What Is Quiet Quitting and How Is It Linked to Engagement?

“Quiet quitting” is a new name for an old phenomenon—employee disengagement. Find out more about what quiet quitting means for your business and why a focus on employee engagement is the solution.

Is the “Great Resignation” slowing down, or is it evolving? According to the SCE Labor Market Survey, the number of U.S. employees changing jobs declined to 4.1% in July 2022, from 5.9% in July 2021. But “The Great X Report” by Michael Page found that 74% of employees in the Asia-Pacific region were considering quitting in the next six months. And a global report by McKinsey found that 40% of employees are planning to leave their jobs—a figure that’s remained unchanged since 2021. 

The question is, if the number of employees considering quitting has remained high, then why is the percentage of employees actually changing jobs falling? That conundrum is at the heart of the workplace phenomenon “quiet quitting.” 

First brought to global attention through a viral TikTok video—which clarifies that this trend is predominantly being discussed among younger generations—and since reported on by a large number of major news outlets including Fortune and the BBC, quiet quitting isn’t quite as simple as its phrasing suggests. Rather than resigning in a sudden and surreptitious manner, as the term implies, quiet quitting instead refers to an employee making a conscious, concerted effort to scale back their output at work. No late nights in the office, no emails over the weekend, no tasks outside their job role. When someone quietly quits, they’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond. 

Quiet quitting may initially sound like a net positive for employees trying to push back on toxic workplace cultures. Only doing the work outlined in your job description shouldn’t be controversial, but there’s a large difference between an employer ensuring their employees don’t feel obliged to do unpaid overtime and employees who are doing the bare minimum work. And that’s where understanding employee engagement is key.

Employee Engagement and Quiet Quitting

With 79% of the global workforce disengaged, according to the latest “State of the Global Workplace” report from Gallup, it’s no surprise that employees are advocating for firmer work-life boundaries. But how does an engaged employee actually behave?

When an employee is engaged, they have an active stake in their workplace. Their work isn’t completed solely in order to tick a box within a set time period—they take pride in the projects they’re involved in because they feel passionately about the company’s overall mission and the connection their role has to short- and long-term goals. They feel seen and respected by their people leaders and envision a future for themselves with the company, whether in their existing role or elsewhere. In short, they bring their full self to work and feel supported by their employer at each stage of their employee journey.

Dismissing quiet quitting as a news trend not only risks further disengagement, it overlooks the genuine reasons employees are stepping back from their role.

By contrast, a disengaged employee is often focused on performing the bare minimum required to escape notice. Sound familiar? If they haven’t begun looking for a job elsewhere, they’re likely weighing their options. The source of their disengagement can range widely, from poor manager support to employee burnout to personal mental health issues, but by measuring their engagement levels and recognizing their decline, businesses can counteract the effects of quiet quitting—both personally and professionally. 

When we measure engagement at Workday, we do so through four outcome questions, asking employees to provide a zero-to-10 score in response to prompts around advocacy, loyalty, satisfaction, and belief. These observable behaviors relate to what we expect from an employee who enjoys their work and is thriving in their role—and it’s these same behaviors that are the first to go when an employee starts quitting quietly. That’s why engagement surveys act as a strong first line of defense against disengagement. 

Quiet Quitting Is a Global Issue

While the term quiet quitting and the associated buzz suggests that this is a recent development, issues surrounding disengagement, burnout, and job dissatisfaction are as old as they are prevalent. Dismissing quiet quitting as a news trend not only risks further disengagement, it overlooks the genuine reasons employees are stepping back from their job role and its responsibilities. Here are three examples of similar phenomena and terms, each of which relates to employee expectations concerning the quality of their employee experience

“Involution” and “Lying Flat”

Dating back to 2020, the tied Chinese trends of “involution” and “lying flat” run in direct parallel with quiet quitting, with a similarly large presence in the news cycle. Involution is seen as the opposite of evolution—a willing stagnancy sought out in stark contrast with the “996” culture (working 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., six days a week). Likewise, lying flat is a fairly literally worded rejection of that same hustle culture. For younger generations who are being expected to work at a nonstop rate, stasis seems actively preferable. 


Historically, work-to-rule has been an effective form of industrial action. Less severe than striking, work-to-rule involves workers coming together to only work the bare minimum required as per their contract. Not only does that mean strictly carrying out work during work hours, it also means following job specifications to the letter. This type of industrial action was designed to simultaneously reduce productivity and underline unfair working conditions. 


Like involution, this is another recent example of disengaged employees battling with a lack of job fulfillment. In 2018, a study of 3,000 UK workers found that 36% felt they were “coasting.” While less severe etymologically than quiet quitting, the study refers to coasting with the exact same framing as quiet quitting, namely: “applying just enough effort to get by and go home at the end of the day.” The study was quick to underline that those surveyed said they weren’t lacking ambition but purpose. 

