Quiet Quitting: One Solution

Best-selling author Daniel Goleman argues that there’s one proven way to keep employees engaged in their jobs, and it’s not money. 

Daniel Goleman is a senior consultant at Goleman Consulting Group, author of the best seller Emotional Intelligence, and host of the podcast First Person Plural: Emotional Intelligence and Beyond. He is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. 

Over the years, studies have shown that only about one-third of employees report being “highly engaged” at work. Even through the pandemic, this figure has stayed relatively stable.

Other statistics reveal similar shortcomings in the workplace: close to 70% of Americans feel that the bulk of their workday is taken up by monotonous tasks—jobs that may as well be automated. If such tasks were to be automated, employees believe their remaining jobs might take on significantly more meaning, giving them the bandwidth to engage in the strategic and creative work that ignites their passion and moves the business forward.

These findings, combined with rising burnout rates and reported declines in employee well-being, has prompted a new trend in the workforce: “quiet quitting.”

Popularized by TikTok, quiet quitting is the act of doing only the bare minimum at work. Zaid Khan (@zkchillin) shared his own discovery of the term in late July, through a 17-second video. Within a week, the video had been viewed 2.6 million times. It featured Khan sitting on the New York City subway, introducing the term as when “you are still performing your duties but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life.”

Quiet quitting runs parallel to The Great Resignation—yet another way employees are trying to communicate their deep dissatisfaction with the culture of work. Khan closes his video with a simple statement: “work is not your life.” And while plenty of leaders might intellectually agree, the trend has sparked a good degree of anxiety and frustration. If you are a leader, what’s more concerning: people leaving the workplace or employees keeping their jobs and slacking off?

But quiet quitting isn’t really about avoiding work as much as it is about embracing a more meaningful life outside of it.

In a variety of jobs, studies have found that work-life balance is one of the key components of mental health. Meanwhile, few employees feel they have it. According to one study, when it comes to choosing an organization to work for, millennials and members of Gen Z report that a good work-life balance is one of their top priorities. For those who cannot afford to pick up and leave their job, quiet quitting is a way to reclaim personal time. It’s also a cultural push against the “hustle culture” most boomer and Gen X executives have succumbed to in order to succeed.

Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison recently reached out to a few leaders of various organizations to get a pulse on quiet quitting, work-life balance, and more. “Their array of answers reflect the perfect storm that we’re in,” he writes. One leader told him: “Employees quit (quietly or loudly) for a reason—it’s up to leaders to create a sense of purpose.”

At the end of the day, we keep circling around the same equation: the more meaningful the work, the higher the engagement and the less likely employees are to leave their workplace. According to a recent Gallup poll, it takes more than a 20% pay raise to convince employees to leave a job where they feel engaged, and next to nothing to poach them if they aren’t.

Gergo Vari, CEO of job-searching platform Lensa, has been working hard to prevent quiet quitting amongst his 200-person staff. Aside from giving employees remote-work flexibility and on-site office perks, he has encouraged a sense of purpose by valuing employees’ opinions, requests, and pushback.

“Employers have to make an effort to enable people to have a say in their own future,” he recently told Time. “I want them to stick around, and I’ll stick out my neck to encourage them to do so.”

Vari calls this “loudly persisting,” creating a workplace which encourages employees to speak up on how the company can better serve their goals, including opportunities to connect to something more meaningful.

According to Vari, “When you loudly persist you have a sense of belonging and of having a stake in where the company is going.”

Click here to learn more about Daniel Goleman's Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence.