Quiet quitting is a new term that refers to an employee doing the bare minimum when it comes to their work responsibilities, which has the potential to negatively impact their employer. Reasons for this could be burnout from being overworked, perceiving saying “no” as having healthy workplace boundaries, or it could just be pure laziness. Whatever the cause, South African employers need to understand the risks attached to quiet quitting and how to manage this phenomenon effectively.
One lingering effect of the pandemic is occupational burnout. In 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially recognised this as a medical condition. Throughout lockdown, many employers saw an increase in productivity and revenue as employees were overly available to their work responsibilities, leaving the boundaries between their work and personal lives blurred.
However, as the world returns to some semblance of normality, an increasing number of employees are trying to restore this balance through quiet quitting.
According to Tshepiso Rasetlola, an Associate in Employment Law at local law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, employees who become disengaged from their jobs need to understand how it can impact their careers in the long term.
“Being seen as someone who is disconnected from their responsibilities, work culture or teammates doesn’t leave a good impression. However, employers also need to be aware of the signs of bad management, which could easily be the cause of an employee shutting down.”
One possible reason could be that an employee is not being managed efficiently, so they might feel overworked and stressed, or underworked and bored.
According to a recent report in Harvard Business Review, the findings indicate that quiet quitting is usually less about an employee’s willingness to work harder, and more about a manager’s ability to manage an employee's workload.
“The success of a business depends heavily on the effectiveness of its managers, says Rasetlola. “Bad managers will fail to create trust and respect among their team members, and a lack of appreciation may have a knock-on effect on the company’s revenue and productivity.”
Employers need to have mechanisms and systems in place to keep track of how managers are running their teams.”
According to Rasetlola, there are two types of bad management characteristics. The first is that of a micro-manager.
“When most were working from home during the early stages of the pandemic, many employees felt that they had more autonomy over their work responsibilities and their productivity and motivation actually increased. As the workforce slowly heads back to the office – either on a full-time or hybrid basis – this paradigm shift to a feeling that their way of working is under renewed scrutiny could result in resentment.”
The second characteristic is that of an arrogant manager, says Rasetlola.
“These types don’t take well to any feedback, and their way is generally the only way, which can lead to employees feeling undervalued and that they have little to no say.
“As a result of rising burnout or discontentment coupled with poor management, an employee who was previously invested in the company culture might become disinterested and withdrawn. A former high-performing employee who has shut down could become costly from the perspective of productivity and turnover,” says Rasetlola.
What to do if an employee is burnt out
As an employee becomes less engaged in their role, they see less room for growth and are subsequently less interested in their company.
Employers therefore need to have effective communication channels in place. They need to be able to see if an employee is unhappy, unwell, or feeling over or underutilised.
“To deal with an employee who is burnt out, the employer needs to be clear about what can they offer to assist with the employee’s specific challenges, and determine whether they need to improve the work environment. Covid has had an impact on people’s families, finances, and other aspects of their lives, so we need to check in on employees from time to time, and be willing to assist or guide the employee inside and outside of work,” says Rasetlola.
How can quiet quitting affect an employee’s position or future job prospects?
Take into consideration that when an employee is staying with a company for a long time, the employer will look at various aspects of the employee’s track record, such as how they manage their work responsibilities, how they engage with the work environment, and their interactions with clients, peers and other stakeholders.
Employers are generally willing to develop people who are interested and engaged in their workplace. “They might consider you for additional opportunities such as studies, mentorship or promotion, which could benefit you both personally as well as professionally.
“Quietly quitting could jeopardise this by limiting your growth, development and opportunities in the workplace,” says Rasetlola.
Is it lawful for employees to quietly quit?
“There’s no law that says that you can be dismissed if you quietly quit, however, you still need to maintain a certain standard of performance,” says Rasetlola. An employee is required to perform in line with their contract of employment. Not following reasonable instructions, for instance, could give the employer grounds for dismissal. Company policies and procedures may give the employer some form of recourse in dealing with an employee who quietly quits”.
She concludes, “If you don’t do what is expected of you in your duties, then you will be potentially viewed as replaceable, which could put your job in jeopardy.”
Written by Tshepiso Rasetlola, Associate in Employment Law, Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr