Chances are you’ve heard the latest buzzword making its rounds in the news and affecting organizations nationwide: quiet quitting. A recent Gallup poll found that about 50% of the U.S. workforce reports engaging in quiet quitting. That percentage may be higher, as only one-third of employees report feeling engaged in their work and workplace. It’s important in today’s work environment to be aware of quiet quitting, and how to recognize the signs as a project manager.
What is Quiet Quitting, Exactly?
Quiet quitting is a term that describes employees doing the minimum requirements of their job and opting out of tasks beyond their assigned duties. Essentially, quiet quitters fulfill their work responsibilities, but they are not invested emotionally or psychologically in work. They are less willing to stay late, show up early, or attend social work functions and non-mandatory meetings.
While that doesn’t sound awful in itself — after all, work/life balance is essential to long-term productivity — it can be a thorn in the side of project managers. While most quiet quitters don’t openly express their dissatisfaction with work or communicate intentions to leave, they become less engaged in the work and less invested in the project and mission. They may even actively disengage from the project or organization by reducing their efforts, missing deadlines, and avoiding interactions with team members and management.
The Impact of Quiet Quitting
In the world of project management, the success of a project depends just as much on each team member as it relies on effective and skillful project management. No matter the size of your project, engaged team members play a vital role in ensuring the project is completed on time, within budget, and according to the required standards.
When team members become disengaged from the project without explicitly communicating an intent to leave, they become less involved in their project, may stop contributing ideas or suggestions at meetings, and might avoid conversations about the project’s progress. They may be physically present, but their minds and hearts are not in it.
Quiet quitting can be problematic for project managers because it often leads to decreased productivity, missed deadlines, and reduced team morale. Team members must be fully invested in the project to achieve the desired outcomes. A recent Conference Board study found that quiet quitting costs U.S. businesses up to $500 billion annually. What’s worse, quiet quitting can lead to a toxic work environment where negativity spreads to other team members.
Common Signs of Quiet Quitting
As a project manager, recognizing the signs of quiet quitting may help you address it head-on before it becomes a more significant issue for your project and organization. Here are some common indicators of quiet quitting:
- Reduced participation in meetings: When team members who were once active in project meetings start attending less frequently or don’t contribute as much, it could be a sign that they have disengaged from the project.
- Lack of enthusiasm: Team members who were once excited about the project, and had a positive attitude toward their responsibilities and the shared goals of team members, may start exhibiting signs of negativity. They may seem uninterested in project updates, milestones, or successes.
- Less work effort: When team members start missing deadlines or stop offering to pitch in for an “all hands on deck” issue, it could indicate a lack of interest or motivation. While it is possible they may feel overwhelmed and unable to keep up with their workload, it could be that they have stopped caring beyond their minimum responsibilities and don’t wish to give more of themselves than what is required.
- Avoiding responsibility: Team members who are quietly quitting may try to avoid taking on responsibilities or tasks. They may make excuses or blame other team members for their lack of progress.
- Lack of communication: When team members stop communicating about their progress or issues they are facing, it could be a sign that they have disengaged from the project. This is concerning because it can lead to unnoticed problems that go unaddressed until it is too late.
- Isolation from the rest of the team: Team members opting out of all team-building activities and social events, such as lunches or celebratory drinks after meeting a milestone, may be a sign of quiet quitting.
Why Quiet Quitting Occurs
If you’ve noticed signs of quiet quitting in one or more team members, it is essential to understand why it happens. Factors that can contribute to quiet quitting include:
- Poor management: According to Harvard Business Review, the least effective managers have 3-4 times as many “quiet quitter” employees as effective leaders. When team members feel mismanaged, or their contributions are not valued, and they are not listened to, they may become disengaged. Lack of communication and transparency may also cause team members to feel unsure about the project’s direction, leading to disengagement.
- Lack of recognition: When team members feel their contributions are not recognized or appreciated, they may become less interested and invested in their work. This could be due to a lack of feedback, salary increases, or feeling like they are always overlooked during team meetings.
- Poor communication: Communication is essential to the success of any project, so when it is lacking, team members may start to feel unsure about the project’s direction or their part in it. This could be due to a need for more clarity around the project’s goals, milestones, or progress.
- Overworked: When team members are overworked, they may feel burnt out and less willing to give more of themselves because there is nothing left to give. This is particularly true when they feel that they are not fairly compensated for the amount of work they are doing.
- Micromanagement: When team members are micromanaged, it can lead to a lack of trust and result in disengagement. They may feel as though they have yet to be allowed to make decisions and contribute to the project meaningfully or as though their manager does not trust them to do the job they were hired to do.
- Crisis of purpose: If a team member does not feel fulfilled with their work — knowing that it is meaningful and contributes to something worthwhile — they may be more hesitant to do beyond the bare minimum, not seeing the point in giving their time, effort, and energy to something that does not serve a purpose.
How to Address Quiet Quitting as a Project Manager
Once you have identified quiet quitting in your team member(s), taking action is essential. Here are some steps project managers can take to address quiet quitting:
- Open communication: Open and transparent communication is essential for project managers. As a PM, you are responsible for setting an example about communication expectations. Make it a priority to regularly share project updates, milestones, progress, and setbacks with your team members. Let your team know that you have an “open door” policy. Encourage them to speak up in team meetings and 1:1 with you and other project leaders.
- Recognize contributions: Recognizing the contributions of your team members can go a long way in motivating them to continue putting in the effort. This could be feedback, awards, or even public recognition, such as giving them a shout-out in a team meeting. When team members feel their work is valued, they are more likely to stay engaged and invested in the project.
- Give autonomy: “I love being micromanaged,” said no one ever. So whenever possible, give your team members autonomy. This means trusting them to make decisions and allowing them to own their work. When team members feel they have control over their work, they are more likely to feel engaged and motivated.
- Set clear expectations: Set clear expectations around each team member’s roles, responsibilities, and deadlines. Provide a clear understanding of what is expected of everyone and what success looks like. When team members understand your expectations, they are more likely to stay engaged and focused.
- Address issues: When issues arise, address them quickly. This includes issues around workload, communication, and conflict. When team members feel their concerns are being heard and addressed, they feel like valuable assets to the project and are more likely to stay engaged and care about the work.
- Performance monitoring. While some organizations monitor every keystroke employees input on their devices, this is not recommended. The type of performance monitoring likely to garner the best results is simple 1:1 weekly check-ins with your team members. Ask them what they’re working on and what is up next on their to-do list. Spending more time with your team members can help you identify when folks are struggling with something at work, so you can address the issue immediately. This also enables you to develop a good rapport with them and form a connection. Team members who feel connected and heard at work are less likely to become disengaged quiet quitters.
Though we’ve all likely encountered a quiet quitter a time or two, statistics show the problem is becoming even more prevalent. As a project manager, you can stay one step ahead of quiet quitting by being the change you want to see in your project and organization’s culture, as cliche as it might sound. Change within a project or organization trickles from the top down. To keep your team members from feeling isolated, disconnected, and uninterested in the project and other team members, prioritize open communication, regular check-ins, and methods of connecting the performance of the individual to the project mission.
What tips do you have for project managers to address quiet quitting? Let us know in the comments.