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.