How to Address Quiet Quitting

In an opinion piece for a U.K. news publication, journalist Thea de Gallier outlined her own experiences with quiet quitting as someone with chronic fatigue syndrome. In doing so, she highlighted how quiet quitting is about more than burnout—it’s about drawing personal boundaries at work. When terms like quiet quitting go viral, there’s a danger that the buzz around it removes the opportunity for nuanced conversations. Tackling quiet quitting isn’t about pushing employees to be more productive—it’s about listening to their difficulties and addressing what’s been said.

If employees don’t have space to speak up, they won’t. That’s why using tools that meet your employees where they work—whether that’s on their smartphone when an employee is off-site or with app integrations in the natural flow of their work day—is so important. Creating a personalized employee experience that’s seamless without feeling overly simplified ensures that your employees have the opportunity to provide feedback at each stage of their employee journey. That way attrition risk doesn’t turn into attrition.

For younger generations who are being expected to work at a nonstop rate, stasis seems actively preferable.

Even if there are signs that the “Great Resignation” is slowing down, employee retention should still be top of mind for employers—especially when the cost of replacing an employee is one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary, according to Gallup. In late 2021, our report “The Great Regeneration: Turning the Tide on Employee Resignations” found that 27% of employees had engagement scores that suggested they were at risk of attrition. More recently, our report “Addressing Employee Burnout Risk in 2022” saw the level of burnout risk for employees increase or stay the same for seven of the 10 industries analyzed between 2021 and 2022. These issues aren’t going anywhere. Here are three ways to tackle them.

1. Focus on Performance at Work, Not Time

Quiet quitting is built on the premise that employees should do their allotted hours and then clock out. In doing so, they’re combating the toxic stigma that emerges around overtime in workplaces. But that focus on time creates a bad precedent. If an employee feels their value is only related to the number of hours they spend on-site or logged in, then they’ll stop focusing on what actually matters: the quality of their work and the passion with which it’s completed.

Suggested actions: 

  • Set clear goals for your employees, ensuring that those key performance indicators (KPIs) align with your overall business strategy and mission. When that goal has a deadline, make sure the reason for the time allotted is clear. If an employee doesn’t understand how their job and performance relates to the success of the company, they’re unlikely to be engaged.

  • Ensure that your employees are aware of the growth opportunities available to them, but don’t force them along a set path. Giving employees control over their professional development not only demonstrates trust in their judgment, it also further highlights the importance of their past and future performance to the company.

2. Enable Quiet Employees to Speak Up

If your employees are discussing their frustrations with their job on social media, then something has gone wrong with the internal chain of communication. A quiet employee isn’t someone who has no opinions—it’s an employee who hasn’t been given the chance to share their thoughts in a manner that’s productive. Honesty may be the best policy, but employees have to know that their honest opinions will be received in a manner that’s productive and safe. 

Suggested actions:

  • Provide a confidential space, such as an engagement survey, where employees can reliably voice their thoughts about the entire breadth of their employee experience. Without the psychological safety required to provide honest feedback, it’s likely that your employees will disengage and find other avenues to discuss their concerns. 

  • Often, quiet quitting is rooted in the idea that speaking up is in vain—or may even have negative repercussions. If you want your employees to engage at each stage of their employee life cycle, they need to see that their feedback is consistently valued. Speak openly about the trends you’re seeing in survey results, whether that’s in all-team meetings, email, or platforms such as Slack, and outline whatever new strategy or policy you’re creating as a result. Then, provide visibility on the results of those actions, too. 

3. Empower Your People Leaders to Act

Managers are often promoted due to their expertise within a specific job role. But that misses the most important part of any people leader’s position: leading people. Without the appropriate training and support, your people leaders will struggle, and when they struggle the entire team struggles with them. Empowering your people leaders is one of the most important steps you can take toward counteracting quiet quitting. 

Suggested actions:

  • Providing your people leaders with the space to voice their concerns and feedback as an employee is just as important as listening to their input as a manager. Make sure that your engagement survey enables managers to provide feedback on training or skills they’re lacking, as well as ensuring that people leaders have the opportunity for one-to-ones with their line managers. 

  • Without the right tools, being a people leader can be difficult—especially in a world of work where workers may never meet their new manager face-to-face. With an engagement platform such as Workday Peakon Employee Voice, not only do people leaders get insights into areas of focus where their team is currently in need of support, they also get automatically generated actions based on their teams’ engagement scores to ensure they put the right foot forward. By analyzing trends to identify the right moments to take action in the employee journey, not only do you reduce attrition risk, you promote stronger engagement across the board.

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