“Quiet Quitting” On Top of “The Great Resignation”? What is Happening?

Quiet Quitting Symbol. Concept Words Quiet Quitting On Wooden Bl

First, is “Quiet Quitting” just a new name for an old phenomenon, i.e., people at work who are not fully engaged, or quietly hostile, for several reasons, real or imagined, to the work environment, the company culture, and/or other employees.

Instead of simply quitting, these employees “stay on” doing the absolute minimum. Their bodies are there but their hearts and minds are not.  Thus, in a certain sense they have “quietly quit”. Of course, there are a complex of feelings, ideas, emotions, and attitudes. The questions remain. Why? Why now? Is this something new, or not new but increasing?

But even though attitudes towards work have always had its share of negativity, the claim now is that something new may be going on. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) wanted to find out and in August of this past year (2022) they conducted a survey of 1200 HR professionals and 51 % indicated that it was a real concern which 39% had witnessed in their own organizations. Further 28% had witnessed “quiet quitting” among “front-line people managers” which the writer found to be astonishing.

What the writer did not find astonishing was that 72% of survey respondents found “quiet quitting” among younger workers “with hourly workers the most likely group to exhibit behaviors associated with quiet quitting” (Note: Survey results were published just recently – Nov 2022)

There is also anecdotal evidence for this phenomenon in the secular press together with some ideas on what may be causing the problem. In a December 14th article in the Washington Post, by psychotherapist Lesley Alderman, the author began an article on this subject by stating that “about half her session time is spent helping patients process their frustrations with bad bosses, cranky colleagues, unrealistic workloads, microaggressions, feeling out of the loop and other vexing work problems”

She is aware of the larger problem as well as the causal evidence by pointing to a Gallup 2022 study on the state of the Global Workforce (See sections “From the CEO” and “Executive Summary”) This gives some good worldwide data and surprisingly shows that the USA is comparatively not doing too badly(but only by comparison!).  The data on work disengagement in the US and worldwide is not good at all.

Although she reports from that Gallup study that only 33% of employees feel fully engaged at work, she does not explore the many business, economic, and social consequences of that mediocre fact. For example, Gallup reports that businesses with higher disengaged workers have significantly lower profit margins, higher absenteeism, turnover and accidents, and have lower customer loyalty.  Gallup also “estimates” (Executive Summary Item # 1) “that the cost of low engagement costs the global economy US$7.8 trillion”.

What she does, which is logical and probably quite helpful for her patients, is to discuss “10 steps you can take to thrive at work”.  Although this does not help us to understand the causes of the problem, she does list in the complaints about work that she deals with as a therapist, the topic of “bad bosses”.

Gallup singles this factor out for discussion in the earliest part of the report’s overview titled, “From the CEO”, where Gallup CEO Jon Clifton says,
Improving life at work isn’t rocket science, but the world is closer to colonizing Mars than it is to fixing the world’s broken workplaces” . . . “The real fix is this simple: better leaders in the workplace.  Managers need to be better listeners, coaches, and collaborators. Great managers help colleagues learn and grow, recognize their colleagues for doing great work, and make them truly feel cared about. In environments like this, workers will thrive”.

Although I agree that bad management is probably a root cause for a lot of office negativity and “quiet quitting, there are certainly other causes for disengaged workers other than poor management.  In fact, I suspect that the managers are not simply a cause of much of the negativity by their poor management, but their poor management may also be an effect of their own personal negativity that they bring to the workplace to begin with. If true, this would mean we are not simply dealing with a business management problem but also with more general social causes.

What I mean is that the managers are dealing with the same stresses, frustrations, and problems, most of which are beyond their control, which their employees are also dealing with, and, like them, also bring these stresses to the office which certainly has the potential to be far more damaging because of the positions they hold.

When we ask the questions, why “The Great Resignation”, that has happened, and why the “Quiet Quitting”, that continues to be happening, what we really want to know is “what is the problem, or collection of problems”, that is making so many people so unhappy as to quit “for good” if able (financially, etc.), i.e., “the Great Resignation”, and “quietly quit” if not?

I wish the psychotherapist would have dug a little deeper or we had the evidence of “why” from some other social psychologist or cultural expert because we need to know. I will research that topic for future article.

One thing is certain; our society is in a competition for survival as a world leader and that cannot be sustained without the full engagement of the business community. We do not have a great deal of time.

As always, Stay Safe! Pray for Ukraine, and ourselves!