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Quiet Quitting – What do you need to know?

Reading time: 24 mins

A new trend among workers known as “quiet quitting” has gained popularity around the world, especially among younger workers. Everyone from founders to professionals has their own interpretation of it. Many advocate it, and many simply say that workers are “psychologically disengaged,” doing only what’s necessary and clocking off at five o’clock on the dot.

It’s easy to get caught up in all the noise. In this article, Farrah Motley, an employment lawyer at Prosper Law, clarifies what “quiet quitting” really means, what causes it, what the legal consequences are, the implications of employees joining this movement, and what employers can do about it.

Key takeaways

  • Definition: Quiet quitting means doing only the tasks required by the job, without going above and beyond.
  • Causes: Excess workload, poor compensation, blurred boundaries, lack of manager support, unclear expectations, and poor communication.
  • Legal Obligations: Employees must fulfil their duties as per their employment contract and work reasonable additional hours if required.
  • Employer Strategies: Proper compensation, maintaining boundaries, recognising employee efforts, supporting well-being, encouraging breaks, and setting clear expectations can help prevent quiet quitting.

What is Quiet Quitting?

Quiet quitting means not doing more than expected, doing the tasks for which the employee was hired, and not going above and beyond. It is a rebellion against an unequal work-life balance and a silent form of non-compliance.

Quiet quitting does not mean employees are not doing their job. It also does not mean an employee quits their job. It means that employees are no longer willing to do more than what they were hired to do in the first place. It’s about rejecting the idea of doing more than is absolutely necessary.

What leads to "Quiet Quitting"?

In the last three years, the world has changed a lot. Employees working from home or in a hybrid schedule have re-evaluated their time commuting to and from work and working overtime. Many have realised that travel and overtime are not worth it. They only cause problems in their personal lives and affect their mental health.

What if I want to participate in Quiet Quitting?

You can quietly quit your job for a while to see how you feel and what impact it would have on your work and personal well-being. If you have been suffering from symptoms of job burnout lately, the quiet quitting attitude could help you restore your work-life balance.

Examples of Quiet Quitting

James chooses to refrain from interacting with anything from work before 7:00 am or after 4:30 pm when his office is open. Since he works for a company, his tasks are not a matter of life and death. If someone asks for something at the end of the day, such as scanning a file or something like that, it can wait until the next day. This is James’s way of quiet quitting.

Ashley leaves her office at the end of the day and does not think about what else she has to do when she goes home at night. She sets boundaries for herself when it comes to checking her email and connecting with colleagues when she’s not in the office. Most importantly, she is not afraid to ask for vacation days, take personal days, or take sick leave. This is Ashley’s way of quiet quitting.

Here are some other examples of quiet quitting examples that you can follow:

    • Not working while sick;

    • Not working on weekends and holidays;

    • Ignoring calls/emails during off hours;

    • Refusing to accept tasks/responsibilities for which you are not paid;

    • Not becoming too emotionally invested in your work;

    • Not neglecting your family and personal life because of work.

Legal Obligations when Quiet Quitting

Even if you are toying with the idea of “quietly quitting” your job, sooner or later your boss will notice and ask questions. And if you think your employer cannot do anything if you participate in quiet quitting, you are wrong. You need to understand that you have to fulfil your work obligations.

Here are some obligations that you must legally fulfil.

Fulfilling duties and abiding by the contract

No law says you can be dismissed if you quietly quit. However, you are obligated to perform the services agreed to in your employment contract. Your employer expects you to perform your duties reasonably, follow reasonable instructions from management, and comply with the contract and workplace policies and procedures.

Failure to follow reasonable instructions may be grounds for dismissal. Company policies and procedures may give the employer some recourse in dealing with an employee who quietly quits.

After all, if you do not do what is expected of you, you could jeopardise your job.

Quiet quitting

Full-time attention during designated work hours

You are expected to put in a full day’s work, even if you work remotely. If you spend a large portion of your paid workday on personal or other business activities, you are committing “time theft” and may be subject to disciplinary action and eventual discharge.

Reasonable expectations

While you may refuse to work beyond your contracted hours, the employer may require you to work reasonable additional hours. Under the Fair Work Act 2009, the maximum weekly working hours for a full-time employee is 38 hours, but the employer may request you to work reasonable additional hours.

Not only can your employer require you to work reasonable additional hours, but they can also require you to follow lawful and reasonable instructions about how you perform the work. These instructions may include requiring you to perform additional duties.

