Silent Steps of the Quitting: How Companies Can Prevent Quiet Quitting?

The German philosopher Nietzsche's “Silence is worse; all truths that are kept silent become poisonous.” phrase seems to gain more meaning for companies with the recent emergence of the concept of “quiet quitting”. The concept of quiet quitting quickly spread after being voiced by a TikTok user @zaidleppelin, reaching 3.4 million viewers, and making a huge impact in many parts of the business world. After that, hundreds of people shared their quiet quitting experiences and thoughts with the quiet quitting hashtag, which has already received 32 million views. Thus, could the quiet quitting of so many people really be quiet?

@zaidleppelin defined quiet quitting at his TikTok[1] as “Where not your outright quitting your job but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond you’re still performing your duties but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life”. Quiet quitting is not an employee's resignation from their job but means that the employees do not go beyond their jobs for which they do not receive material or moral compensation. Many employees in different sectors share their quiet quitting experiences through the TikTok platform, showing that quiet quitting can take place in different ways. There may be thousands of excuses that employees find out if they decide to quit quietly, e.g. employees making fake doctor appointments, being told that they have internet problems even though there is no internet problem, microphones or cameras constantly turned off during online meetings or other uncommon behaviors the employees would unusually attempt may indicate that they have quietly quit their job.

Resume Builder's research[2] on 1,000 American employees also reveals how common quiet quitting is. According to the research, 21% of employees quit quietly by doing only minimal work. 5% of the employees do less than the minimum level of work. The reason behind quiet quitting is stated by the employees as being financially unsatisfied and unstable work-life balance. However, 91% of quiet quitters say they can still be encouraged to work more.

American psychologist Clayton Alderfer's Existence-Relatedness-Growth ("ERG") theory, which takes Maslow's hierarchy of needs one step further, can also provide insight into why employees quit quietly. The ERG theory groups the physiological needs, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization human needs that Maslow lists hierarchically. Accordingly, the group of needs called existence corresponds to Maslow's physiological and safety needs, social needs for relatedness, and growth needs for esteem and self-actualization.

Maslow takes a stand that only one need can be satisfied at any given time, and no higher need in the pyramid arises when that need is not met. On the contrary, Alderfer takes a stand that the relationship between human needs is not hierarchical, but rather that more than one need can arise simultaneously at any given time. Alderfer states that there is a relationship between these needs, which he calls “frustration-regression.” Accordingly, frustration occurs when the need at the hierarchical level is not met, and it regresses to another need. It is seen that employees who quit quietly are disappointed when they cannot satisfy their growth needs, as in the ERG theory, and they now regress to satisfy their relatedness needs. If an employee who cannot find the opportunity to grow in his/her business and cannot meet his/her need for growth regresses to his/her relatedness needs and spends more time socializing. [3]

The Importance of Employee Engagement for Companies

The behavior of quiet quitters is also like employee disengagement, as Dr. William A. Kahn mentioned in his article “Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work”.[4] The “cognitive and emotional withdrawal” that Kahn refers to as disengagement in his article corresponds to the fact that those who quit silently no longer feel committed to their jobs, not motivated to do more. Accordingly, it can be said that the employee engagement of those who quit quietly decreased.

Employee engagement is an element that should be considered by all companies as it helps to reduce staff turnover, increase productivity, build better business and customer relationships, and therefore increase company profits. According to Gallup's report[5] “State of the Global Workplace” published in 2022, the global cost of low employee engagement is $7.8 trillion. As is already seen, companies are faced with an increase in quiet quitting and, thus, a decrease in employee engagement. Companies should increase employee engagement to prevent qualified employees from quitting quietly. So, what can companies do to make their employees more engaged?

In his article, Kahn mentions that employee engagement can be increased if meaningfulness, safety, and availability are provided within reason. Employee loyalty is not only affected by financial factors such as salary increases. As well as material actors, employees feel more connected to the workplace and more willing to go beyond what their job brings, as they feel their job is meaningful, psychologically safe at work, and psychologically available. Research[6]  by Timothy A. Judge and colleagues also shows that the link between wage level and job satisfaction is less than expected. When people receive a salary that can meet their basic lifestyle needs, their commitment is more affected by non-financial factors.

