Disengagement in a ‘Quiet Quitting’ World: Why to Worry About It and How to Spot It

- 9 min read

‘Quiet Quitting’ is the newest phenomenon to enter the working world and startle employers. The trend, advocating dialling back effort to sit firmly within a job description and nothing more, suggests physical resignation might not be the principal thing they have to worry about.  Mental and emotional resignation is on the rise, arguably doing more damage because it goes unnoticed for longer, is harder to fix, and a lot easier to judge. 

The engagement crisis companies face now is a natural evolution of The Great Resignation. Amidst a global skills shortage, you want to ensure the gap isn’t widening through attrition whilst your attention is diverted to attracting new talent. As stated in a blog we published nearly a year ago in October 2021 : “An absence of a negative is not automatically a positive; if your people don’t leave, they can still withhold their best efforts, disengage from organisational objectives and become a drain on resources.”

A recent Gallup survey found that at least 50% of the US workforce consider themselves ‘Quiet Quitters’.

Peoples’ mental ‘surge capacity’ that kicked in during crisis has been replaced by fatigue, frustration and keener awareness of self-worth. ‘Quiet Quitting’ is said to be in service of greater work/life balance, which is an organic result when the give/take relationship between employee and employer is working properly. When it’s not, engagement is lost. But how do you spot this? And what do you do about it when you have?

The rise of quiet quitting compliance 

“You’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond”. These words spoken by TikToker Zaid Khan have now amassed over 3.5 million views, have struck a chord with a good portion of today’s workforce. However, sceptics dub the trend unsubstantiated hype peddled by lazy workers- lazy young workers at that. 

Whilst Gen Z and Millennials may be more accustomed to advocating for themselves at a younger age than their predecessors, research points to this not being an entitled generational rebellion but epidemic burnout. Gallup’s 2022 Global State of the Workplace Report found 60% of people are emotionally detached at work.  After two years of being stretched beyond a reasonable limit, of being ‘always on’, employees who feel unappreciated are wondering what the point is. Half of white-collar workers said they feel more comfortable turning down projects now than pre-pandemic, according to a May survey of professionals by Korn Ferry. 

The very term ‘Quiet Quitting’ demonstrates an innate bias towards a hustle culture famous for taking a personal toll. Professionals online have fairly questioned, why is it termed quitting when the job is still getting done? What people are quitting is long hours, blurred boundaries, and being taken for granted.

When a person is merely compliant, they stop being creative, collaborative, curious and critically thinking. Rather than rise to their highest potential they fall to the minimum expectation. In the words of Stephen R. Covey “compliance does not foster innovation, trust does”. 

His son and FranklinCovey  Global Trust Practice Lead, Stephen M.R Covey explains in his latest book Trust & Inspire that compliance is all that is possible when 90% of organisations are still implementing the traditional Command & Control style of leadership that brought us through the industrial age. When employees are controlled not trusted, managed liked things not led as individuals, they behave as such. People quite literally become less animated about what they do.

Inspiring discretionary effort

When you feel believed in, you strive to be worthy of it. When you feel invested in, you work to grow. When you ultimately feel cared about as a human being, you offer the spark not dictated by your contract. You volunteer the discretionary effort that is unique to each individual and essential to exceptional results. In other words, when organisations give abundantly, so do employees.

An inspired employee comes to work lit up about what they’re doing because they feel they matter, their work matters, and the impact they’re having matters.

– Stephen M.R. Covey, author of The Speed of Trust and Trust & Inspire

Leader’s today have an opportunity to reach new heights by fundamentally shifting how they view their role to one that gives rather than takes. Rather than motivating people to perform tasks, today’s leaders need to inspire others with a greater purpose and vision. They need to bring a mindset of caring to their daily work, serving others instead of putting their own ambitions first. 

 This is not to say engaging employees is a soft or fluffy thing. Great leaders multiply the energy of direct reports by pulling people out of their comfort zone. The reason these leaders foster emotional investment not disengagement, despite the discomfort, is because the stretching is done in a way that sets them up for success, not tests whether or not they fail. They give them the respect of having their strengths utilised, the confidence of seeing their direct contribution and the freedom to bring their whole selves to the role.

