Back in August, the term ‘quiet quitting’ started to get a lot of attention, after a video went viral on TikTok. Defined by the poster as “not quitting your job, but quitting going above and beyond at work”, quiet quitting is a new term for an age-old problem. But what is the root cause of quiet quitting, and what could and should leaders do about it?

Working with people who are disengaged, disconnected and disinterested is frustrating. But actually, when I think about the so-called quiet quitters I’ve encountered in my own career, frustration is not the overwhelming emotion I feel. Actually, I feel compassion and sadness because, in my view, the person who is suffering most in this scenario is the quiet quitter themselves, they just don’t realise this.

Who’s the victim of quiet quitting?

They may feel that they’re really socking it to their employer by working to rule, making life difficult for everyone around them and forcing others to pick up the slack.  “Ha! That’ll teach them!” But the truth is, their colleagues will just adjust to the performance deficit and carry on regardless. They may resent the person at first, but soon the quiet quitter will be irrelevant and invisible.

Admittedly, the overall team’s productivity may take a hit initially, but more engaged and committed workers will soon fill the gaps, perhaps even seeing it as an opportunity to get involved in a new project or be more visible as the quitter shrinks into the shadows. It’s the slacker themselves who is really missing out, because when we’re engaged and challenged at work, work is often fun and fulfilling in so many ways.

It’s a bit like the concept of forgiveness. We may think of forgiveness as something that we have the power to bestow on others to make them feel better about themselves. But in fact, when we forgive someone for doing something terrible, actually it’s ourselves we are releasing from inner torment. The wrongdoer has invariably been blithely getting on with their life, entirely ignorant of or uninterested in our grudge-bearing, while we’ve been eaten up with ill feeling and resentment that we’ve created ourselves.

What’s the cause of quiet quitting?

That said, a quiet quitter is a little like a pebble dropped in the water. The negative ripples they send out can have far-reaching effects on their team and the wider organisation, and left unchecked and ignored, it’s a sentiment that can take hold.

In many cases, quiet quitting is a last-resort response and it’s likely that it’s taken some time for the person to reach a point where they decide to do the bare minimum. On their journey towards quiet quitting, an employee will almost certainly have put up several warning flags which a leader ought to have noticed. So if we find ourselves with a quiet quitter on our team, one of the first things to ask ourselves is, “What have I missed?”. In all likelihood, it’s the culmination of a series of small problems that have passed you by.

In some cases, it will be a failure of LEADership. If you haven’t been upholding the four essential pillars of good leadership (Listening, Energy, Authenticity, Direction), disengaged employees are almost an inevitability. They will feel unheard and unnoticed, they may be burnt out, there will be a lack of connection and honesty within your team and they may either feel rudderless or micro-managed. All of these problems can be addressed through better leadership, and our team and leadership development programmes are specifically designed to enhance performance and engagement

But it’s also important to recognise that quiet quitting may have nothing at all to do with your leadership. Even the very best and most effective leaders will encounter team members who are only there in body, not in spirit. In these cases, there is a fundamental mismatch between the person and the organisation or role. A square peg in a round hole, which will never fit, however hard you try.

Three responses to quiet quitting

It’s no surprise that senior leaders are reported to be worried about the implications of quiet quitting, particularly in a precarious economy. Reducing recruitment costs and increasing productivity are key objectives, but with quiet quitters on your staff you’ll be fighting a losing battle.

Essentially leaders have three options: prevention, cure and removal.


The antidote to disengagement is connection. Leaders who invest time and effort in listening to their team, understanding their needs and recognising their achievements will head off quiet quitting at the pass. As we wrote in a previous blog, “Achieving connection with members of your team not only enriches the quality of your relationships with colleagues on a one-to-one level but will enhance the workplace environment across the spectrum via greater employee engagement, feeling valued through being listened to, deeper trust and improved psychological safety.”

Remember though, to be an effective prevention, this deep level of connection isn’t a one-time thing. It requires ongoing investment of time and focus or it will dissipate. It must be clear to your team that you are available to them both practically and emotionally. Be alert to non-verbal clues and behavioural changes too, which are just as important as the words they say.


If you pick up the presence of quiet quitting, it’s important to act fast if you’re to nip it in the bud. The first step is to reconnect with the person and try to get to the root of the problem and, in my experience, this can be found in purpose. Bringing a person successfully back from the brink of complete disengagement requires us to anchor them in meaningful work. By uniting their role at work with their purpose in life, they will rediscover the joy and fulfilment that can be found in the workplace. As leaders, it is our job to bring our team together and unify them around a shared vision and purpose, and once we do this, not only will they be more productive and effective, but they’ll be happier too.  We call this Profit and Smiles.


Removal – a change of job – is the solution when all else fails. Sometimes, despite our best efforts as a leader, it is clear that some people are in the wrong role. If there is no feasible way to unite a person’s work with their purpose, if they are fundamentally unhappy for reasons beyond our control, it’s time to be honest and pragmatic. The fairest and best course of action is to encourage them to find a more suitable role, either within or outside your organisation.

Being a quiet quitter (rather than an actual quitter) could be seen as a cry for help. Rather than punishing the person and getting sucked into a negative spiral, try facing up to the problem and finding a solution that achieves the best outcome for all parties: the employee, you as the leader and your wider team and organisation. If they leave on good terms to pursue opportunities elsewhere, it’s a win-win-win situation.

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Don’t worry in silence about quiet quitting. Talk to us and we’ll solve the problem together.

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