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How Employees Are Using Technology to 'Quietly Quit'

A woman sitting in front of a computer with her hand on her chin.

​Quiet quitting is one of the most recent trends to capture the attention of the HR universe. Daily media coverage has been reporting on the phenomenon for several weeks now.

Despite the uptick in attention, though, quiet quitting is really nothing new. Employers, and HR pros, have long been concerned about employees "loafing," "slacking off" or "retiring in place."

In the old days, you might see them loitering around the water cooler or in the break room, maybe taking an extra-long break or lunch. These days, though, especially when many employees are working remotely, there are fewer indicators that might suggest they're not doing their all to earn their pay.

Whether working onsite or off, some employees will continually look for ways to give the appearance that they're working when they're not. And, as with many things, technology can help. While that may be good news for slacker employees, it's not such good news for companies and their HR advisors and managers.

Gartner reports that "10 percent of workers will seek to trick AI-driven tracking systems by 2023." "Mouse movers" or "mouse jigglers" give the impression employees are actively working at their computers when they may, in fact, be lounging in bed or watching TV. The technology allows employees to leave their computers without being detected because the mouse will automatically engage, giving the impression the employee is getting work done.

Even sanctioned tech tools can be put to nefarious purposes by employees attempting to fly under the radar and appear productive.

Rhett Stubbendeck is CEO of LeverageRx, a technology-focused personal insurance company. Stubbendeck says his company uses ClickUp to stay on top of deadlines and to manage tasks and projects. But while it's designed to be a work tool, he says he's found many of his employees wasting time on the platform—or spending their time "Googling irrelevant stuff."

Elon Musk is one CEO who has had enough. Responding to a question related to a scathing leaked e-mail to staff requiring remote workers to return to the physical workplace, Musk reportedly advised employees who didn't want to work onsite to "pretend to work from somewhere else."

How Employers Can Fight Back

Technology also offers options for employers that want to detect instances when employees may not be pulling their weight.

To combat the potential for employees doing things other than the work they're being paid to do, Stubbendeck said his company uses surveillance technology to help identify employees' billable and nonbillable hours of work. At first, he said, he was resistant to the idea. However, the buzz around quiet quitting caused him to change course. "I need to identify these quiet quitters," he said.

Stubbendeck recommended that other businesses consider ways to monitor employees' efforts—especially those who are working remotely where surveillance technology may be especially useful.

At Skill Success, an e-learning platform which operates entirely remotely, head of HR Cath Garcia said Hubstaff, a time-tracking tool, is used to track employee activity. "Our productivity increased when we used this tool," she said. Hubstaff can display employees' laptop screens so what they're working on can be monitored and can give an indication of the percentage of time they are working or idle.

Unfortunately, surveillance tools aren't necessarily a failsafe, warned Jacob Villa, marketing director at School Authority, a site which matches students with colleges and universities. "There are several ways quiet-quitting employees can circumvent them," he said. "Automating mouse movement, using remote access, using a second monitor or even hacking the source code of the monitoring software itself are just a few examples."

Instead, Villa suggested employing more traditional means of monitoring employee performance, like "checking on employees at random times." He also recommended establishing "definite and measurable goals" and holding employees accountable to these. "This can take the form of quotas or anything that can be measured from past data on worker output," he said.

John Ricco, co-founder of Atlantic Group, a recruitment company with offices in Chicago and London, agreed that taking an "old-school approach" to employee monitoring can be beneficial. "I recommend that clients schedule regular meetings with cameras switched on as a mandatory measure to ensure greater accountability for everybody in their job," he said. "Getting people to regularly reflect on their workflow and workload is a good way to ensure that everyone is actually pulling their weight, rather than quietly quitting. After all, it's a lot harder to fake your way through a face-to-face meeting with your line manager than it is to fake that you're online at your computer instead of watching Netflix."

Technology can be an aid, but it is not guaranteed to help companies stay on top of whether or not employees are focused on what they should be focused on. Whether remote or in the office, the best way to combat quiet quitting and realize maximum productivity from staff members is to ensure they're engaged in work they find rewarding and to work together to establish measurable outcomes that both employees and managers can monitor.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.


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