Why quiet quitting is an opportunity to transform work culture


Something is amiss if employees quietly quit instead of discussing work boundaries and striving for balance. 
Asian man in suit on the street carrying box of work belongings
Quiet quitting is about calling it quits on work cultures that routinely burden employees but fail to reward, or even appreciate, those additional efforts. | Image source: Getty Images

A trend raging amongst employees, notably Gen Z, sparked by a video on TikTok, is called “quiet quitting”. As reported by New York Times, various interpretations of the trend have got millions engaged in relating with an otherwise overlooked struggle at work.

Contrary to what the term suggests though, this is not about leaving work on a Friday evening, never to show up again. Quiet quitting is about calling it quits on work cultures that routinely burden employees but fail to reward, or even appreciate, those additional efforts.

Putting a name to this struggle has highlighted a dysfunctional workaround for legitimate problems at work. Quietly quitting also doesn’t raise employee engagement. In fact, curtailing commitment, wilfully disengaging, or mentally checking out, prove temporary balm for a thorny problem.

Resorting to subterfuge and silence don’t bode well for work cultures either. Something is amiss if employees quietly quit instead of discussing work boundaries and striving for balance. 

Though, like all dark clouds, this too comes with a silver lining. As quiet quitting bands millions in silent protest, it’s helping shine a light on what doesn’t work. Workplace cultures, the microcosm of which are reflected in teams, need a long-overdue upgrade.

Consider these four aspects of work culture that can build trust and open up communication.

  • Build acceptance for protecting personal time

Building respect around protecting personal time improves work commitment, helps people feel rejuvenated, and raises personal happiness. In a recent conversation with a client, it was a pleasant surprise to know that the matter being discussed was a priority, but no one was expected to work late. This meant, commitment to the job was not being measured by how long you were awake, but by the quality of output. Moreover, it was acceptable, and even recommended, that switching off was healthy. This is often not the case though. Most leaders put in long hours and overwork, which puts pressure on teams to respond similarly. Instead, leaders can lead from the front and convey that preserving personal time was acceptable. This consent can have a big impact on those who believe presenteeism is necessary for progress.

  • Normalise wellbeing and mental health at work

While there is greater awareness of mental health issues at work than ever before, we still have a long way to go. The fear around admitting to feeling stressed, burnt out, and exhausted at work continues to hold people back from seeking help and support. There is a lot leaders can do to make it acceptable and helpful to share mental health struggles at work. A small retail organisation struggling to engage employees after the pandemic-driven lockdowns, created a mental health day off. It took employees by surprise in the best way possible. Not only did the senior most leader endorse mental health as a valid priority, they operationalised that intention through effective action. This gave everyone the permission to take a break from the never ending hustle, and make the  time to feel centred and grounded again.

  • Create a safe space for real, open conversations

A powerful way to  engage people is to have a conversation with them. Getting to know people opens doors to more courage and candour. JF Goldstyn, Head of Learning Governance at Takeda, and former leader in L&D for multinationals in Healthcare, IT and Publishing, speaks of creating a ‘safe container’ at work. An environment where both the manager and the team member can be vulnerable without judgement or negative consequences. JF emphasises the importance of  showing up as trust-worthy leaders who can be vulnerable while establishing credibility, dependability, and respect for individuality. He suggests that managers avoid jumping into a structured, agenda-driven career conversation right away, and instead focus on getting to know the person better. You’ll be surprised at what you will learn and how it leads to building a stronger relationship.

  • Make appreciation a meaningful reward that counts

All reasonable employees understand that every effort outside their job description cannot be compensated for. Which is why, appreciation needs to be a thoughtful and well-worded effort. Though not a replacement for fair payment, or a way to hide poor work practices, it’s still a vital part of the mix. A survey by Limeade found that employees who felt appreciated by their employers were 38% more engaged and 18% more likely to go the extra mile in their day to day tasks. Moreover, 80% of employees said recognition motivated them to work harder, according to an analysis by Gallup. When managers value their people, they are able to get ahead of possible discontent and passive aggression. Genuine appreciation lets the team to know that going the extra mile is not taken lightly and valued at work.

Sonali D’silva is a Certified Professional in Inclusive Leadership from Catalyst Inc. She is the Founder of Equality Consulting, a training and advisory service for raising diversity awareness, leading with inclusion, and creating psychological safety at work. Find out more about Sonali at www.equalityconsulting.com.au