In a study by HBR, more than 13,000 employees rated 2,801 managers who “balance getting results with a concern for others’ needs” and that their “work environment is where people want to go the extra mile. “The results show that managers scored highest on relationship balance, with 62% of their employees willing to go the extra mile and only 3% quietly quitting. These studies suggest that employers only create an environment where quiet quitting is done.

These are the key points that help employers create an environment for quiet quitting for employees:

What if my employees are Quiet Quitting?

Causes of Quiet Quitting

Excess workload

Quiet quitters often complain that they are “doing the work of two to three employees.” In many companies, when an employee leaves, other team members take over until a new employee is hired. Employees can become exhausted and frustrated if they wait a long time for a new team member or change frequently. Passionate employees who love their work are overworked, sometimes to the point of burnout.

An overly-competitive atmosphere can also create these conditions. Employees may feel they have to do extra work to keep up with co-workers or prove themselves. In many cases, workload discussions are one-sided: the employer dictates expectations without giving the employee a chance to voice concerns or negotiate boundaries.

Whatever the reason, the result is that employees have more work than they can handle in the long run, with no clear end to the effort and no opportunity to reduce the workload.

Many workers believe they get too little for their work. Poor pay is one cause of quiet quitting: Workers feel they are not being adequately compensated for the work they do.

Often, employees demand better compensation. However, they have been rebuffed or stalled or have reason to believe that the employer will not be receptive to these demands.

Employees who are not compensated for their extra efforts feel that their employer does not properly appreciate their sacrifice and dedication. As a result, employees feel taken advantage of.

Such compensation can be more than just salary. For example, beyond an immediate raise, the employer could offer a promotion guarantee with a clear timeline for a raise. The employer could also offer benefits and perks such as extra days off, free meals, and the ability to freely choose projects.

Quiet quitting is sometimes a reaction to poor work-life balance and disregarding the boundaries between work and personal life. Perhaps colleagues or supervisors constantly call or email after hours and expect the employee to respond.

Quiet quitting results from repeated overstepping, not an occasional work-related emergency. Employees who feel that the company does not respect and protect their personal time will go to extremes and enforce those boundaries absolutely.

A caring and considerate employer can do much to keep employees motivated. However, if employees feel that their employer does not have their best interests at heart or cannot work on their behalf, they are likely to leave the company. When employees feel that their employer cannot or will not help them, many help themselves by putting up barriers.

Often, employees are unaware, overwhelmed, or ineffective when it comes to alleviating employee stress. Even when employees voice their concerns and ask for help, managers act too slowly or do not take action at all. Instead of empathizing with employees’ problems or offering solutions, managers simply push employees to struggle through. As a result, employees take matters into their own hands and withdraw when their managers do not have their backs.

Employees often feel that their employers have unrealistic expectations and unreasonable demands. They feel that their companies are asking too much from them.

Perhaps it’s because employers keep adding tasks outside the job description without talking about it. Or it could be because the employee is working in a completely different position than what they were hired for and expected to do, or because they are taking on a dual role, doing the work of two or three different positions. Or it could be because the goals and metrics are constantly changing or outright unclear.

The employee may think he or she is doing a good job or doing more than usual. Yet the supervisor is always asking for more or not giving feedback on work performance.

Sometimes the employee even misunderstands the supervisor’s expectations, and the employer fails to correct this misunderstanding.

Many employees do not know how to express their problems or fear rocking the boat. They assume that the employer will ignore or dismiss their concerns, even though the employee does not adequately present these issues to management or mistakenly assumes that management already knows.

Perhaps the employee is afraid of conflict and never addresses the problem, instead withdrawing rather than involving the boss.

The employee is not solely to blame. It is the employer’s responsibility to create a safe environment where employees feel comfortable speaking up. It is also helpful to provide training on communication and conflict resolution.

How to prevent Quiet Quitting?

The mainstream media demonise the quiet quitting. They call it “unjust” and “shameful,” while employers increasingly fear they will have “lazy, unmotivated” workers.

In reality, quiet quitting is a natural reaction to the contemporary work environment, where going the extra mile for one’s work is expected. 

The simple truth is that you can only do so much “extra” before you reach a breaking point.

The adverse effects of job burnout are well-documented. According to one study, job burnout is linked to anxiety, depression, and the onset of chronic illness. While some companies are highly exploitative, other, more progressive employers are concerned about workplace wellness.

Here are simple steps any employer can take to create a modern workplace that focuses on work-life balance.

