How big is your quiet quitting iceberg ?

3 minute read
Are you at risk from your people quiet quitting? Chris Roebuck offers a guide to quiet quitting, what it means for your business and how to beat it
Chris Roebuck

quiet quitters iceberg

What is quiet quitting  ? 

It’s when someone wants to leave their job, is unable to, so they reduce their effort to the minimum level that’s not visible. 

What’s caused quiet quitting  ? 

Quiet quitting has always been with us but COVID massively increased the potential as we re-prioritised the importance of family, quality of life and wellbeing versus work.

People are now less prepared to tolerate poor leadership. Gallup says this is reflected in recent falls in employee engagement.

The main reasons for departure from McKinsey are also those for quiet quitting.

  • Uncaring leaders
  • No sense of belonging
  • Lack of flexible working
  • Lack of visible potential advancement
  • Unmanageable workload
  • Lack of engagement
  • Poor work-life balance

Causes of quiet quitting

Why is quiet quitting  so damaging ?  

Quiet quitters will reduce their effort, but not so it’s obvious. They still want a reference when they eventually quit. Your quiet quitters are invisible and so is the damage they do. They could be giving you 30% + less effort than they would if they were motivated.  

How widespread is quiet quitting  ?

Average organisational turnover is roughly 10 to 15% but the number of people who might consider leaving if they could find a better job is around 40%, rising to 54% for Gen Z. That’s your quiet quitting iceberg – the danger hidden under the surface.

While you can’t spot individual quiet quitters the size of your problem is in employee engagement data. This puts employees in three groups:

  • Engaged – people giving their best
  • Not engaged – people doing the minimum or giving their best depending how they feel.
  • Disengaged – people proactively not contributing.

The ‘not engaged’ and ‘disengaged’ are where your quiet quitters lurk.

Gallup says​ potentially 70% of US workers could be quiet quitters. ​​Employee engagement data suggests up to 70% of employees are not “engaged” so not giving their best. Every quiet quitter is ‘not engaged’ but everyone who is not ‘engaged’ might not be a quiet quitter. If they aren’t it’s because they don’t want to leave as they are getting an easy ride.   

Impact of quiet quitting

Risk of lost profit

Less than optimal employee effort is a risk to profitability. Engage for Success suggests that quiet quitters’ lost ‘discretionary effort’ could be in the region of 30% lost effort, which up to 60% of people could otherwise be giving. That’s your risk of lost profit. If everyone is ‘engaged’ you could get 10 to 15% increase in bottom line.

Recession? The quiet quitting time bomb

Recession might reduce the level of departures but that reduction will be balanced within organisations by an increased level of quiet quitters who will leave as soon as they can.

How to beat quiet quitting 

As you can’t identify quiet quitters the only solution is to create an environment where nobody wants to quiet quit. How ?

Individual leader actions – three simple steps every leader, from first line leaders to  senior executives, can take to beat quiet quitting  and be more successful.

    1. Firm Foundation of task delivery – good prioritisation, time management, delegation, communication and giving feedback. Up to 70% of line managers may not have been developed in these. Have you ? These give the bandwidth for the next step.
    1. Get the best from everyone – simple day to day actions do this - developing people, building trust, empowering, giving regular feedback and more. These will get that extra 30% effort. The impact of these is confirmed by Gallup: “the best habit to develop for successful managers is having one meaningful conversation per week with each team member – 15-30 minutes.”  An employee’s decision to give high performance is 60% rational and 40% emotional, and 80% of the emotional is determined by actions of their boss.
    1. Focus on what delivers success – Aligning effort on to strategic objectives by making sure that everybody understands the big picture so they can align what they do.  

Learn more from examples of these in action from successful global leaders.

4 elements to beat quiet quitting

Then Strategic support – building wider momentum to beat quiet quitting:

  • Senior leaders leading by example – this is a multiplier on actions by line leaders in creating a ‘We not Me’ culture. 
  • HR support – HR helping line leaders develop so they are able to beat quiet quitting in their teams. 

Quiet quitting  – a time bomb you can quickly defuse 

You can’t identify who’s quiet quitting but with simple actions you can create an environment where it’s unlikely to happen.

Great task delivery, everyone giving their best and focused on making the organisation successful. Now that’s the kind of place we all want to work, not quiet quit and not leave. “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”

For a more in depth version of this article and other articles see Web or Linkedin.

Chris Roebuck, pictured below, is a global speaker and advisor with experience in military, senior engagement, leadership and transformation roles. He has been one of HR Most Influential Thinkers 10 times, hon visiting professor of Transformational Leadership and helps leaders and organisations be more successful in 3 Simple Steps

Chris Roebuck

Published 1 March 2023
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