These leaders empower high-performing teams who voluntarily dig deep, because they align what excites individuals with what the business needs.

Download our free guide How to Build Trust and Unleash the Potential of Your Direct Reports.

Greater, but not unreasonable, employee expectations

Research shows that it would take more than a 20% salary increase to lure the majority of employees away from a job where they feel engaged. On the other hand, rather unsurprisingly this means that it takes next to nothing to poach most disengaged workers from their current role.

This statistic does not back up the image of lazy workers who want to undermine their employers whilst picking up a paycheque. What this demonstrates is that despite a rethink of the role work plays in our wider lives, workers are still ready to not just comply, but commit. Strikingly, when asked what was most important to them when deciding to accept a new job offer, 58% of employees surveyed by Gallup cited the ability to do what they do best.  

However, employees aren’t going to be banging down your door telling you that they’re disengaged or burnt out. More often than not, you’re going to have to read the subtext and figure it out before it’s too late.

So, how do you spot disengagement amongst your employees?

Leaders need to be tuned into whether or not their team members can confidently say: “I’m a valued member of a winning team doing meaningful work in an environment of trust”. 

Red flags that employees might not feel:


Do certain members of staff appear quiet, less confident or less part of the action as they once were? Are employees who once enjoyed the social side of work withdrawing from the scene or opting out of non-essential activities? Is there silence in place of communication? Have questions stopped being asked in meetings or are remote workers now literally less visible with turned off cameras? There is a fair chance they don’t feel valued as individuals or overlooked as contributors.

Part of a winning team

Does your team have a common goal they’ve had a part in creating and know how to achieve? Is there a sense of mutual accountability rooted in mutual respect? There is nothing more motivating than winning at something. There is nothing that bonds teams more- whether they’re remote or not- than seeing definitive progress. When teams aren’t given the tools focus, take ownership, course correct as they see fit and celebrate small wins, then stress and siloed working are the result. Download this guide dispelling common engagement myths to ensure you are empowering your people wherever they are.

When your team begins to see a breakthrough result move as a direct result of their efforts, they will know they are winning. And we have found nothing that drives the morale and engagement of a team more than winning.

– Chris McChesney, co-author of The 4 Disciplines of Execution

Endowed with meaningful work

Are you confident your direct reports can connect what they do and care about each day to the bigger picture? …Are you confident they do care? We all make mistakes, and most of the time it’s a learning opportunity. But, when you have quality issues with employees’ work like reporting errors, failures in customer service, consistently  missed deadlines and unnoticed opportunities then complacency could be the cause. When people can’t connect to the ‘why’, they’ll become disinterested in doing better because they feel as though it doesn’t matter. 

To address this, try initiating contribution conversations at every level of the business. This involves sitting down with direct reports 1-on-1 to discuss what they are currently contributing, what they believe they can contribute and what they want to contribute in the future. Then clearing the path to help make your combined vision happen. 

Part of an environment of trust

If you are noticing tension in correspondence or in meetings, cynical views of new ideas or a lack of resilience and perseverance, you can be fairly certain it’s down to distrust.  Engaged employees need credible leaders who they trust for both their character and competence and feel trusted by in return. An environment of second-guessing, conflicting guidance or broken promises is not conducive to productive, collaborative relationships. Likewise feeling micromanaged, dismissed or restricted does not empower the self-belief or psychological safety truly great work needs. As with most things, it is a leaders job to go first and trust first. 

Engagement is a matter of reciprocity

Simply put, people are willing to work hard, but no longer at the expense of themselves and their wellbeing. They want to do great work, but not free, unsustainable or unrecognised work. When leadership gives more than is printed on paper- growth opportunities, empathy, trust, equity- then so will employees.


Most jobs pay a salary, so getting paid for doing a job is no longer enough. A salary isn’t a reason to keep showing up at a job when there’s another employer willing to pay it. It’s the value that employees get out of work beyond their pay cheque that truly stimulates and creates the emotional connection that fosters belonging. Like a relationship, it’s the bond that creates commitment. And it takes the eye of keenly attuned leaders to look out for the signs that this needs to be nurtured in order to bring out the best in everyone, for universal gains.