In this blog we explore the relationship between quiet quitting and emotional salary. We’ll look at what the risks are for organisations and employees, what causes quiet quitting, and what leaders and organisations can do to minimise it.
What is quiet quitting?
Every work-related headline now is about quiet quitting. There are viral videos on how to do it. Gallup reckon that half the US workforce are doing it. Career coaches are talking about why you shouldn’t do it. Quiet quitting is even listed on Wikipedia, with the suggestion that the entry be merged with “work-to-rule” (i.e. follow official working rules and hours exactly in order to reduce output and efficiency). But almost everyone seems to agree on one thing – it’s not new.
We’ve all realised that quiet quitting is not about quitting at all. But how you describe it might depend on your perspective. It has been described as not doing extra hours or work over what is contractually required. That doesn’t seem too unreasonable. It’s also been described as doing the absolute bare minimum – just enough to not get fired. For Harvard Business Review, it is “opting out of tasks beyond one’s assigned duties and/or becoming less psychologically invested in work” which seems to be a good midway point.
Quiet quitting: a lack of psychological investment
Is it so bad to be less psychologically invested in our work? From the employee perspective, it may be the case that our work is not important to us. If this is the case, and we see work as a straightforward exchange of labour and time for money, then it seems perfectly reasonable for us to have a minimum level of psychological investment. However, for most people, this does not reflect work as we experience it nowadays. Our expectations towards our employers have increased over the years and rightly so. Nowadays employers have a legal obligation to take our physical and emotional wellbeing seriously, but fostering employee wellbeing is also good for people and the organisation. Promoting wellbeing can help prevent stress and create positive working environments where individuals and organisations can thrive. Does it therefore follow that employees are obliged to, or should have at least a minimum level of psychological investment in their work?
When we look at it from the employer’s perspective, it’s a different story. Employees who are psychologically invested in their work tend to make ‘better’ employees. I mean this in the sense that they are more motivated, more productive, and more effective. Research shows that business units with highly engaged employees are 14% more productive, have 18% more sales and are 23% more profitable than those where employees are not engaged. So surely it makes sense for organisations to do whatever they can to combat the increase in disengagement (or less psychological involvement) that we’re seeing.
The risks for organisations of quiet quitting
In today’s competitive environment, there are real risks if your workforce is made up of a majority of quiet quitters. Even when one or two employees are disengaged, this can have a negative impact on other team members. It can lead to engaged employees feeling undervalued because the company is treating everyone the same and not recognising the extra effort being made by them. It can even make them question why they are going above and beyond when others clearly aren’t.
We’ve all had the experience of interacting with a disengaged employee, and it’s no fun at all from a manager’s or colleague’s perspective. What’s more, it doesn’t make for good customer service, so there is a real reputational risk from employee disengagement. Not to mention the statistics on productivity, sales, and profit on a lack of employee engagement we’ve mentioned previously.
Managing disengaged employees is a thankless task. Based on our experience, many managers find the people management aspects of their role the most challenging. Besides having to meet the objectives and targets of the team, managers need to develop leadership skills which play a huge role in the success of their teams. In many cases they don’t have the time, support, patience, or guidance to do so. This means that with higher numbers of disengaged employees, managers are likely to feel the pressure.
The other side of the coin: The risks for employees of quiet quitting
Although those employees who are quiet quitting might feel like they’re getting paid the same for doing much less work, it’s not all rosy.
A recent NPR article touched on the economic principle that in a competitive market, workers are paid their “marginal product”. This means that salaries increase as productivity increases. If quiet quitting is on the increase, does this mean that worker pay will stagnate further? If this does happen, there is a danger that it will lead to a further increase in quiet quitting, as employees feel that their salaries are eroded over time.
There is an argument that the increase in quiet quitting is widening the trust gap between employees and organisations. Many managers and organisations have always had the need to supervise what employees were doing all the time. Now that technology pervades most workplaces and remote working is more common, there is a real danger that employers will want to use the information that most common software (eg, Microsoft Office, Zoom, Google Workspace, Slack) provides to monitor employees. This will only increase the mistrust that is common in many workplaces.
What causes quiet quitting?
There are several causes of quiet quitting, and many of them can be addressed by a greater focus on the emotional salary of employees:
For many people, quiet quitting is a way to manage the symptoms of impending burnout. Burnout itself is complex and has many causes. It is not just about increased workload, and in many cases it is about how we perceive we are being treated at work. The increased isolation felt by many people while remote working during the pandemic has also increased burnout. For this reason, paying more attention to emotional salary is an essential strategy to reduce the risk of burnout.
