Is Quiet Quitting Just Another Word for Disengagement?

Posted September 13th, 2022 by Urban Legal Recruitment

Quiet quitting isn’t a new phenomenon. 

The term ‘quiet quitting’ was originally coined in September 2009 at a Texas A&M economics symposium by economist Mark Boldger, but the phrase has experienced a revival thanks to a posting by American TikTokker @zaidlepplin.

While employee engagement refers to the level of commitment and discretionary effort employees put into their work, quiet quitting describes mentally and emotionally checked-out employees doing only what is absolutely required to get their job done. Ultimately both employee engagement and quiet quitting pertain to the same thing - how fully present employees are in their work. 

“Fully engaged employees are critical to the success of any organization,” comments Stacy Cowan, founder of Urban Legal Recruitment. “When employees ‘quietly quit’ and are not fully present mentally and emotionally, everyone suffers - the firm, the ‘checked-out’ individual and other employees. But there are ways to deal with this issue that is respectful and beneficial to both the individual and the organization.”

The impacts of quiet quitting

Pre-pandemic, employee engagement rates were rising globally for nearly a decade, likely as a result of organizations understanding the impact of engaged employees on the bottom line. According to a recent Gallup survey however, Canada’s current rate of employee engagement is commensurate with the global average of 21 percent. 

Some will argue that quiet quitters have a negative impact on their organizations and on colleagues who have to pick up the slack by choosing to do just enough work to ‘get by’. While perhaps not quite as prevalent amongst legal professionals who bill hourly, even low levels of quiet quitting impact the benefits of full engagement with decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, and limited innovation and growth.  

On the other end of the spectrum, some feel that quiet quitting is a good thing and a long overdue response to a culture of overwork, which still tends to be the norm in the legal industry. When the pandemic hit and people were forced to work remotely, they experienced increased flexibility and more work/life balance.

For some, quiet quitting represents a much-needed transition to a more human-centred workplace. But where does this leave organizations that still have to compete, grow and meet the ever-increasing expectations of diverse stakeholders?

Identifying and managing quiet quitters

  • Some of the hallmarks of quiet quitting include: 
  • increased isolation and withdrawal from the team; 
  • a lack of interest in learning or sharing ideas; 
  • elevated levels of absenteeism; 
  • strict adherence to work responsibilities and hours; and
  • an increasing sense of discontent or dissatisfaction with the organization. 

To deal with a quiet quitter, leaders first need to uncover the reason. Is the employee having a personal struggle, feeling unrecognized at work, or just wanting to achieve a better balance between work and home? Having an open and honest conversation in a non-judgemental and supportive way evolves both the individual and the organization.   

Leaders need to make space for both those who choose to just meet expectations, perhaps due to heightened family responsibilities or other personal factors, and those who want to exceed expectations and advance their careers. Quiet quitters need to understand the potential effects on their careers such as reduced advancement opportunities, reputational issues and possible termination. 

Organizations can use this transitional time to clearly define and communicate their desired culture, build trust and ensure leaders are well-equipped to manage employees - whether they are working remotely or transitioning back to hybrid or onsite work. Leaders who know their people’s individual goals and desires will be able to build a balanced team founded on respect for personal choice while still contributing to the growth and success of the company.

Life. Career. Opportunity Awaits. If you have any questions, are considering a change, or just want to chat, we would love to hear from you.