Quiet quitting: 9 IT leaders weigh in

What is quiet quitting? The harsh realities of the pandemic have pushed individuals to reassess what’s truly important. In some instances, that has meant redefining the boundaries of their work identity and shifting focus to fulfillment in their personal life.
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You can’t open a newsletter, website, or magazine in the past few weeks without seeing mention of “quiet quitting.” This terminology is misleading – it’s not representative of employees' actions. Boundary setting would be more apt; Work-life balance also fits. What these workers are experiencing is most definitely the cusp of burnout, exacerbated by two years of a stressful pandemic, an experimental year of hybrid work, and a reimagining of what their life should look like.

As Jason Feifer, editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine, says, “We have a serious cultural problem, which is that as soon as we give something a new name, we treat it like it’s a new thing. Quiet quitting isn’t a new phenomenon, but it’s very real. We’ve spent decades trying to figure out what makes work meaningful."

However, organizations should pay attention to this trend. “If companies have one person coasting or quiet quitting it might just not be the right fit. But if there are multiple people feeling this way across the company, the problem isn’t with the workers, it’s with the system they are engaging with,” notes Feifer.

[ Related read Why IT leaders should prioritize empathy ]

Quiet quitting: What you need to know

We asked our community of IT leaders to weigh in on what it means for employees to express their discontent in this way, and ways to solve it. Here’s what they shared.

Physically absent employees are easier to replace than emotionally absent ones

“In some respects, IT leaders should be more concerned about the 'quiet quitters' in their workforce than those who actually leave the organization. Notwithstanding the inherent challenges of losing an employee, IT leaders can at least take proactive steps to replace the role with the appropriate talent and skill sets.

The situation is not as clear when it comes to quiet quitters. IT leaders must approach quiet quitters with caution and take steps to determine the underlying root cause for this behavior. If 'disengagement' from work is the trigger, IT leaders must take remedial measures not to lose the employee 'emotionally' even though they are physically there. Physically absent employees are easier to replace than emotionally absent workers.

IT leaders must take it upon themselves to instrument the type of changes needed to revive their engagement while being sensitive to their work-life balance needs." -E.G. Nadhan, Global Chief Architect Leader, Red Hat

Autonomous and self-guided work is key to success

“Quiet quitting is synonymous with healthy boundaries. So is this concept a good or bad thing? Should HR leaders be concerned? It boils down to the single-most valuable lesson the pandemic already taught us: managing employees is not what it used to be. Companies have to adapt. Now more than ever, we have to enable employees to succeed in a more autonomous and self-guided way, and part of that is integrating work into employees’ lives, not life into their work. Quiet quitting is here to stay. If companies aren’t adopting a people-first philosophy, it will likely impact them the greatest. And if quiet quitting begins spiraling, HR leaders will need to evaluate their employee retention and engagement strategies.

Above all, HR and C-Suite leaders should remain vigilant and see quiet quitting as a sign – and an opportunity – to adapt to an ever-evolving workplace.” -Doug Dennerline, CEO, Betterworks

Invest in talent

"The biggest takeaway is the importance of investing in good talent. If you invest in good talent, they stay longer and grow with you, and that saves you the resource waste of constantly hiring and training new people. So if employees are quiet quitting, then it’s time to investigate what you as an employer are doing to properly recruit, train, and integrate talent into your culture.” -Jason Feifer, EIC, Entrepreneur magazine and author

[ Also read How to hire (and retain) Gen Z talent ]

Self-reflect, realign, and refocus to improve employee productivity

“Quiet quitting is the act of setting up boundaries for work and creating better work-life integration. While it may be a new term for an old concept, the buzz around quiet quitting has created an opportunity for employers to self-reflect, realign and refocus to improve employee productivity and quality of work to get employees to the peak performance that they are capable of.

Every employee has a peak contribution ability at any given point in time. As major life events occur (getting married, having a kid, dealing with illness, finances, etc.), that peak changes as well. If at any given point an employee is not performing at their personal peak, that is an indication of quiet quitting. However, it’s important for leaders if they do notice the signs to not take direct reports quitting quietly as laziness or a sign of selfishness. Chances are the employees have been working to support the team for so long that it has driven them to the point of feeling overwhelmed.

