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Quiet Quitting: What HR Needs to Know

September 07, 2022

Quiet quitting is the latest workplace trend but understanding the term can help HR make employees feel supported and keep them engaged.

Blog Post

In the wake of the Great Resignation, a new trend has emerged in the workplace and taken over the conversation about work culture and mental health. Dubbed “quiet quitting” and spreading on TikTok, the movement has found its way back into the mainstream. Previous iterations of the name include “phoning it in” and “coasting” and were exaggerated in media like the 1999 film Office Space. The 2022 version, however, reportedly comes as a response to an ongoing pandemic, possible recession, and other major stressors that make employees reconsider what work means to them. 

What should human resources know about quiet quitting and how to navigate meeting the needs of the modern workforce? Learning about this trend can inspire organizations to revamp their cultures and make employees feel supported, motivated, and engaged without sacrificing their wellbeing.

What Is Quiet Quitting?

The term “quiet quitting” is misleading. Employees aren’t quitting their jobs, but rather ceasing to go above and beyond the scope of their job descriptions and the hours they originally agreed to work.

At its core, quiet quitting is a direct reaction to the pervasive “hustle culture” of the last decade, where work was placed at the center of one’s life. It’s nothing new, but it reentered the zeitgeist for a few reasons:

  • The rise of remote/hybrid work: Today’s workforce is largely untethered from a single office or location. Without a commute and set hours to structure your day, you have more freedom and flexibility to prioritize different aspects of your life.
  • The strong labor market: The economic collapse of 2008 left employees constantly stressed about being laid off, but the rebound has made workers feel confident in their job security and options in the event of layoffs or termination.
  • Increased focus on mental health: In recent years, leading experts have raised awareness about the role of mental health, and many organizations responded by offering access to treatment.   

The pandemic changed how people think about and approach work, and the increased flexibility and job security have inspired employees to set boundaries and truly disconnect from work once the job is done. Quiet quitting simply means doing one's job competently, but the trend (and its counterpart, “quiet firing”) has spurred a massive wave of discussions both in the HR sphere and the larger workforce.

What About Quiet Firing?

Just like quiet quitting, quiet firing is not a brand-new concept — it's also called constructive dismissal and has reportedly affected 80% of employees, according to a recent LinkedIn News poll. Quiet firing refers to the slow changes an employer makes to an employee’s job or environment that eventually pushes that person to leave on their own. This may save an employer from paying severance initially, but some employees who were quietly fired could be entitled to severance pay.  

Rather than resorting to passive aggressive methods, both employees and organizational leaders should maintain open lines of communication to resolve misunderstandings.

The Case for Setting Boundaries at Work

Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2022 Report reveals some key findings that explain the rise of quiet quitting:

  • Only 21% of employees feel engaged at work, and 33% feel they are thriving in everyday life.
  • 44% of employees are stressed at work, a new all-time high after after 43% reported in 2020.
  • 71% of employees say now is a good time to find a job.

With employees feeling burnt out and stressed out, it’s no surprise that for some, the solution is to let go of the “rise and grind” mentality and the responsibilities above their pay grades — or leave for an employer that doesn’t ask them to strain themselves.

Industry leaders, including SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor Jr., see quiet quitting as a temporary fix but not a long-term solution that benefits employees. Instead, employees should determine which boundaries are most important to them, such as the hours they work or the number of days in the office, and work with their managers to come up with solutions. Managers can also take actions like redefining employees’ job descriptions to let them focus more on the projects that motivate them. By making just a few changes, leaders can increase employee satisfaction that reverberates across the organization.   

Gallup’s research backs this up. Takeaways from the report emphasize the link between a company’s success and its employees’ overall wellness. Specifically, employees who are happy and engaged with their jobs will naturally experience less stress, leading to improved mental health and less likelihood of visiting the emergency room.  

Employee productivity is, of course, a priority, but another benefit of employee wellness for HR is increased employee retention. If you can ensure that your employees feel cared for and respected, they’re far less likely to quit, quietly or outright.

How to Address Quiet Quitting

Although there is plenty of hand wringing about the quiet quitting movement, HR and people teams have no cause for alarm. Rather than fixating on preventing quiet quitting and the sensationalized effects of the trend, focus on how you can support your employees and organization. By taking steps to improve company culture, you can reenergize your workforce and boost your organization’s bottom line. It’s a win-win! But where to start?

1. Make Employees Feel Heard

Nobody is in a better position to give honest feedback about your organization than your employees. Anonymous employee surveys can give you the insights you need to better understand existing issues, anticipate potential problems, and measure the effects of change. In short, workers want to feel heard and understood, and collecting ongoing feedback can make all the difference.

2. Give Recognition When Earned

Lack of recognition is a major predictor of employee disengagement and, in turn, quiet quitting. But showing appreciation for a job well done is a simple practice that makes employees feel proud of their work. Make sure your organizational leaders are recognizing employee contributions or go the extra mile and give employees peer recognition tools to highlight each other's accomplishments.    

3. Offer Opportunities for Growth

According to a recent Pew Research Center report, 63% of workers who left their jobs cited “no opportunities for advancement” as a reason for quitting. Employees want opportunities to grow their careers and expect ongoing support, so offering both can drastically improve engagement. Professional development plans, continued training courses, and additional certifications are just a few

4. Create Purpose in Work

If employees think of work as just a means to a paycheck, there is nothing stopping them from seeking that paycheck elsewhere. But if you can show them a larger purpose that will keep them engaged, you’ll have a happier, more tenured workforce. Promoting your organization’s values helps employees feel aligned with the mission at a high level, while  enabling employee connections and empowering them to co-create company culture inspire purpose in their professional relationships.

5. Connect with Employees Regularly

No employee wants to feel like an island, especially your remote workforce. Instead, keep the lines of communication open so your entire team knows they can ask questions, offer suggestions, or just have water cooler chats with their colleagues. People managers should also have regular check-ins with their reports to address tasks, professional development, and motivators that will keep them engaged.   

Get more valuable insights on quiet quitting on our podcast episode, “Talking Quiet Quitting with Kate Grimaldi”, and learn how to revamp your organization’s efforts to keep employees engaged.

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