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Rising Trend of Quiet Quitting

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Quiet quitting is a phrase you may be unfamiliar with but it’s on the rise amongst disenchanted workers. We explore this alleged antidote to “burn out” and consider steps to take when it arises.

Quiet quitting is a phrase you may be unfamiliar with but it’s on the rise amongst disenchanted workers. We explore this alleged antidote to “burn out” and consider steps to take when it arises.

Firstly, where did this growing movement in adopting a “less is more” attitude to work start?

First clue is the phrase used by the originators, not quiet quitting but “Tang ping” which translates as “lying down”. Lying down is a term Chinese workers use which gained traction across mainland China in 2021. Tan ping in the workplace is recognised as stepping back from following arduous working patterns, long hours and being responsive to any additional demands an employer may request. An unhappy, worn out worker who applies Tan Ping won’t resign from their job,

Quite surprising that this trend started in the country often lauded for its population’s dedication, loyalty and hardworking reputation. It’s understandably become quite a concern for the Chinese authorities highlighted by a formal appeal to return to work and striving to achieve from president Xi Jinping.

In the US, Australia, and the UK we know this trend as “Quiet Quitting” and its growing in popularity. It follows the same ethos as the Chinese movement, an employee’s worth is not defined by their productivity, quitting the idea of going above and beyond rather than the job itself, cancelling the subscription to the “hustle culture”, simply put by its supporters “work is not your life”.

In the most part those adopting the Quiet Quitting position are seeking to protect themselves from “burnout” and considering the hugely disruptive, stressful, experiences for many of us over the past couple of years and looking ahead to an uncertain trajectory it’s no surprise prioritise have shifted somewhat.

But is this passive aggressive approach to work the answer?

Whatever your view of this “bare minimum” approach it would be prudent not to react hastily if you become aware of it in your organisation. If you take strident action against staff “not pulling their weight” you could quickly be on the wrong end of an unfair dismissal claim.

In truth it might prove hard to identify those who are adopting this method of working. If you can open a conversation with employees who are expressing common concerns and acting akin to a quiet quitter be mindful of the reasons for their inaction.

As the core reason for quiet quitting is to avoid burn-out you’ll need to assess the work patterns and any potential causes for that reduction in engagement and decision not “go the extra mile”.

  • Is their workload appropriate?
  • What support or adjustments could be made?
  • Do they require better equipment, resources to help in their role?

Once you’ve reviewed what you can do as employer you can also evaluate the impact of their behaviour.

  • Is their attitude creating disruption amongst other workers?
  • Have you received complaints, grumbles from customers or colleagues?
  • Have they refused a “reasonable request” one that forms part of the recorded job description for the role?

As an employer you’ll be acutely aware that such passive resistance can prove disruptive, the atmosphere at work can change and factions could develop comprised of quiet quitters and anti-quiet quitters. You can imagine the response from those who are still taking on additional tasks and working above and beyond when they discover a colleague who “downs tools” the moment they are able to and refuses to help out when workloads rise and opportunities for a business are presented.

One argument that I must confess I share is, if they are unhappy in the work, feel it is too much, don’t want to engage beyond the barest minimum perhaps they should stop, think and decide if it might be better to find another job. This will sound harsh to those supporting the quiet quitters but if your business is forward thinking, offers wellbeing for staff, includes supportive mentoring, endorses the “right to switch off” and only makes reasonable requests of employees, it’s rather galling to find staff have adopted this attitude.

Discovering staff acting like this could be triggering for business owners who’ve lived through the same stress and uncertainty with often greater risks to manage. However strongly you feel over such a trend you will need to retain a level of calm assuredness and be very clear as to what you’re expecting from your employees. If its within scope of the job description and yet the employee is falling short on aspects of the role you are within your rights to commence the disciplinary process.

As ever in these situations, before it comes to warning letters, take time to understand the employees’ position and seek a mutually acceptable solution. If they fundamentally like their job and enjoy working in the company, it could be simply a case of being heard andtheemployerbeingmoremindfulofsituationsrequiringgreaterlevelsofinput. The realityismostjobshavepeaksandtroughsandvariablelevelsofdemand. Simply focusing on the occasions when an additional request is made may miss the times that the employee has a far quieter working day. With such a huge variety of roles its impossible to be definitive here but common sense should ultimately prevail. Without addressing this trend in the workplace a business could find itself at a distinct disadvantage when winning a new contract or launching a new product.

Quiet quitting has struck a cord with those who believe they’re being ‘put upon’ rather than supported and have lost faith in their employers approach. The industrial action we’re seeing across the UK is also a sign of this disconnect between what an employer considers fair vs what an employee believes is appropriate for the job.

I’m not suggesting employees should all work like ants in a colony and not question their bosses but using another Chinese reference, there is almost always a case of Yin-Yang in our lives both work and home.

In other words, life is rarely perfect and whilst we’ve been severely tested for almost two and half years, we need to work to build a positive resilience within our
organisations. One critical area to prioritise would be in reviewing/improving internal communications, listening to staff and being open about the challenges faced by both employees and the employer.

Yin-yang is always a comparative relationship. You can’t have one without the other: Something is always more yin in comparison to yang. (It cannot be yin or yang, but yin- yang.) Yin-yang reminds us that there is a natural order to the universe, and productivity comes from harmony. When this harmony is broken, problems can occur. [Ref MBG Mindfulness]

If you are at all concerned about the issues raised in the above article and wish to consult an expert in the field, please don’t hesitate to contact Robert Gibson. Call Robert on 0191 2328451 or e-mail

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