Opinion: Do employees have a point? How to handle the quiet quitters before they really quit
‘Quiet quitting’ is the latest work trend, but it may not be all bad. Employees who overwork themselves tend to burn out faster
Quiet quitting, a TikTok-fueled global phenomenon, is all about setting boundaries on your work and seeking to create work-life balance. While somewhat of a misnomer, it isn’t about actually leaving your job but simply refusing to do anything extra or beyond the scope of your role. In other words, quiet quitters simply do what is formally required by their contract and nothing more.
As employees begin to do the bare minimum, this can leave managers in a bind. If employees are completing formally assigned tasks but refusing to do anything extra, how should managers deal with this situation?
To start, it is important to acknowledge that employees have a point.
Research shows that going beyond the call of duty at work can lead to work-family conflict, stress and fatigue related to nonrequired tasks. Further, sometimes taking on nonrequired work can be distracting and potentially undermine employees’ efforts in their required duties. Managers need to be willing to recognize that there exist potential costs for employees who take on extra work and be willing to discuss this with employees.
Also, simply trying to compel or pressure employees who are doing the bare minimum to take on extra work is likely counterproductive. Research shows that employees who are pressured or compelled to engage in discretionary work behaviors may engage in these behaviors in the short-run but experience higher levels of stress and have higher intentions to quit. So, putting pressure on quiet quitters to step it up and do more may inadvertently lead them to actually quit.
Despite these potential roadblocks, there is something managers can do. Research shows that work provides more than just financial gains and can be a crucial source of meaning.
Indeed, employees crave meaningful and important work, and 9 out of 10 are willing to sacrifice money for meaning. To help employees go beyond the call of duty, managers can do better at providing employees with options and allowing them choices in what types of nonrequired tasks they participate in. Some employees may prefer to stay late to finish a project whereas others may prefer to organize the company blood drive. Managers just need to be proactive in making it clear that there are lots of meaningful ways employees can go above the beyond.
According to research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, when employees feel like they are in control of their extra-role behaviors, they experience positive emotions and engage in more extra-role behaviors. Indeed, helping employees identify and find extra-role tasks that align with their personal interests is not only beneficial to the organization but is likewise good for employees.
Of course, there are likely tasks that nobody is willing to do. In these instances, employers likely need to consider actually compensating employees for these tasks.
People will do a lot of things for free — think Wikipedia — if it is something they find personally meaningful and important. Managers may need to be a little more proactive in helping employees find ways to go beyond the call of duty, but with options and autonomy, quiet quitters may be willing to do a little more.
Thomas K. Kelemen, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of management at Kansas State University. His research focuses on leadership, job design and why employees go beyond the call of duty at work.