Quiet quitting: A new name for an old flame

The View From Taft

Hannibal George A. Marchan


“My engagement is no longer there, and I am just doing the bare minimum,” complained the director. “I disassociated myself. They do not listen.”

Acting your wage or quiet quitting, the behavior of employees to do the bare minimum at work based on their job description, is nothing new. William A. Kahn, the father of employee engagement, defined personal disengagement as employees detaching themselves while doing their work: physically, cognitively, or emotionally. Gallup’s State of the Workplace 2022 Report indicated that 60% of employees worldwide are disengaged. Sadly, organizations need to avoid getting burned as disengagement can result in lower employee morale, reduced productivity, lack of company commitment, and higher intention to quit, as reported by Alan Saks, an expert on organizational behavior and human resources.

There are several reasons for quiet quitting. COVID-19 has blurred the boundaries of work and life and increased employee stress, worry, and burnout. As reported by Gallup, one out of two employees in the Philippines is stressed while one out of three is worried. Also, the World Economic Forum shared that Gen Z and millennials are reassessing what is important and are engaged in the passion economy — where people pursue their personal goals and seek meaning in their careers.

Quiet quitting can be catastrophic to companies. It is not rocket science that disengagement could result in lower productivity as employees hold back their efforts. Moreover, the lack of commitment may indicate an impending turnover. Furthermore, disengaged employees can dampen the performance and morale of other employees.

In my experience in helping corporations manage transformational changes, dealing with major human capital issues rarely requires the involvement of just the HR practitioners. Rather, it requires an all-hands-on-deck approach from all levels of the company.

First, senior leaders need to incorporate employee engagement in their culture and strategy. Often, companies use annual engagement surveys, create action plans, execute, and finally forget about engagement until the next survey. Engagement just becomes a checklist that needs to be ticked. But enduring and real engagement requires consistently collecting employee ideas and insights through constant feedback loops, and then taking action based on these. This virtuous cycle promotes corporate intimacy and loyalty, accelerates human capital growth, and increases overall productivity.

Second, excellent leaders talk and listen to their employees regularly. They realize the mental, physical, and emotional toll generated by the pandemic.

“I was anxious, lonely, and depressed,” narrated Tin. “I usually focus on work discussions during my one-on-one meetings, but at that time, I needed to vent. I knew I could trust my boss to listen and not judge me.”

During the early days of the pandemic, discussions on mental health were taboo. Some people even believed that the younger generations had weaker mental capacities! Such bias and apathy can result in employee disengagement. After all, why care about a leader who does not care about you? If leaders think of employees as mere units of production, then employees start to think of companies as cows that should be milked until the last drop. Disastrously, “people issues” have butchered some companies into oblivion.

Finally, quiet quitters need to think long and hard about their situations. Employees do not want their lives to be exhausted just focusing on work. According to Aristotle, our purpose in life is to maximize our full potential in all aspects; in other words, flourishing. Growth requires abandoning mediocrity and consistently going out of our comfort zones. It is difficult to bring out your best self if you keep holding back.

“I was happy doing my job as it is, and I did not want stress in my life,” recounted Angela, an executive in the pharmaceutical industry, as she recalls her days as a frontline employee. “But my managers convinced me to take on additional tasks so that I could develop my career. They saw potential in me. Now, as I look back at that moment 22 years ago, I am happy I agreed to take on stretch roles.”

For it to improve, an organization needs malasakit (care) from all stakeholders. Such malasakit should include the creation of systems to make engagement activities enduring, to have leaders listen without judging, and to encourage employees to work to achieve mutual growth.

Hannibal George A. Marchan is a Ph.D. in Business student of De La Salle University, where he also teaches Human Resources. The names of the persons mentioned in the article have been changed for anonymity.