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Is Quiet Quitting Really Happening?

Yes, and HR should respond by focusing on people managers.

A businessman is sleeping on his chair at his desk.

​It does not matter who you are. If you are in the world of work, talent issues have hit you from all angles and with a ferocity never before encountered—or, at least, that’s what people would have you believe. 

Today’s labor market, like the weather, is often described in extreme terms. I recently learned from Andrew Siffert, senior meteorologist for global insurance broker BMS Group, that his research shows two facts: First, ecological changes have resulted in more-frequent weather anomalies, and second, our perception of these anomalies has increased as words like “catastrophe” and “disaster” have become part of the news cycle.

Over the past two years, numerous reportedly alarming workplace issues have developed. For instance, the Great Resignation morphed into the Great Reshuffle and then the Great Regret. And recently, the era of quiet quitting was described by many pundits as a new workplace problem, while others said we were just putting a new label on the old issue of disengagement. I knew only one source could provide clarity: HR professionals.

In mid-August 2022, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conducted a survey of 1,200 HR professionals with the aim of understanding quiet quitting in numerous workplaces. Here is what the survey found:

Quiet quitting is real. Fifty-one percent of human resource professionals indicated that quiet quitting was a concern, with approximately 36 percent of those surveyed saying it was actively occurring in their workplaces. 

Culture is a problem. When asked why quiet quitting was happening, 60 percent of respondents whose organizations were experiencing it pointed to the post-pandemic culture. Two hypotheses were shared by these HR professionals regarding the cause of their cultural problems: diminished people management capabilities and an inability to maintain culture in a virtual environment. 

Younger workers are at risk. The survey found that 72 percent of HR professionals had witnessed quiet quitting among younger workers, with hourly workers being the most likely group to exhibit behaviors associated with quiet quitting. 

None of these findings surprised me. But there was something that astonished me: 28 percent of HR professionals are witnessing quiet quitting from front-line people managers. This is a new wrinkle in the 
war for talent, as it underscores the value of people managers remaining engaged.

People managers are the instrument of culture, and culture cannot survive without talented people managers.

Too often, we focus talent efforts on hiring individual contributors and arming departments with the best assets. But what happens if people managers start quitting quietly—or noisily? Most HR professionals do not have a plan for this. That is because people management has been overlooked in the pandemic. 

Organizations are not focusing on this MVP level of talent, but doing so would provide the biggest bang for their buck. 

My take? Quiet quitting is real, and quiet quitting among managers is particularly problematic. HR practitioners should focus their efforts on this key workforce demographic. People managers are the instrument of culture, and culture cannot survive without talented people managers.

In the spirit of not-so-quiet quitting, I am stepping away as the author of this Data Watch column to focus on books and research. I want to thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share my thoughts over the past several years. Hopefully, I helped make SHRM your go-to resource for all things work.

Alexander Alonso, SHRM-SCP, is chief knowledge officer for SHRM.


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