Accordingly, to increase employee engagement, companies should make sure that psychological safety, which is considered among human needs in the ERG theory, is provided in their workplace. Amy Edmondson, the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, defines psychological safety as “a belief that a person will not be punished or humiliated for voicing opinions, questions, concerns or mistakes and that the team is safe to take interpersonal risks”. According to this definition, companies should create a corporate culture where their employees can express opinions, questions, concerns, or mistakes, and what they say is listened to. A corporate culture where what employees say is important and considered will provide an environment where employees can freely voice the reasons that might lead them to quit quietly. Before they reach the point of quietly quitting, companies should increase the engagement of their employees when they understand the wishes and concerns of their employees and provide feedback to their employees. Employers' listening to their employees, taking the necessary measures to prevent low motivation within the company, and encouraging employees in various ways for their individual development will also positively affect employee engagement.

What Does Gen Z Expect from Business Owners?

Meaningfulness in work occurs when employees feel that they contribute to a whole with their work. Gen Z, today's new workforce and new talents, puts a meaningful work environment first in their job search. Research[7] conducted by Zety on Gen Z employees shows that 95% of Gen Z employees want a meaningful job that goes beyond just making a living. Quiet quitting is expressed more by young adults since the term has become a trend on social media, especially on TikTok. Considering the trends and tendencies, companies should help employees find the meaning of their jobs more. This should show how employees' work contributes to the company's mission, vision, and purpose,  and why each of their contributions is important. It is easier for employees who have one-on-one contact with customers to see the result their work contributes. For this reason, the contribution should be seen in their work for employees who do not connect with customers due to their jobs. At the same time, it is necessary to provide a working environment that will allow employees to contribute more and support their personal development.

Finally, the psychological availability factor is related to how psychologically, physically, and emotionally ready an employee is at work. Kahn states that an employee's psychological availability changes and develops depending on events outside their work life. Companies should listen to why their employees feel burnt out to ensure their full psychological well-being. Following that, designing appropriate workplace rituals that they can create within the company with the answers they will receive will contribute to their well-being. Thus, employees will be more available to show themselves at work fully.

As employees start to prefer socially responsible companies that provide social benefits, the importance of compliance programs that are supportive mechanisms in companies where all stakeholders of the company can contribute to the company is increasing. The compliance program to be prepared or already in existence should develop the speak-up culture within the company, support the environment of trust and a sense of organisational justice, provide psychological safety, and, most importantly, blend all of these with the corporate culture. A compliance program that indicates the importance of ethical behaviors and a respectful work environment creates a sense of belonging. Employees who feel that they are a part of the company will be more likely to contribute more. Overall, the compliance program, prepared with a multidisciplinary and human-centric approach, is one of the most important tools to increase employee engagement.

What is the Situation in Turkey?

Research[8] by Youthall about the working scheme and working hours in Turkey and this research gives us important information about quiet quitting. According to the research report, 46% of young people are unsatisfied with their current working scheme. They think their weekly working hours and working patterns are inefficient, and they cannot receive overtime wages. In addition, the fact that these rates are higher for female employees reveals the seriousness of the situation in the country. 86% of young people think working six hours a day and four days a week would be more productive.

82% of companies in Turkey have a working scheme of five days a week, and 52% have an average working time of eight hours per day. From the point of view of the companies, even if some think that reducing the working hours will delay the work, surprisingly, the ratio of the managers who think that six hours a day should be applied is 78% but working four days a week is not welcomed.

This research and current developments show that, no matter what, it seems inevitable to switch to a hybrid working order, especially with the influence of Gen Z. Otherwise, a company that ignores the demands of its employees will inevitably experience major problems in terms of sustainability.

Conclusion

The engagement of the employees in the company is a vital issue for the sustainability of the company's success. Failure to maintain this engagement leads to quiet quitting. Due to the decrease in employee engagement, companies risk decreasing their production, damaging business and customer relations, and thus reducing their profitability. To prevent all these negative consequences, companies should build a compliance program that helps employees to work in a workplace where they feel psychologically safe, find meaning in their work, and create a corporate culture where the well-being of the employees is valued.

 

With thanks to Beste Bayrak for her assistance on this article.