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With Quiet Quitting Trend Picking Up Steam, IT Pros Stand at a Crossroads

Instead of installing productivity tracking software to combat quiet quitting, IT pros need to supply employees with tools that will make their jobs easier.

If we're to take the current news cycle at face value, "quiet quitting" is happening in every industry and sector imaginable — including the IT department. In fact, in a recent poll, Gallup found that these quiet quitters, neither "engaged" nor "actively disengaged," make up approximately 50% of the current U.S. workforce, nearly 80 million workers.  

However, quiet quitting turns out to be a more difficult thing to measure than it initially presents. For instance, another survey (this one conducted by ResumeBuilder.com) put the current rate of "quiet quitters" in the workforce at a much lower, though not inconsequential, 21%.

Because the IT department is often tasked with measuring business impact, their response to the quiet quitting trend offers a unique opportunity to implement positive workplace change.

What Is Quiet Quitting?

Ironically, quiet quitting does not refer to the act of quitting one's job. Rather, quiet quitting, a buzz-worthy phrase for a straightforward (and a tad boring) practice, refers to workers doing their assigned job tasks — without going beyond the purview of their contract or performing unpaid labor.

Despite seven out of 10 employees experiencing burnout in 2021, employers tend to frame quiet quitting as a kind of laziness epidemic in which workers collect a steady paycheck and benefits without putting in the work.

However, this is far from being the case. Rather, most quiet quitters:

  • Complete their assigned tasks but avoid taking on projects that fall outside the predetermined scope of their job descriptions.
  • Show up during shifts and regular hours but take their full lunch break and end each day on time.
  • Respond to business-related communications during their work hours but turn off email, phone, and Slack alerts outside of paid work time.

Thus, realistically, quiet quitting (as a work-life balance boundary-setting mechanism) is a much less radical approach to the workplace than its phrasing presents itself to be.

Quiet Quitting Trend Worries Business Leaders

Yet, for businesses, including many of the nation's largest corporations, the quiet quitting trend appears to be a major issue.

Quiet quitting, reports Gallup in an elusive, tongue-twister of a sentence, "is a problem because most jobs today require some level of extra effort to collaborate with coworkers and meet customer needs."

Similarly, academics Anthony C. Klotz and Mark C. Bolino write in the Harvard Business Review: "Many companies rely on a workforce that's willing to step up and take on extra tasks when necessary. The reality is that most jobs can't be fully defined in a formal job description or contract, so organizations rely on employees to step up to meet extra demands as needed."

For the most part, search engine result pages for the phrase du jour are filled with news reports and op-eds that frame quiet quitting from the perspective of the employer. A survey from Challenger, Gray & Christmas found 77% of company respondents experiencing employee engagement issues and 34% attributing a drop in productivity to this disengagement.

To put it gently, quiet quitting is the result of a prolonged disconnect between the explicit and implicit work expectations set by an employer.

Quiet Quitting Isn't the Problem It Seems

It's no coincidence that of the many article pitches ITPro Today has received on the quiet quitting trend, most have come from the PR teams of C-suite leaders. Because companies benefit financially from employees doing extra work without compensation, employers have a significant stake in how quiet quitting is defined and perceived by the general public.

Where the productivity of their employees is concerned, companies benefit from a framing that, according to Amina Kilpatrick, "mischaracterizes doing the tasks you are paid for with the idea of quitting your job."

Through this perspective, so-called "quiet quitters" are responsible not only for decreased productivity but also for displacing their share of unpaid labor into the laps of their hard-working colleagues. Instead of collectively pushing back on employers against poor working conditions, employees are encouraged, through the lens of quiet quitting, to instead turn on each other.

In The Atlantic, Derek Thompson writes: "Complex questions such as 'Am I running my team effectively?' and 'Is hybrid work actually working out for us?' can be reduced to the confident diagnosis that young people just don't want to work."

Thus, as a linguistic phenomenon, the term "quiet quitting" benefits no one more than the corporations that claim it as a problem. Businesses use it to justify anti-worker decisions, slashing departments, withholding bonuses, and, in many cases, "quiet firing" those deemed to be not productive enough.

In fact, what we call quiet quitting today isn't so much a novel epidemic as it is a long-standing trend among U.S. workers. Previous Gallup polls corroborate a historical precedent to the current "quiet quitting" discourse. Since Gallup began collecting this information in 2000, the majority of workers have never fallen into their "engaged" category. In 2018, for example, the rate of "not engaged" workers sat at 53%, three points higher than those in most recent Gallup poll.

In this sense, the drop in productivity attributed by businesses to quiet quitting likely comes from a host of factors — from a 20-year high quit rate to supply chain breakdowns to talent shortages across sectors — none of them directly related to quiet quitting.

How Does Quiet Quitting Impact IT?

As a result, claims that quiet quitting poses a threat to company security or business efficiency and operations are true only insofar as people doing their jobs has always carried security risks. IT professionals should continue to implement ongoing training alongside current technologies, feature enhancements, and best practices to minimize these inherent risks.

How Should IT Departments Respond?

With the rise in quiet quitting alongside the shift to hybrid and remote work setups, many IT departments have elected to adopt productivity monitoring software, an approach that's founded on the belief that constant, hyper-detailed assessment will keep workers focused and lead to increased productivity. The New York Times found that "eight of the 10 largest private U.S. employers track the productivity metrics of individual workers, many in real time," with "trackers, scores, 'idle' buttons, or just quiet, constantly accumulating records."

However, these approaches offer short-term solutions while demoralizing and alienating workers in the long run. Why should employees be loyal to their employers when they're installing spyware and laying them off anyway?

Long term, the "solution" to quiet quitting lies not in tracking keystrokes or idle times, in more performance metrics, in manager one-on-ones, or in mandatory team outings. Rather, it requires a holistic approach that relies on trusting your people, paying them more, realigning expectations with realistic workloads, hiring additional staff, and giving workers the resources to feel successful.

While some of these decisions are outside of IT's control, we can't act as if they are coming out of nowhere. Despite their legal standing, corporations are not people. But they do consist of people acting on their behalf. For IT professionals, this means, on one hand, refusing productivity tracking, and, on the other, asking workers what they need to feel engaged at work and supplying them with the tools they request. When given the choice, make it easier for workers do their jobs — because it's pretty hard already.

About the author

Dylan Fisher headshot Dylan Fisher is the author of "The Loneliest Band in France." Dylan holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and he is currently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at Georgia State University in Atlanta. He lives with his wife, Danielle, and their two adopted dogs, Rosie and Daisy, in Atlanta, Georgia. Follow him on Twitter: @dylfisher.
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