More than a year after the “end” of the pandemic – or at least the most severe part of it – people and companies are still readjusting to the post-Covid reality and what this means for their work experiences. While many people would have thought that a global crisis would cause people to panic and hold onto their jobs as tightly as they could, we instead witnessed very different phenomena: quiet quitting, and eventually the Great Resignation.
This article will explore these phenomena and look at what followed in the form of “quiet firing” and “quiet firing.” Finally, we will explore some of the strategies that labor experts are proposing to mitigate workplace issues and thereby prevent these phenomena from coming about.
What is Quiet Quitting, and What Causes It to Spread?
Quiet quitting refers to the phenomenon of people gradually losing enthusiasm for their jobs, and putting in less and less effort over the course of a given period. When people “quietly” quit, they do not formally announce that they are leaving their jobs but rather put in minimal effort. Although the phenomenon is not new, the term gained popularity during the pandemic because it became much more widespread (and eventually became part of pop culture).
Is this a quantifiable phenomenon? The term itself might sound like poetic commentary, but in fact the trend is very well documented. Even by May of 2022, Gallup estimated that 50% of the US workforce were part of this trend. Gallup reported that the pace of quiet quitting picked up in the second half of 2021, and had the highest degree of incidence among managers.
Of the remaining 50% surveyed in this poll, only 32% were estimated to be “actively engaged” in their work, and the remainder were “loud quitters,” meaning that they simply quit outright.
What exactly caused this to spread so widely? Beyond the obvious initial reasons involving people’s preoccupation with their health and the health of their families, there were more specific trends that came about during the pandemic. According to the Harvard Business Review, the actual nature of work changed significantly when people became remote:
- Emails became much more frequent. A Trends Report from 2021 indicated that 6 billion more emails were sent during that year than previously.
- “After-hours” work increased by almost a third
- Teams meetings increased by more than two-fold
These phenomena can be largely attributed to the fact that employers failed to see the boundaries between working and on-working hours. And this, coupled with the fact that depression and anxiety rates increased sharply at the same time, together resulted in people’s unwillingness to put up with what they felt to be unreasonably large workloads.
The quiet quitting phenomenon is related to what is known as The Great Resignation, which saw a large number of people quitting their jobs, particularly during the middle of the pandemic.
Quiet Firing and Loud Firing
What then would be employers’ natural response to this, many people wondered? Would they change their policies to accommodate employees’ wishes more, or would they simply start dismissing them for lack of effort? So far, evidence seems to be pointing in the direction of the former.
At the beginning of this year, experts predicted that quiet quitting would lead to quiet firing. According to Forbes, “…belt-tightening companies will no longer tolerate workers who don’t meet expectations…companies will see the worker-boss relationship as purely transactional.” This is a curious turnaround from the trend that the workplace previously exhibited, which placed more and more emphasis on lateral communication, inclusion, and fair treatment of employees.
Forbes went on to say that “[I]n response, workers will switch jobs to find better opportunities.” However, this trend also presents a difficult situation in that people leaving their jobs will need to find a better place to go. Whether or not such preferable positions will be continuously available is not entirely clear.
Following the 2008 financial crisis, many people wanted to seek basic security in employment for different reasons. At that time, many positions were eliminated as companies failed due to global economic conditions. As a result, applications for government jobs skyrocketed, and these positions, once disdained by many, suddenly became coveted for their relative stability.
Giant Tech Layoff Sparks Fear
Early this year, many of the big tech companies undertook mass layoffs of their employees. Among the most highly publicized were Twitter, who laid off a large majority of its workforce, Google, who laid of 12,000 employees, and Microsoft, who laid off 10,000 employees. The particularly harsh manner with which these layoffs occurred sparked fear into many people, and may become a cause for an eventual reversal of the quiet quitting phenomenon.
There are many reasons that companies might be tightening their belts and reducing staff. Beyond companies’ frustration with employees’ lack of performance, there are other phenomena that could have major impact on the state of the workplace.
The world’s economies are suffering due to global inflation, energy shocks, supply chain issues related to geopolitical problems, and a host of other factors. In addition, there is increasing concern about artificial intelligence taking over many job functions and making a lot of positions redundant.
These factors present an interesting contrast to the quiet quitting phenomenon. If big companies are going to start laying people off, employees will either have to gain new skill sets to obtain different kinds of jobs, or start working harder.
