Setting the record straight on quiet quitting – and who’s really to blame for this culture critter!

Before the world accredits the phrase ‘Quiet Quitting’ to the World Economic Forum or to Simon Sinek or to any other undisputed and credible source of industry sovereignty, let it be known that the concept, which is doing its rounds at a rapid rate in HR Departments, at CEO lunch tables, between social engagements and on the smoker’s balcony, was, in fact, made famous by: TikTok. 

What started as nothing more than a cited article in March 2022 on the TikTok platform, by an unsuspecting career coach, landed up being reposted, debated and discussed a few months later by a certain TikToker @zkchillin which sent the term viral. Today, the video on ‘Quiet Quitting’ has garnered over 3.5 million views and almost 500,000 likes. It was coined as one of the ‘Phrases of the Year’ by The Collins Dictionary 2022. The video has since been viewed over 159 million times (and counting), and it now runs its own hashtag too #quietquitting.

This said, despite its outrageous popularity, more than half the world still does not know what ‘Quiet Quitting definitively means. Leaders, managers and employers are finding themselves in the throes of contentious debates about this new cultural behaviour that has ultimately found its way out of the hole it once resided, and into the workspaces and the lives of an organisation’s people.

So what is it?

 ‘Quiet Quitting’ has been described by some as a person’s ‘quiet’ disengagement from their work duties; arriving at their place of work physically but meanwhile have actually mentally checked out. According to most, the ‘Quiet Quitter’ is no longer a contributor, nor an asset to the business but rather no more than a silent player that pitches and pretends to perform. “This definition is erroneous, and has created a misconception amongst Captains of Industry,” says Kerry Morris, CEO of South African recruitment agency, The Tower Group.

“What’s being described here is not the true definition of ‘Quiet Quitting’, but rather, the definition of another such behaviour we’re seeing in the market, called ‘Presenteeism’. Like ‘Absenteeism’, ‘Presenteeism’ is the employee arriving at work to appear as present, but in truth, has disengaged, and is not performing. They are merely doing the bare minimum. ‘Quiet Quitting’ is by no means a disengagement from performance, but rather, from excellence,” says Morris.

“The lines have been blurred as to the difference between ‘Presenteeism’ and ‘Quiet Quitting’; while both are dangerous to the competitive advantage of a business, the two are not the same, and its time leaders of our organisations recognise the variance, in order to apply the correct approach to both,” says Morris.

Harvard Business Review echoes similar sentiment, claiming that what seems to translate as ‘the bare minimum’ in the ‘Quiet Quitting’ Saga, is in actual fact the result of an unbalanced exchange of expectation between leaders and employees. According to the Harvard Business Review, ‘Quiet Quitting’ has less to do with employee disinterest and more to do with a confusion of expectation.

With the onslaught of the pandemic that shook the world, and depleted businesses of their resources, it appears Line Managers and Business Leaders might be inclined more often than not to alter the landscape of the ‘output expectation’, thereby expecting employees to take on more workload, or sacrifice more time for the business. All this, without an end in sight, nor clear guidelines in core functions, nor increased worker benefits, in light of the extra sacrifice. As a by-product of this relentless ‘above and beyond’ expectation, employees are feeling the burden of blurred lines and thereby choose to recline from ‘the hustle culture’. That is, they might fulfil their daily tasks and meet their KPIs but they choose to disengage from going the extra mile, and so retreat from their usual ambition for excellence.

 ‘Quiet Quitters’ have become fearful of more responsibility, more expectation and more sacrifice, which is undoubtedly unsustainable for any individual in an organisation. “As mindful leaders in a business, we must get better at spotting our ‘Quiet Quitters’, and be mature enough to do something about it,” says Morris. “By responding to ‘Quiet Quitting’ with our own silence, makes us, as leaders, culprits too. By not saying anything, we’re in fact giving our teams permission to quietly quit. Don’t. Don’t be the accomplice in a phrase that has little power – and don’t be responsible for harvesting a numb economy, by way of remaining silent in your leadership,” says Morris.

“’Quiet Quitting’ is a slow death, to both the employer and the business, and if not addressed will start to filter through every part of what you do. We are as much responsible for an employee’s disengagement from excellence as they are, and it’s up to us to call the hard yards; in doing so, as leaders, we offer the employee an opportunity to re-evaluate their lives, as well as their expectations of the business, instead of staying stuck in a disillusioned state,” says Morris. 

“Most often, in an honest conversation around quitting, both employer and employee will find a solution to adjust their sides of the street, in the best interest of re-harvesting an output of excellence,” says Morris.

In an attempt to set the record straight on ‘Quiet Quitting’ in 2023 – The Tower Group offers 4 hard yard solutions to gatekeep this detrimental behaviour, and ultimately, to save a company’s culture:

Call your people on their ‘Quiet Quitting’ behaviour

Offer your staff member a reason to check themselves, and reassess their position. They’ll thank you for it no matter the outcome. 

Manage the expectations of any project or core function

Always set out the goal map and a timeline - with clear outcomes and KPI’s. 

Reward and acknowledge your team member when necessary

Recognition feeds enthusiasm, and boosts employee confidence. It’s always necessary. 

Adopt a Citizenship Crafting culture

 Employee and leader should collaborate on key strengths and design the results of a project upfront, one that will deliver the desired output. Harvard review speaks to this notion of designing the expectations as ‘citizen crafting’: employer and employee crafting the expectations around job satiation, not sacrifice. This harvests an enthusiastic approach, where ‘above and beyond’ becomes an ‘I want to’ culture and not an ‘I have to’ culture. “A successful business relies heavily on the emotional and mental investment of its people, and if we choose to give ‘Quiet Quitting’ the power it so unfairly deserves, we’re as much to blame. Let’s remind ourselves in 2023, that business is a two-way exchange; and it deserves honest conversation, recalibration and perhaps, maybe, a little less TikTok,” says Morris. 

Ends -

 ABOUT THE TOWER GROUP: The Tower Group is a leading South African brand in the staffing services industry — with a 40-year track record, vast experience in the staffing services industry and a wealth of expertise to meet the total Human Capital requirements of the most discerning companies seeking a fresh approach to staffing solutions — and driving the future job needs of the twenty-first Century. With the guiding philosophy of “Quality First”, The Tower Group has a people-centric value system embedded into the DNA of the company and a commitment to transformation proven by its Level 1 BB-BEE certification. The Tower Group is also a long-standing member of APSO (Federation of African Professional Staffing Associations). 


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