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Leon Kaye headshot

Caught a Whiff of Quiet Quitting? Your Employee Engagement Strategy is Probably Falling Short

By Leon Kaye
quiet quitting

It started on TikTok, and now it’s being slathered all over the mainstream media. Quiet quitting went from being a “thing” to a full-blown fulcrum of discussion about what’s going on in our virtual, hybrid and physical offices. Depending on who you ask, quiet quitting is about going through the motions at a current job instead of going above and beyond to impress the boss — or, it’s unprofessional and passive-aggressive behavior that’s bad for employees, their colleagues and organizations.

The constant chatter over quiet quitting is all over the map: Is it good for your career, bad for your future prospects, are you a TikTok genius, or is the quiet quitter pretty much an embarrassing schlub? 

All this talk about quiet quitting is overlooking one simple fact: This phenomenon is a response to mediocre bosses.

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Recently, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman mined a batch of employee reviews of about 2,800 managers and more than 13,000 direct reports for the Harvard Business Review. The results show plenty of insight, including some simple math. For example: “If you have 10 direct reports and they each give 10 percent additional effort, the net results of that additional effort are increased productivity.”

Before coming to that aforementioned conclusion (or obvious result), Zenger and Folkman honed in on two questions: Employees’ assessment of their manager’s competence when it comes to the ability to “balance getting results with a concern for others’ needs” as well as ensuring the “work environment is a place where people want to go the extra mile.

Upon crunching more numbers and analyzing them to the above questions, here’s what the researchers found: The least effective managers had about 14 percent of their direct reports fall into that “quiet quitting” category, and only about 20 percent of their employees indicated they would give the company any extra effort. 

But those managers who excelled at fostering solid working relationships with their direct reports saw more than 60 percent of their team members go the extra mile, and only 3 percent of their direct reports could be assessed as “quiet quitters.”

“Many people, at some point in their career, have worked for a manager that moved them toward quiet quitting. This comes from feeling undervalued and unappreciated,” Zenger and Folkman wrote in HBR. “Most mid-career employees have also worked for a leader for whom they had a strong desire to do everything possible to accomplish goals and objectives. Occasionally working late or starting early was not resented because this manager inspired them.”

Bottom line: The vast majority of employees are not going to watch the clock and are willing to take on tasks out of their comfort zones — if, and a big if — in return they feel valued and that they can trust their managers. Zenger and Folkman describe today’s managers’ peak goals as having that “trusting relationship” with their direct reports. If that dynamic is possible, then an organization’s goals and further innovation are possible, too.

Image credit: Magnet.me via Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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