Quiet Hiring Is Also on the Rise
There is yet another phenomenon taking place, and people refer to it as quiet hiring. Quiet hiring is the process of companies’ moving people from position to position internally within the same company. More and more companies are deciding that it is easier and more cost-effective to fill vacant positions internally, even if there might be a mismatch of skill sets.
One survey conducted earlier this year indicated that 80% of people polled had been hired “quietly.” However, many of the employees themselves are not happy about their moves. Of the people polled, half of the respondents said that they did not believe their new role aligned properly with their skill sets. And while some people find that taking new roles can lead to an interesting change in duties, many people still feel frustrated by the changes. In fact, 27% of the same survey respondents said that they would consider quitting if they were hired “quietly.”
How Do Experts Suggest Targeting These Problems?
Given the direction that these trends are heading in, it is clear that companies need to make targeted efforts to handle them properly. As people lose interest in their jobs, not only do individual roles suffer, but company morale as a whole gets affected. And this can eventually cause companies to decline.
For this reason, experts suggest taking the following measures to keep employees happy and help them maintain their performance levels:
- Redefining core job duties. One of the reasons that people start to “quit quietly” is because they feel that their original job duties are no longer clearly defined. During the pandemic, people were expected to take on tasks at odd times of day, in previously-undefined contexts, and sometimes of a nature that wasn’t originally part of their jobs. Therefore, they felt as if their employers were taking unfair advantage of them.
The answer to this, according to the Harvard Business Review, is for employers to redefine core job tasks and stick to them. If employees feel that they are doing the tasks they ought to be doing and are compensated accordingly, they will be much less likely to suffer from burnout.
- Employers should take the time to listen to employee concerns. This means not only generally being open-minded, but actually scheduling regular meetings with employees to listen to their concerns and address them appropriately.
Beyond having meetings, managers should start incentivizing good job performance, particularly if they see the potential for employee burnout. Furthermore, employers should collect hard data on employee performance and responses during meetings. This will help companies determine the risks they face and how to act preemptively to prevent problems. There are HR analytics tools that can store and analyze this type of data.
Employee needs might vary from one person to the next. While some people might prioritize higher pay, others might need more vacation time or a more flexible schedule. Employers should take these things into consideration when making company plans.
In using analytics to determine employee needs and behavioral trends, employers will not only gain an understanding of individuals’ needs. In addition, they will be able to determine larger trends among staff that can affect large-scale planning.
- “Citizenship crafting.” The HBR also suggests that companies take the time to “move beyond the hussle” of simply pushing employees to do more and think more creatively about how to motivate them. Specifically, the term refers to getting employees involved in community activities, such as volunteering, or taking on special assignments that will help them feel a sense of accomplishment and altruism for having done something for the greater good.
While this needs to be done in the right way – companies with low morale in general might need to target other, more fundamental problems first – if managed correctly, the idea of citizenship crafting can be an effective way to both lift employees’ spirits, and provide a reason to celebrate them in a new way. And this, in turn, can motivate employees to want to go above and beyond their regular positions.
Healing the Collective Trauma of Covid
Another 2023 trend that HR specialists are talking about is the collective emotional downturn that people have taken because of the “adrenaline wearoff” following Covid. In other words, people’s emotional levels were raised during the panic of the pandemic, and now that the fervor has worn off, many people have fallen into a rut that can be difficult to get out of.
A recent Gallup poll indicates that global employee stress is at a record high this year, and largely for this reason.
In response, experts recommend employers’ taking proactive measures to counteract these tendencies and help revitalize employees. Among them is the idea of “proactive rest.” Proactive rest refers to the fact that overly-stressed employees need rest on a regular basis to keep themselves revitalized and motivated. Implementing proactive rest correctly involves three major criteria:
- This means that employees should have a flexible set of options for how to rest and revitalize.
- Employees should be encouraged to take advantage of ways to rest and not feel guilty about it.
- Tools should be of the type and nature that are suitable to employees’ needs.
According to a survey conducted by Gartner last year, employees perform at an average of 26% higher when rest availability meets these three criteria. The survey found that 22% of employees polled felt burned out in their jobs, but for organizations that had established proactive rest strategies in place, only 2% of respondents felt this way.
How employment dynamics take shape in the future will depend on multiple factors. There is increasing concern about AI taking over many jobs, and the degree and manner that this happens in will shift people’s priorities both with regard to the types of positions that they seek, as well as the kind of job training that they undergo.
Climate change, geopolitical issues, and other outside factors will similarly play a role. While many of these things are difficult to determine in advance, companies can take precautionary measures by undertaking some of the initiatives described in this article.