Your colleagues hate that you’re Quiet Quitting

Quiet quitters are a manager’s worst nightmare. As it turns out, their colleagues aren't impressed either.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Quiet quitting, a workplace trend that has taken root in 2023, is a silent rebellion of sorts. Employees perform the bare minimum to retain their salaries, shirking from meetings, overtime, and willingly taking on additional tasks. In essence, they're phoning it in.

Practitioners stole the headlines this year as employers panicked about the impact their rebellion would have on output and business growth. But so far, little attention has been given to those who have paid the biggest price for the craze; their colleagues.

Working with a quiet quitter can be soul-destroying. Teammates who refuse to take on their share of additional workload inevitably end up pushing responsibilities onto coworkers. Their idler attitude can also be infectious, risking staff morale.

Startups spoke to two workers about how the quiet quitting trend has reverberated through their company this year and the hidden cost it has incurred on employee satisfaction.

Are you quiet quitting?

Late last year, as a wave of strikes and discontent began to sweep through workplaces, many UK employees took to social media to declare they were done with corporate life.

They wouldn’t quit their jobs outright. Instead, they would step off the ‘rat race' treadmill and show no motivation to progress within their role. Termed ‘quiet quitting’, the concept quickly gained traction on TikTok, causing it to be dubbed ‘QuitTok’ by commentators.

In many ways, the trend was triggered by a shift towards remote working, as employees attempted to push back against the encroachment of work into home hours. UK workers – fed up after a year of rising burnout and staff layoffs – could easily identify with the cause.

But since then, and after many employers have introduced competitive pay increases, the workforce has split into two camps: those who are quietly quitting, and those who must work alongside them. And tensions between both are rising.

Working hard or hardly working?

Matteo (not his real name) works at a marketing firm with someone who was an early adopter of the trend. At the time, he empathised with their decision to step back.

“My colleague was quite vocal about the fact that they were quitting,” recalls Matteo. “At first it was a bit of a running joke. And it was kind of nice working with someone who wasn't constantly pressuring me.”

Soon, however, the more negative side effects of quiet quitting emerged. Matteo began to notice that his workload was increasing, as the rest of the team learned they couldn’t rely on his colleague. He found himself repeatedly urging the quiet quitter to make some effort.

Naturally, the relationship deteriorated. “It became very annoying to have to constantly chase somebody to meet the bare minimum requirements,” he states.

Anita (also not her real name) agrees. She says her experiences with a coworker who is quietly quitting has also contributed to increased tensions and workplace conflict.

“I would say it's made me lose respect for my colleague, in a way,” she says. “I find my workload a lot more stressful at the moment because they are not delivering on their responsibilities, which directly affects my ability to meet deadlines.”

Engagement crisis

An employee survey carried out in May found that UK workplaces rank as some of the worst globally for employee engagement and enthusiasm – a bleak mood reflected by the wider UK.

Speculation about an impending recession continues amidst an ongoing economic slump. Reduced cash flow has sent the number of planned redundancies creeping upwards since January, while many bonuses and other company incentives have also been paused.

Quiet quitting is no doubt a symptom of this employee engagement crisis, as workers withhold their labour to make clear their dissatisfaction with their employer.

Matteo thinks this is what happened with his colleague, who began quietly quitting after the company made several redundancies within the team. “They have openly voiced their discontent with the company. I guess they are protesting by being bad at their job,” he says.

HR managers are now dealing with a chicken-and-egg type situation. The response to disengagement at work has exacerbated the problem, as those who ‘escape’ the stresses of modern worklife inadvertently cause their colleagues to inherit them.

Company employees increasingly report feeling stressed out and overwhelmed by their workload. This is leading to a rise in ‘what-aboutery’ as coworkers question why colleagues are allowed to press pause on productivity, causing organisational culture to deteriorate.

Matteo reports a similar effect taking hold following his colleague’s anti-work rebellion. “I think their attitude has been contagious and has fostered some negativity throughout the wider team,” he comments.

Money matters

Workplace politics are tense enough because of job hierarchies and wage discrepancies. Introduce a colleague or higher-up who might not be pulling their weight, and resentment can brew – particularly as the cost of living crisis waters down take-home pay.

Speaking to Startups, Anita explains that a big part of her annoyance with quiet quitters comes from the fact that her colleague was earning more money than her despite a blatant ambivalence to their work.

She says that after she found this out, she lost sympathy for her colleagues’ plight. “In the beginning, we’d joke a lot about it,” she states. “Now I don’t think it’s funny anymore, so our interactions can be a bit more tense.”

How to quit quiet quitting

Those who don’t want to go the extra mile argue the employer should hire someone else if a job needs doing. But with a talent shortage having torpedoed many firm’s recruitment plans, the biggest losers of the trend are those who must fill the gaps left by deserters.

It is also very difficult to find proof that an employee is quiet quitting, as their protest is usually kept (fittingly) under wraps. As a result, managers may find it hard to gather enough evidence in performance reviews to fire them.

Unhappy coworkers suggest a quick solution to the problem: leave. “I think if you’re unhappy here, you should make a change of career, not just complain and be half-hearted,” Anita opines. “At the end of the day, the main people you are punishing are your colleagues.”

Things are not quite so simple, however. Quiet quitters are not solely to blame for the fallout of their behaviour, and many practitioners have genuine tales of being exploited by bad bosses and say quiet quitting is necessary for their mental health.

One poster on Reddit’s “antiwork” forum reported working 55-hour weeks and being told not to take holiday entitlement.

Instead of leaving the workforce altogether, it seems this group would do well to engage in another employee behaviour that’s all the rage this year: the trend of meaningful work.

What is meaningful work?

Meaningful work refers to a focus on finding a purposeful job, where the worker’s day-to-day role is working towards a goal that they are personally motivated to reach.

One major player who has lent his name to the craze is Zaid Khan, the worker who originally coined the phrase ‘quiet quitting’. Khan quit his job in July after growing disillusioned with his own invention. Now he is encouraging people to find work in an industry that excites them.

“It wasn't until I made the decision to actually leave my job that I felt this enormous weight lifted off my shoulders,” he told Business Insider.

For brands, there is a lesson to learn from Khan. Business owners who evidence their corporate values and purpose through tangible materials – such as mission statements – will find it easier to re-engage staff and improve staff morale.

Open communication between colleagues will also help to needle out quiet quitting before it takes hold. Encouraging a supportive, coaching leadership style from managers will facilitate honest discussions, where an employee can speak freely about their current situation.

The end result will see quiet quitters finally get back to work in a role they care about – something the entire workforce thank you for.

Discover more ways to improve employee engagement in our guide to 50+ benefits and perks for staff.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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