On the coattails of 'The Great Resignation' and now a sea of employer layoffs in this recessionary environment, it is even more important that employers look for unique ways to support their employees and managers who are doing more with fewer resources. I believe that adding opportunities for ongoing support through personal and professional coaching and development creates environments that aid all members in organizations during these times.” -Ravi Swaminathan, CEO and co-founder, TaskHuman

Get to the root cause of issues to re-engage employees

“While 'quiet quitting' implies an employee is fully tapped out from their workspace, not all hope is lost when it comes to re-engaging some of these employees. Employees are likely disengaging as a response to heightened levels of burnout, which they may be experiencing for any number of reasons – and knowing the root cause is essential to finding your solution. It’s possible that they truly no longer enjoy the work or company, but it’s just as common for personal issues that require more time and attention to crop up and draw employees away from work. In this situation, the best people leaders support employees along the way to help them become re-engaged. On the contrary, if an employee has disengaged because they want to move elsewhere, you would handle that situation differently based on your company values and business needs.

At Weave, we have been very intentional in making adjustments to accommodate altered work/life schedules. On top of making sure our people leaders are having meaningful conversations about growth and goals with their teams, we’ve started offering new mental health benefits and other perks that show we value our workers as people, not just employees.” Brooke Shreeve, Chief People Officer, Weave

Keep employees engaged and curious

“Engaged employees are curious. Thinking about developers – they’re builders, and they thrive in environments where their feedback has influence. Managers should work with empathy and prioritize cross-team collaboration to avoid the perils of quiet quitting.” –Amara Graham, Head of Developer Experience, Camunda

Think of it as a "reset"

“The term 'quiet quitting' is a gross misnomer being perpetuated by the office-first culture to shame workers from working remotely or refitting their days to balance getting work done with caring for their mental and physical well-being. It assumes that if someone wants to work remotely or decides they’re going to step away for an hour in the day to exercise or pick up their kids at school and put in an extra hour at the end of the day to make up for it, they’re not doing their jobs.

The fact is, employees are not quitting. They’re resetting. The pandemic caused people to rethink what’s important in life. And as part of that, they’ve adjusted their expectations for work. Now, more than ever, employees want flexibility in where, when and how they work.” –Tim Minahan, Executive Vice President of Business Strategy, Citrix

"Some people live to work, others work to live, and many more have seasons of both through their careers. Going above and beyond is a choice – or it should be, anyway.”

Live to work or work to live – both are OK

“When people are truly disengaged to the point that they are not doing their jobs, it impacts the business and everyone around them. Colleagues are picking up the slack and burning out; their leaders are wondering why productivity is off and may not be able to see it, and perhaps worst of all – it could be a cry for help that someone is really suffering.

Another definition of quiet quitting is ‘doing your job but choosing not to go above and beyond.’ I wonder why this needs a label. Isn’t it simply, you know, doing your job? Some people live to work, others work to live, and many more have seasons of both through their careers. Going above and beyond is a choice – or it should be, anyway.” –Kim Curley, VP of Workforce Readiness Consulting, NTT DATA Services

Give employees space to breathe away from their jobs

"Employees turn to ‘quiet quitting’ for multiple reasons, and while it isn’t a new phenomenon, it’s one we’re seeing more and more post-pandemic that companies must address. Burnout, whether working from home or not, has been exacerbated by the pandemic, and employees are struggling to find balance in jobs that may not offer the slack they need to recharge and reset.

Further, employees may feel bored or stagnant in their role and, as a result, don’t want to put in as much effort as those enthusiastic about their company and role. While every population of workers will have individuals who won’t put in the same amount of effort as their peers, whether they survive in their role or not will depend on the organizational culture and how both parties tolerate it. The current trend of 'quiet quitting' will always exist as long as employees feel they aren’t being given enough breathing space from their job.” –Vijay Sundaram, Chief Strategy Officer, ManageEngine and Zoho Corp.

[ Check out essential career advice from 37 award-winning CIOs! Get a variety of insights on leadership, strategy, and career development from IT executives at Mayo Clinic, Dow, Aflac, Liberty Mutual, Nordstrom, and more: Ebook: 37 award-winning CIOs share essential IT career advice. ]

Katie Sanders
Katie Sanders is the Content and Community Manager for The Enterprisers Project, seeking contributors who have expertise that can be shared with an audience of CIOs and IT leaders. She has always been interested in building relationships and connecting people.