting | former CEO (APAC) Online Marketing Gurus


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