Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

While the phrase ‘quiet quitting’ has recently entered the vernacular of many business organizations thanks in part to recent social media posts, the concept itself is not exactly new.

 

“We’ve been researching this issue for a long time with respect to motivation and performance,” says Dr. Simon Taggar, Professor of Management in the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics, Wilfrid Laurier University, noting previous generations used expressions like ‘deadwood’ or ‘retiring on the job’ to describe the phenomenon of employees who’ve given up the notion of going above and beyond in the workplace and only do what is expected of them.

 

Dr. Taggar says the concept, which can mistakenly evoke images of an employee ‘slacking’ at work, really centres more on the notions of engagement and disengagement, and how committed they are to their job, using the bare minimum approach which doesn’t lead to termination.

 

“I think increasingly people are becoming disengaged. We’ve always had an increasing trend in disengagement,” he says, referring to a Gallup poll conducted in 2013 which indicated that only 13% of employees worldwide were actually engaged in their jobs.

 

In North America, that number was 30% compared to 24% in other countries like South Korea, Australia, and Japan. “The people that are disengaged are now getting a whole bunch of attention.”

 

While COVID-19 sparked a major economic movement in terms of job shifts and losses, Dr. Taggar says many ‘quiet quitters’ continue to stay put in their jobs – unless something they deem is better comes along - due to a sense of continuous commitment to their work. He says unlike those with a passionate commitment to do the best job they can, or even those who feel an obligation to stay, ‘quiet quitters’ approach their jobs using a more transactional rationale.

 

“They look at as ‘I’m here because I have to be here’,” says Dr. Taggar, noting financial and personal circumstances are mitigating factors in their decision. “It’s almost like being in jail.”

 

However, he says in some circumstances, having ‘quiet quitters’ on the payroll does not make much of a difference.

 

“There are some jobs out there that really don’t need a huge amount of motivation,” says Dr. Taggar. “The design of the job itself is the control mechanism.”

 

However, he says increasingly many jobs in North America now require employees to be more motivated as they navigate strategies on their own.

 

“Our competitive advantage in Canada is having highly educated and motivated employees having complex jobs. That’s the source of our competitive advantage,” says Dr. Taggar, noting there are many signs pertaining to those who are ‘quietly quitting’. “As human beings, we’re very good at figuring out to the degree someone is motivated or highly engaged in the workplace.”

 

Signs that someone may be ‘quietly quitting’ include not assisting colleagues, not being prepared at meetings, absenteeism, not going above and beyond when it comes to serving customers or staying away from company social events.

 

“A positive workplace climate is created by people who are passionate and want to be there and love their jobs,” says Dr. Taggar.

 

He says communication is key when it comes to dealing with potential ‘quiet quitters’.

“No one ever enters an organization they want to be in thinking I’m going just going to be continuously committed,” says Dr. Taggar. “Humans aren’t made that way. We want to be passionate. We want to spend our lives doing something valuable that makes us feel good.”

 

He says it all boils down to the expectations an employee has when they join an organization, referring to such things as promises of a better work/life balance.

 

“When people’s expectations are not met, it’s called a breach of their psychological contract,” says Dr. Taggar, adding this breach can quickly alter someone’s passion for the job. “You’ve got to maintain people’s expectations because when you lose that trust, it’s harder to gain that trust back.”

 

As well, he says asking for feedback is imperative to foster a workplace culture that will keep employees engaged, noting that allowing a work culture to grow organically can create issues and misunderstandings.

 

“If you invest in them and make them feel like you care and are developing them, they will be committed to you,” says Dr. Jagger. “You’ve got to have that constant communication and constant culture building so people can make sense on what’s happening around them.”

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