As the world at large appears to have emerged from the global pandemic it makes sense to revisit some of the predictions about how working life would be forever changed by the COVID-19 experience.
Several far-reaching work-life trends emerged or were accelerated during the two years when the pandemic was at its peak. Most striking was the tremendous growth in hybrid working – precipitating new models of leadership and interaction. But at the same time, we have witnessed a profound reassessment of the value of physical and mental wellbeing at work.
This shift in priorities has by some been ascribed to a sense of disconnect between employers and employees, a phenomenon which seems to have been taking place on a broad front. There have been reports of staff who were finding it harder to identify with the corporate mission of the organizations they work for. Disillusionment accompanied distance, or so we are told.
For many, the pandemic triggered a reappraisal of what it meant to lead a fulfilling life. Some decided it was time to quit jobs that weren’t giving them the quality of life they wanted – triggering the Great Resignation. Others went on to become the “quiet quitters”. This is to say they stayed in their jobs but seemed unwilling to do more than necessary to hold on to those jobs. The trend became visible in job satisfaction surveys of many large organizations – as well as on social media, and predominantly on TikTok.
"If a significant proportion of a company’s employees decide to quiet quit all at the same time, the result would be a dramatic drop in productivity, competitiveness and, ultimately, in the job security of those same employees"
How much of a problem is it if people decide to only do what’s in their job descriptions? Presumably, they would still add value to their companies. And isn’t it only natural, in the light of what we’ve all been through, that employees take a hard look at the effort they put in – compared to what they get in return? Large scale quiet quitting can however have dire effects. If a significant proportion of a company’s (formerly highly engaged) employees decide to quiet quit all at the same time, the result would be a dramatic drop in productivity, competitiveness and, ultimately, in the job security of those same employees. Added to that are the individual psychological effects of being part of a culture and community that we don’t match with.
The phenomenon of quiet quitting didn’t suddenly arrive with the pandemic. Across most established sectors, companies have for many years measured employees’ willingness to go the extra mile, both through engagement metrics and 360 evaluations. A certain percentage of respondents would always prefer disengagement. To maintain high levels of engagement and job satisfaction most of us have developed a range of interventions, such as training programs, mentoring and career development initiatives. What is new is the sudden upsurge in the numbers of quiet quitters
With the return to a more normal situation, should we expect the numbers of quiet quitters to drop to pre-pandemic levels? Across most of our teams at Telenor, that seems to be happening already (see below). Every year we invite our people to say how far they agree with the statement: “I am willing to do more than what is required of me in my job”. In March 2021, when the pandemic was at a peak, we observed a clear trend that fewer people identified with this statement. Since then, the situation appears to have stabilized and we’re back to the levels we were accustomed to see. Further analysis of free text comments from the same survey indicates that the decline in the spring of 2021 seems to have been caused by fatigue related to prolonged lockdowns rather than conscious decisions to quiet quit.
Although having 82% of employees agree with this statement, it is still important to keep an eye on the remaining 18% who are either neutral or not motivated to do more than what is required Interestingly, when we split the data on age-groups, we see that the tendency to quiet quit seems
Interestingly, when we split the data on age-groups, we see that the tendency to quiet quit seems higher for the youngest group of employees, those below 35 years. As we have seen from related studies, this is the group that is most sensitive to the negative effects of the lockdowns. It seems that extended periods of remote working make it harder to get access to the mentoring and social network arenas that can help those young employees build their career.
Very much in line with our findings during the pandemic, recent studies suggest quiet quitting is more about poor working conditions than an intrinsic lack of motivation among employees. Drawing on a study of 13,000 employees and 2,800 managers, Zenger and Folkman (2022), suggest that quiet quitting is less about employees’ willingness to put in the extra effort, and more about managers’ ability to build trustful relationships and demonstrate real concern for their employees. Similarly, Brownless (2022) suggests that “quiet quitting is reflective of something missing from an organization’s culture and are an indication that employees, managers or both are not getting what they need from the workplace experience.
If this is true, then the real challenge appears to be ensuring we all have a purpose and strategy that our people identify with – and further, to understand what it means to provide real care and concern for everyone who needs to get behind that purpose.