Keep increases in workload short-term

The business world is messy, and sometimes overtime is necessary. However, there is a difference between working overtime in peak season or while waiting to hire a new employee and constantly overworking.

Constantly working at or beyond capacity is not sustainable in the long run. Employees need days off to rest, mentally switch off, and spend time with friends and families. Many employees would have no problem working more on occasion. But when an employer abuses this option, and it becomes the norm, problems arise.

When you increase an employee’s responsibilities, understand that it means changing the existing agreement. The increase should be short-term and optional. However, if you want the employee to take on these new responsibilities indefinitely, the new workload should be an official promotion or come with additional incentives.

Otherwise, you are taking away the employee’s autonomy and forcing them into an arrangement that deviates from the role they agreed to when starting the job.

Properly compensate your team

An equal exchange of labour for compensation is essential to maintaining employer confidence. Without adequate rewards for exceptional effort, the employee is likely to feel devalued.

Pay must be competitive with market rates and current living standards and boost compensation in response to extraordinary effort or results. Remember that compensation can be non-monetary. It can take the form of recognition, perks, and flexibility. However, if you severely underpay your employees, making a case for additional compensation will be less convincing.

Maintain boundaries

Quiet quitting allows employees to set boundaries and prevent employers from going too far and intruding on personal time. Before employees’ resort to this extreme response, you can reinforce these boundaries on their behalf.

For example:

    • emphasise that answering calls or emails after hours is optional;

    • implement an on-call system;

    • develop a method for marking messages as urgent and define what constitutes an appropriate after-hours emergency;

    • reward employees for staying late by allowing them to leave early on another day;

    • intervene when employees push each other to overwork, and create a way for employees to safely report such incidents;

    • allowing employees to pay personal days at random.

Standing up for employees can be a very effective way to prevent quiet quitting. As a leader, the more you advocate for employees’ right to personal time, the less likely team members are to overstep those boundaries. Employees will be grateful that you are advocating on their behalf. By speaking up on their behalf, you will save them the stress of a confrontation.

Use employee recognition strategies

Quiet quitters tend to feel underappreciated. Employee recognition strategies are a great way to combat this attitude.

By recognising and awarding employees for outstanding performance, you show your employees that their work matters to you and the company. Moreover, employees who receive visibility and receive recognition are less inclined to fade into the background.

Support employee well-being

Many employees frame quiet quitting as an essential component of mental health. However, this step is unnecessary if employers are proactive in addressing employee needs. When you prioritise the mental, physical, and emotional health of your employees, they are less likely to feel the need to protect themselves from potential harm by withdrawing from work.

Ideally, you should be an ally to your employees, not a threat to their well-being. By emphasising your commitment to your employees’ well-being and taking action to deliver on those promises, you create a safe workplace and help your employees self-actualise and reach their full potential while they work.

Encourage breaks and sustainable growth

Employees need breaks and the opportunity to recharge their batteries. A slight drop in productivity is no cause for alarm. Only when complacency becomes the norm does a problem arise. There is a middle ground between constant busyness and quiet quitting. Likewise, there is a happy medium between rock stars and burnout.

To prevent employees from thinking about quiet quitting, encourage breaks and sustainable growth. You can set reasonable goals that challenge employees without overwhelming them, and you can allow employees to take time to recover and regroup rather than quit.

Set clear expectations for your employees

Another way to get ahead of quiet quitting is to set clear expectations for your employees. If you expect them to do more work than they do, you should let them know.

If you expect an employee to take on a specific responsibility, list that in the job description when they first interview or apply for a promotion. Be as clear and comprehensive as you feel is necessary for the job so that expectations are established from the beginning when the employee is expected to perform the duties of the position.

However, as employees look to grow in a company, they will naturally have to take on more responsibilities and duties than before. Be open and clear about this.

Respect your employee's mental health

Quiet quitting is about “putting mental health above performance goals.” Every employee should feel good about it. You must make your employees feel that you care about their mental health and career growth. Your actions must demonstrate that you can find a balance between work and personal life.

Encourage your employees to take time for themselves, and make sure they don’t miss out when they do. They should feel comfortable taking mental health breaks during the workday. The hours your employees spend on themselves will allow them to be far more efficient and effective than working 10 extra hours a week.

About the Author

Farrah Motley
Director of Prosper Law. Farrah founded Prosper online law firm in 2021. She wanted to create a better way of doing legal work and a better experience for customers of legal services.

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