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The Inverse of Productivity – Quiet Quitting

“Stop loafing” is a term you most likely would have heard somewhere in your life. Loafing, according to the Oxford dictionary, means spending one’s time in an aimless, idle way. Moreover, one could say it is when someone does the bare minimum, or just enough to not get noticed for not contributing.

Many people have been noticing a “loafing” attitude/behaviour in the workplace lately. This phenomenon is called “quiet quitting[1]. The term is used to describe employees who put no more effort into their jobs than what is absolutely necessary, no more and no less than what is required or agreed upon. It is the increased disengagement – whether emotionally, mentally or physically – from their work.

Remchannel was one of the first companies to speak on how this trend affected companies in South Africa. Remchannel published their bi-annual Salary & Wage Survey, in April 2023, in which they noted some worrisome and dangerous trends that were taking a toll on everyday business. Remchannel marked a decrease in individuals who are dedicated enough to their organisation to walk the extra mile. Walking the extra mile, would mean, putting in extra efforts into being successful in one’s job in order for the company to be successful. In doing so, you show commitment towards the company. A lack of individuals who are willing go the extra mile, is unfortunate, as companies are built on mutual commitment. The results seen in South Africa are not unique, as research shows the trend has become a universal dilemma prominent in workplaces worldwide.

The survey conducted by Remchannel included 19 statements to which participants were required to answer with “True (agree)”, “False (disagree)”, or “Unsure or not applicable”. René Richter, Managing Director of Remchannel, noted that it was unsettling that 30,8% of the individuals responded with “Unsure or not applicable” for all statements.  Subsequently, one-third of individuals were not interested enough to have a definite opinion regarding the survey.

Below are the sample’s answers to some of the statements:

  • 9% say quiet quitting is no longer a challenge
  • 49% say they are no longer prepared to sacrifice their mental health
  • 38% say quiet quitting is more prevalent among certain generations
  • 43% of employees are tired of being asked to do more without compensation
  • 34% say poor management is to be blamed for quiet quitting

You may ask, what has caused the phenomena to skyrocket to these noticeable lengths? As seen above, there are definite indications that employees are placing their own well-being, mental health, personal life and compensation above the best interest of the organisation. As more information becomes widely available and more open conversations take place about mental health, there is a greater shift in the new generation of employees to prioritise their wellness. Also, another argument is that this quiet quitting experienced could be due to years and years of the working class feeling powerless, and having to work in stressful situations without the option to just quit. It has been passed on for generations that one should work from 08:00 to 17:00 to earn the necessary money to just get by.  With the recent economic circumstances, food prices, fuel prices, inflation and load shedding, working a job just to scrape by may feel defeating.

It was further mentioned by Remchannel, that shutting down and becoming passively inclined to merely accept the status quo is a normal psychological reaction to a series of prolonged adverse events / tragedies taking place, such as Covid-19. Ncumisa Madida, an Executive at Momentum Corporate, confirmed that the trend of quiet quitting is due to underlying emotional and mental health issues in employees. Employees who already experience factors such as job dissatisfaction, lack of affirmation, limited recognition, no work-life balance, limited growth and unsuccessful leadership are more inclined to fall into quiet quitting.

With that said, employers may question how this affects organisations, how to spot those employees who regrettably joined the group of quiet quitters and how to address the situation.

The devastating effects it has on organisations and how to spot individuals participating in this trend goes hand-in-hand.  Their actions in itself speak volumes with regard to the undeniable consequences it could have. As soon as employees disengage, productivity is the first to plummet. Employees may become less creative, a decrease in innovation occurs, performance falls behind, employee morale suffers and labour turnover rates may increase[2]. What makes matters worse, is that quiet quitting is not necessarily unlawful if employees do no less than they are mandated to do according to their employment contracts and job descriptions. This makes such circumstances extremely difficult to manage in the workplace. Below are some examples of behaviour seen as quiet quitting:

  • Making a limited to no contribution of ideas and suggestions during meetings,
  • Taking less initiative to perform tasks and seek meaningful work,
  • Being reluctant to switch teams or take on new projects,
  • Doing only what is required or expected in order not to get fired,
  • Accepting ideas with minimum debate or engagement,
  • Shutting down and getting less involved in conversation, etc.

Now that employers are aware of the phenomena and understand which signs to look out for, it is time to take the necessary action to combat quiet quitting.

The first would be giving employees a sense of autonomy and control over their work lives and choices. Should the inherent requirements of the job or the operations of the company allow flexible work time or work from home for example, such options could be explored by managers. Other options include giving employees insight into planning their own schedules, booking appointments, deciding on deadlines, allocating their time, managing their projects, etc.  Allow individuals to contribute to setting their own goals and strategies in order to give them a voice. All of the above mentioned can be done by drafting job descriptions in collaboration with the employee or effectively using a performance management system. A performance management system specifically allows dedicated time between the manager and employee to discuss their attributes, reaching consensus on goals and opening up conversation to give well-deserved recognition and feedback.

Secondly, employers should actively strive towards creating an environment of engagement and open communication, building a culture of trust, motivating employees, having competitive incentives and challenging employees in a positive manner. The idea is for employees to contribute actively to the success of the organisation, while the organisation returns the favour by providing an opportunity to gain job satisfaction and self-actualisation. Should an employer suspect that their company culture is in a vulnerable state or that their employee engagement is low, a climate study can be done to test the waters. With such study, not only does the employer gain insight into the thoughts and feelings of the employees towards the organisation, they also receive specialist advice on how to address concerning matters.

Contact Joubert & Associates to assist in developing, customising and implementing a performance management system to combat the new phenomena taking its toll on companies. Alternatively, we can assist in conducting a climate study to evaluate the company culture and employee engagement levels.



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