This article first appeared on Forbes.com
On LinkedIn, TikTok and other social channels, you’ve likely seen articles and videos about “quiet quitting.” Its lesser-known counterpart, “quiet firing,” has appeared in headlines recently as well.
Instead of abruptly leaving a job, “quiet quitting” refers to doing what the job requires, no more and no less. Essentially, it means not working outside of routine working hours without additional compensation; no emailing while on vacation, no responding to messages on Sundays and no off-the-clock meetings. Then, there are the leaders who penalize or ignore employees in hopes they’ll leave of their own accord, called “quiet firing.”
As a coach who specializes in conscious leadership, I believe this unhealthy silent battle is rooted in low-conscious leadership, which creates an “us vs. them” dynamic. From what I’ve seen, many are disregarding the critical role organizational leaders play in creating a burnout culture that requires employees to set these boundaries in the first place.
Low-conscious leaders do not model vulnerability, champion open dialogue, welcome diversity of perspective or encourage self-care within their workplaces.
The Silence Behind Quiet Quitting And Quiet Firing
From my perspective, the term “quiet quitting” is a misnomer because it’s missing two subsequent words: toxic culture. Participants aren’t actively plotting to leave their jobs or doing anything other than working when they’re on the clock. In fact, quiet quitters go about their business, performing functions as required during their agreed-upon working hours. It’s not a radical stance.
I believe the “quiet” in quiet quitting stems from the idea that many chronic overachievers tend to be rather loud about their tendencies. You might know a coworker who often brags about staying at the office late or getting up early on vacation to respond to emails. Often, these choices become expected without a word.
I’ve also noticed that many define the concept of quiet quitting as doing only the bare minimum, implying that employees are unwilling to push past their job descriptions. Some also suggest that they have no ambition or motivation to ladder-up or develop further as professionals. But this is all untrue.
When workers are treated poorly by superiors in an effort to get them to quit voluntarily, quiet firing is a petulant response to boundary-setting. This can happen when leaders either don’t know how to have honest conversations or don’t value vulnerability—and employee disengagement ensues.
Why People Feel The Need To Be Quiet
If employees are setting healthier boundaries by slowly checking out of hustle culture, leaders need to look closer at the systems that have created this need.
Quiet quitting is a canary in the coal mine within toxic work environments that are led by low-conscious leaders. These are the workplaces where engagement is at its lowest. According to a 2022 Gallup survey, 60% of respondents reported feeling emotionally detached at work. This tells me that most employees are not being supported or heard. They might be ignored or not taken seriously when they tell their managers they are at capacity. Their leaders may have set the expectation that subscribing to a pervasive always-on culture is, not-so-quietly, required.
Many employees are fed up with a system that insists on taking their personal time and well-being without giving anything in return. So, they’re taking their power back—by just doing their job.
Instead of worrying about whether employees are doing more than the bare minimum, leaders need to ask, “How can I best support my team members?”
In contrast to low-conscious leaders, high-conscious leaders create supportive environments where employees feel comfortable voicing their capacity concerns, taking time for personal wellness, collaborating with colleagues and coming up with innovative solutions to their challenges.
So, here are a few ways in which leaders can better support their teams in the era of quiet quitting and quiet firing:
• Be an advocate. As a leader, it is your responsibility to advocate for your team. Individual employees should not feel like they are fighting a battle. Say “no” to projects that are beyond your team’s capacity. Get your team the resources they need in order to be more efficient instead of ignoring capacity issues and piling more work onto current employees.
• Set an example. Your team might feel like they have to be “on” at all times because you are. Think carefully about the boundaries you have (or have not) created. Do you respond to emails every hour? Are you sending them messages in the middle of the night? Do you take calls on lunch breaks or over the weekend? If the answer to most of these questions is “yes,” step back to reassess how you can effectively create boundaries that demonstrate your commitment to life-work integration.
• Build one-on-one relationships. Get to know your team members as individuals. Hold one-on-one meetings to learn more about each person’s goals, challenges and longer-term ambitions. Form personal connections. The more authentic your relationship with your team members, the more likely they will come to you when they need your support.
The quiet quitting and quiet firing phenomena are likely not going away anytime soon, so long as leaders insist on acting in retaliatory ways. Instead of worrying about whether your team is quietly quitting, practice conscious leadership.
It might still seem counterintuitive to some, but in my experience, well-supported people are more engaged, collaborative, innovative and productive. The business case is clear: Organizations with engaged team members are more profitable.
Engagement is derived from feeling fully supported, which includes honoring employees’ time when they’re not working as much as when they are. It also includes delivering feedback that is simultaneously compassionate and holds people accountable to do their jobs well.
When employees feel seen, heard and valued as whole individuals, workplace culture shifts. Organizations led by high-conscious leaders don’t worry about quiet quitting and don’t engage in quiet firing. They thrive as a collective where mutual respect is a consistent practice that breeds sustainable success.