Quiet quitting— the new workplace standard in S’pore to replace hustle culture?

quiet quitting

In recent weeks, a new trend has taken over social media by storm: the idea of quiet quitting.

Log on to LinkedIn and start scrolling, and chances are, within a few posts, there will be someone giving their two cents on why they chose to quiet quit, or a lengthy sob story about how an employee turned from a valuable asset to a quiet quitter.

But what is quiet quitting really? In general, it refers to when an employee decides to stop going above and beyond at their job, and simply do the bare minimum for their employer to avoid being fired.

This can be due to multiple reasons. Perhaps, they feel that the job is not for them and are preparing to make a switch soon. Or, they feel that the company does not offer them enough to go beyond the bare minimum.

This practice has been criticised as pointless by some, since quiet quitters still do their work, but others have criticised it and traced its origins to the rat race that seems to offer few rewards. 

But is quiet quitting really that bad? After all, one can never expect all employees to be fully passionate all the time. And even if there are quiet quitters, is it something that employers should be worried about?

Is quiet quitting really new, and how should we make sense of it?

Natasha Bowman, author and TEDx speaker
Natasha Bowman, author and TEDx speaker / Image Credit: Natasha Bowman

According to author and TEDx speaker Natasha Bowman, quiet quitting is nothing new.

Although the concept of quiet quitting has been around since the beginning of times, someone finally coined (a term for) it.

– Natasha Bowman, Author and speaker at TEDx

Indeed, this pattern of behaviour shouldn’t be seen as either new or necessarily bad. A job is, at the most basic level, supposed to provide an employee with compensation for their time and effort.

An employee that quiet quits is still performing at a decent level — perhaps refusing to engage in overtime, and not volunteering to take extra work when the team requires it — but still, doing whatever he or she is paid to do.

In other words, quiet quitters are still working, and being paid for their services. To object to this would be to suggest that money should not be a motivating factor for employees picking up a job.

And if so, then what should be the proper motivating factor? 

A popular candidate, especially among recruiters, is that passion — not compensation — should be the primary driving factor for individuals who apply for jobs. But this view, has also been criticised as a means to keep wages down for employees, and for employers to exploit their workers.

Again, this is not necessarily wrong, but not exactly ideal either. Employees are likely to mix both motivations when they evaluate the job for its suitability. Have them driven only by passion and they will burn out quickly; have them driven only by compensation and you may end up with a workforce of questionable loyalty, willing to jump ship at the first sign of a better offer. 

Employees driven by passion are, naturally, less likely to quiet quit. After all, monetary compensation may not be great, but if they find satisfaction in their work and enjoy doing what they do, why should they quiet quit?

But that is also not to say that monetary compensation is not important. After all, a job is still a job, and unless employees are paid on passion, they still need to find a way to earn a living, which is why there are limits as to how much passion can drive employees.

When quiet quitting becomes a problem

That is not to say, however, that quiet quitting is never a problem. If no one goes above and beyond in their work, after consistently doing so, the company is likely to see a drop in output and lowered productivity. 

This may become worse when even employees who are driven by passion for the work decide to quiet quit.

estimated annual losses from Quiet Quitting
Estimated annual losses from quiet quitting / Image Credit: TeamBuilding

When employees who are primarily there even for the passion that drives their work ethic, there may be something seriously wrong with the company — whether it is a toxic work culture, unmet expectations of work-life balance, or other needs that are not being met.

We have all likely heard horror stories from some of our friends who work in such companies — calls at unearthly hours demanding that work be done immediately, excessive micromanaging, or any number of incidents reflecting an unhealthy disrespect for personal boundaries.

It is no surprise that several months before, there was a heated discussion about whether Singaporeans should have the right to disconnect after office hours. 

late night working has prompted demands for the right to disconnect
Image Credit: CNBC

According to Bowman, this kind of environment can lead to another drop in effort from employees.

Quiet quitting becomes a problem when an employee completely “checks out.” This means that they are no longer meeting the expectations of their job, they are actively looking for another job and/or waiting to be approached with a new opportunity. At this point, they are just collecting a pay check. 

To avoid this, managers need to be in tune with their employees. If a once-actively engaged employee is now demonstrating behaviours of disengagement, then they should check in with the employee to determine what it is that is causing them to quiet quit.

– Natasha Bowman, author and speaker at TEDx

Needless to say, this is not ideal. As we can see, quiet quitting can lead to less than stellar results, and prolonged disengagement with work can lead to employees actually quitting.

Yet, more than ever, there is a gulf between what employees expect work to look like, and what employers expect employees to do. 

Financial Times’ Gillian Tett reports that most CEOs expect employees to return to the office now that the pandemic is over. Tesla’s Elon Musk even threatened to fire employees who refused to do so.  

In contrast, most employees expected flexible work arrangements to continue, and many indicated that they would resign if forced to come back to the office.

This is just one of the many mismatched expectations that are plaguing employee-employer relations, and could be a key contributor to the now popular phenomenon of quiet quitting. So what can be done to properly address the issue?

Times change, and so must workplaces

As time passes, society evolves, and workplaces must evolve with it.

Singaporeans are becoming concerned with how much employers respect their desires of work-life balance, taking jobs purely for financial reasons, and wishes for remote work.

Survey on executives and employees' preferences on remote working arrangements.
Survey on executives and employees’ preferences on remote working arrangements / Image Credit: Human Resources Online

Quality of life has become a key concern, and employers who hope to retain a high quality workforce must recognise this. 

At the same time, however, employees should understand that quiet quitting is not without its own costs. Dissatisfaction with one’s job does not mean that the needs of life vanish — employees still need to earn a living after all. 

At the end of the day, doing the bare minimum is not likely to get one noticed for hard work resulting in a promotion. Moreover, the longer one stays stagnant, the less competitive their resume looks if they finally decide to look for another job.

So if quiet quitting is only the response to unmet needs of career advancement or increases in financial compensation, employees themselves suffer in the long run. 

While there is nothing wrong with quiet quitting, employees should also be conscious that their careers will not advance by themselves. It takes effort to be noticed, whether by your current employer in pursuit of a promotion, or by recruiters on social media in pursuit of a better job. 

In the modern age of mismatched expectations between employees and employers, it is high time that both sides learn to compromise and come to a workable solution.

First came the right to disconnect, and now, quiet quitting. The gulf between employers and employees is growing, and it needs to be bridged before it turns into an ugly crisis. 

While quiet quitting is still a relatively tame form of passive resistance, prolonged or widespread quiet quitting is beneficial for neither side. A solution must be found that satisfies both sides, before more active forms of disengagement manifest.

Featured Image Credit: MyCareersFuture

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Why S’pore firms should not force workers to return to office and continue adopting flexi-work

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