2. Bad leadership and management
Gallup suggests that a big cause of quiet quitting is bad management. Many of the stories I’ve read from employees who are quiet quitting say that they are doing so as a result of being taken advantage of or treated badly at work. In an uncertain economic environment, many of those who may have previously looked for another job have decided to stay put, take the money and scale back their efforts. It’s their way of dealing with a toxic work culture or a poor manager. Training managers and leaders in the importance of emotional salary and how they can implement practices in their team to increase it is one way to start to tackle this issue.
3. Employee Attitude
We’ve all worked with someone who just doesn’t want to be there, no matter how good the work environment is. It could be that they have a difficult situation outside of their work that is impacting their behaviour at work. It could also be that they simply don’t care about their work or the impact they are having on others. Or perhaps they are unaware of the impact they have on others due to a lack of self-awareness. Of course, there is also the possibility that they are doubling their salary by working two jobs at the same time.
4. The Covid Effect
The experience of the pandemic has led to many people questioning their career decisions much more closely than ever before. It gave many people a glimpse of a different worklife. Some people were furloughed for extended periods of time. People started to re-evaluate what was important to them and question their purpose. For the majority of people it was their first experience of working remotely. Many of those people don’t want a full-time return to the office. For others, the pandemic made them question why they were spending so much of their valuable leisure time working. Helping employees to recognise and appreciate the emotional benefits they get from their work and empowering them to have open and meaningful conversations with their manager about what can change may help employees to make better decisions about their careers.
5. It’s Easier nowadays
There is an argument that for those who work remotely at least part of the time, it’s easy to do the bare minimum. This is because of the belief that it is human nature to work as little as possible especially when no one is watching. When you’re working from home, you might have the option to connect to a zoom call with your camera off and watch Netflix instead. Or take a two-hour break at lunchtime. There is less accountability, and it takes more discipline for some people to work as hard at home as they would in the office. The reality is that many people working from home work harder and for longer, but there will always be those that see it as an opportunity to do less.
The relationship between quiet quitting and Emotional Salary
Emotional salary is the non-financial or emotional benefits that we get from our work, and these benefits have a direct impact on how psychologically invested we are in our work. Even for those individuals who see work as a straightforward exchange of labour for money, there is still usually an expectation that they will get a certain level of emotional benefits from their work nowadays.
Each one of the ten factors of emotional salary has a direct impact on how we perceive our work. Emotional salary is subjective, so each one of us will place a different level of importance on the factors, but their absence or presence will have an emotional impact on us. However, many of us do not make a conscious effort to explore these factors. Normally, we don’t recognise their existence or importance until we no longer have them. This can lead to a general sense of disengagement with work, without conscious awareness of why or how to change it.
How to minimize quiet quitting
A greater focus on the ten factors of emotional salary can have a significant impact on an employee’s psychological investment with their work. When we create teams and workplaces where employees feel that they are getting the emotional benefits from work that are important for them, trust and engagement increases. Whilst this will not eliminate quiet quitting completely, it will certainly minimize it. So how can we do that?
Firstly, by encouraging employees to gain awareness of the ten factors of emotional salary and the impact they have on our perception of our work. Following our research into this area, we designed the free Emotional Salary Awareness Quiz. We also work with organisations to undertake Emotional Salary Audits. As part of an audit, every employee completes the Emotional Salary Barometer and receives a personalised report and action plan on their emotional salary. The organisation receives a detailed analysis and recommendations of actions to be taken to increase emotional salary.
Secondly, by training managers and leaders. When managers and leaders understand the importance of emotional salary and have a toolbox of resources they can use with their teams to have honest and open conversations, there can be a fundamental shift in team culture. We have a range of resources and training programmes for leaders and L&D teams to support this initiative.
Finally, by ensuring that the culture, policies and procedures in the organisation support the development of emotional salary. Our free Quick Scan for Leaders can give you some real insights into how your organisation’s Brand, Culture, Leadership and People Management & Development Policies) might be affecting your people’s Emotional Salary.
Whilst quiet quitting might not be a new phenomenon, it is a real risk to organisational success. If you would to explore how we can help you to minimise quiet quitting and increase the emotional salary of your employees, then get in touch with us today.