In the time of the Great Resignation in which an unprecedented number of employees have left their jobs post-pandemic due to job dissatisfaction and a search for a better work-life balance, employers are considering what they can do to prevent employees from leaving their jobs. However, many employers are overlooking the equally important issue of "quietly quitting" employees. Despite what the name suggests, "quiet quitters" are employees who are choosing to stay in their jobs, but are committing to doing only what is specifically required of them at work and nothing more. For example, they may work only their contracted hours and refuse to take on any additional tasks without remuneration. Recent studies show that some businesses are consequently incurring a financial loss equal to 20% of the "quietly quitting" employees' annual salary, while the annual cost to the wider UK economy amounts to £340 billion. Employers must be aware of this phenomenon and should consider what positive action they can take to combat "quiet quitting".

"The Great Realignment"

While the concept of "working to live" as opposed to "living to work" is by no means novel, this outlook has undoubtedly become more widespread as a result of the pandemic. Time spent at home during lockdowns caused many people to stop and consider the impact of their commute, working hours and lack of professional boundaries on their personal lives and overall wellbeing. Many employees have since made the conscious decision to reduce the importance they attach to their professional lives, in favour of family, friends and their mental, as well as their physical, wellbeing.

This is more of a "Great Realignment" in which workers worldwide have re-evaluated their relationship with work and arguably has been a long time coming, with many employees pre-pandemic experiencing "burn-out" and poor mental health. This can lead to employees raising claims against their employers for the effect that such working practices have had on their mental health. Flexible working policies are, therefore, certainly welcome changes and are here to stay in sectors that allow them. Indeed, today, more than 85% of employees who are able to work remotely opt to do so more than half of the time. Further, a recent survey revealed nearly 60% of employees value better work-life balance more than a 10% pay increase.

Employers may reasonably argue, however, that such changes have also contributed to the "quietly quitting" phenomenon, and evidence suggests they are correct. Indeed, 60% of employees today feel disengaged from their workplace, with a lack of office presence and social events being cited among the top reasons for that disconnect. That being said, according to Robert Walker, the CEO of a British recruitment company, it is clear that "traditional tactics used to build a lively, inclusive and social workplace culture are simply not cutting it". Employers must therefore think innovatively to create and introduce policies and incentives which sufficiently re-engage their workforce and prevent them from "quietly quitting".

Examples of positive actions employers could introduce include enhancing family leave entitlements, menopausal and fertility concerns policies and, generally, paying greater genuine attention to employee health and wellbeing – perhaps even considering "bring your dog to work" days. Senior members of staff should also set a positive example by demonstrating their own professional boundaries and encouraging others to do the same. Employers may find it useful to offer team-building activities. However, they must also be mindful of the effect of enforcing mandatory attendance in jobs that employees could do from home as that can encourage both "quietly quitting" and actual quitting. Allowing flexibility demonstrates an appreciation for employees' personal lives.

Effective managers

However, the effects of the pandemic and the Great Realignment should not be held entirely responsible for the "quiet quitters" phenomenon. The Harvard Business Review recently reported that "quiet quitters" engage in such behaviours as a response to feeling undervalued and unappreciated at work. Evidence shows employees are still willing to "go the extra mile" at work, but only for businesses and leaders who they trust and respect and, crucially, who they feel trust and respect them. Interestingly, managers play an especially significant role in this regard, with the most effective managers having approximately three to four less "quiet quitters" in their team, compared to the least effective leaders. Further, in a recent survey, more than a quarter of employees cited "having a supportive manager" as important.

So, what exactly does an effective manager look like and what steps can employers take to maintain employee engagement to reduce "quiet quitters"? The Harvard Business Review reported "a manager's ability to build relationships with their employees" as the most significant trait in this regard. It is therefore advised that managers seek to develop positive relationships with their employees by way of open and honest communication and positive reinforcement. This may include finding common ground with each team member, keeping everyone up to date on all aspects of work (such as upcoming projects) and encouraging collaborative working dynamics.

Managers should extend the spirit of open dialogue by offering regular 1:1 meetings during which employees should be invited to raise queries, concerns and to express genuine feelings about their work, work satisfaction and the business as a whole. This can enable any issues to be directly addressed and resolved at the time, as opposed to grievances being submitted and employees deciding to leave the business.

Further, managers should clearly outline paths of career progression to each employee. Employees are more likely to be engaged when they have specific targets. A recent report revealed that more than half of employees surveyed would accept 10% less pay in exchange for a "more interesting career path or more opportunities to learn new skills". With that in mind, managers should encourage and support employees to attend training to further their career development. Research shows affording independence to employees to develop their professional skills by way of training enforces a sense of trust with their employer.

What should employers do?

Finally, employers themselves have a part to play. It is important that employers identify poorly skilled or unsupportive managers who do not encourage and appreciate their staff and provide training to upskill their efficacy in such areas.

Employers may reasonably be inclined to argue that "quietly quitting" is a conduct issue. In some industries, given the usual requirement for employees to work additional hours as and when required without additional pay, employees choosing to work only within their normal working hours may technically be in breach of their contract.

Where "quiet quitters" are identified, employers should invite them to openly discuss any issues and underlying factors contributing to their disillusionment or underperformance. There may be genuine reasons which the parties could work together to rectify, or relative to which the employee may be entitled to enhanced support or protection. However, where performance does not improve without good reason, formal warnings and other disciplinary sanctions may be appropriate. In certain situations, employers may ultimately dismiss "quietly quitting" employees, citing capability or even conduct as the potentially fair reason for their decision to terminate the employment contract.

However, prevention is generally better than cure. So, employers that develop positive professional relationships with their employees by being vocal about their appreciation of their workforce, valuing the contribution of each employee and genuinely listening to their concerns in an open, inclusive and safe environment, are more likely to have employees who are engaged and productive and less likely to "quietly quit".