The pandemic has taken its toll on workplaces. Employees are no longer prepared to take it for the collective team at the expense of self-care and family, and employers are stretched on time, budgets and bandwidth as everyone settles into the new post-pandemic era. There is currently a disconnect between what is “the job” and what are the “above and beyond” parts of the role, resulting in a fresh wave of communication gaps and misunderstandings in the workplace.

Perfect Storm – Why Now?

Why are employees only now Quiet Quitting? Workplaces are currently in this perfect storm of disconnects and job evolution:

  • Post-COVID-19 lockdown recoveries
  • Mental health awareness
  • Relentless 24/7 phone & tech access
  • Online digital economy providing options beyond hourly wages so people are re-valuing their labour contribution generally
  • The impact of remote/hybrid workplaces means employees are trying to set work boundaries that “leaving the office” previously provided

Are Your Employees Quiet Quitting?

So how do you know if an employee is in the midst of quitting quietly? Can you fire someone for not showing up with all the enthusiasm they used to have?

First, employers will want to acknowledge some basic employee legal rights, which include the right to:

  • Overtime pay
  • Clarity and specifics on what they’re contractually compensated for
  • Do side gigs that don’t interfere with work

Employers do have certain basic employment law rights, such as the rights to:

  • Require an employee’s full-time attention during designated work hours
  • Require that specified benchmarks of the role are met – with consequences if they don’t do so
  • Seek out and reward enthusiasm, hard work, extra effort BUT, make sure the “extra” is “extra” not actually core requirements of the job

There are plenty of good blog posts and social media hashtags alive right now with examples of people Quiet Quitting, from shutting down at 5:01 to refusing to come to the Friday night drinks to skipping meetings deemed unnecessary by the employee.

How to Manage Quiet Quitting Employees

Once you’ve identified the situation and done some good company navel-gazing about whether your management style is keeping up with modern approaches, here are some practical tips to start turning things around:

  • Provide clarity on after-hours expectations
  • Review 1:1 and group meeting obligations. Are they meaningful? Are they preventing focused work time that leads to resentful after-hours work?
  • Clarify what is “work” and what are the optional extracurricular activities
  • Acknowledge the impact of inflation right now
  • Make work more meaningful (ie not just perky fun)
  • ASK your employees!

How to Discipline a Poor Performer

There’s a difference between simply meeting the requirements of the job (Quiet Quitter) versus failing to do the job (poor performer). If, for example, an employee is not meeting the expectations of their role, not doing parts of their job description, failing to attend work during expected hours, or generally behaving in an insubordinate manner that is impacting the business, an employer can discipline the employee.

Employers do retain the right to manage the workplace. This has not been diminished because of Quiet Quitters. While employers can no longer expect employees to be grateful for simply having the job (particularly in this labour market), they do have the right to address performance issues and employees are required to meet the communicated benchmarks in order to keep the job.

Once a missed benchmark is identified, an employer can start down the path of progressive discipline, typically in these steps:

  • Have a conversation around job expectations, pointing to the tangible, actual requirements which have hopefully been set out in some form of a job description. This will likely clear up so many situations by simply having the discussion to ensure assumptions are eliminated and everyone is on the same page;
  • If the benchmarks are still not being met, you can move to a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) to set out specific expectations with consequences attached should they not be met;
  • If the issues appear to be more deliberate insubordination (e.g. constantly showing up late with no explanation) and less skill development (e.g. struggling with project management or analysis skills), moving to a verbal warning letter may be more appropriate;
  • If the misconduct is repeated after receiving a verbal warning, you can move to a written warning to state the consequence of any continued or similar behaviours;
  • If after the conversations, repeated warnings and genuine attempts to have the employee meet the job expectations, yes you can terminate for cause. But we cannot overemphasize how very, very, very important it is to give several clearly stated and clearly understood warnings, and that the pattern of behaviour should be similar misconduct.

In the vast majority of cases, employers in Canada will find it easier and more cost-effective to fire without cause with a decent package, rather than fight the uphill battle of evidence, sufficiently comprehensive progressive discipline and face the scrutiny of clear job descriptions and workplace culture around expectations and “going above and beyond”.

As long as our labour market remains so tight for so many employers, employees will continue to have leverage for the near future. Inflation and a volatile economy will likely level things out at some point, but for now, the Quiet Quitters have some good bargaining chips, particularly in more traditional workplaces that have not kept up with the degree of clarity, matched expectations and direct engagement required to keep talent.