What is quiet quitting?

The phrase 'quiet quitting' has been trending on a range of social media sites, from Tik Tok to LinkedIn recently.

There are different interpretations of what quiet quitting actually means. For some, it can mean doing the bare minimum level of work acceptable to avoid being subjected to a performance management process. For others, there may be no drop in output, but the employee works strictly to the terms of their employment contract by arriving and leaving on time, taking a full lunch break every day, and not checking work emails in the evenings or at weekends. In this sense, it is a rejection of going 'above and beyond' for an employer.

Speak With Our Employment Team

Why is quiet quitting trending?

As with the majority of recent employment law trends, quiet quitting is linked to the COVID-19 pandemic. At the height of the pandemic in 2020, office-based employees were told to work from home, and many employees reported that they struggled to separate the concepts of the office and the home. For onsite workers, such as those who worked in production, there was a pressure to be ever-present and work more or longer shifts to cover staff shortages due to sickness or isolation. Both cases have resulted in employees feeling burnt out.

Like another recent employment law trend, 'the great resignation' – a growing wave of employees resigning and moving elsewhere for better conditions – quiet quitting is a result of a buoyant job market, which has empowered employees to seek changes to their working lives. Unlike the great resignation, quiet quitting involves the employee remaining at their employer, albeit working with reduced capacity.  

Could quiet quitting be classed as industrial action?

Whilst, generally, quiet quitting has been a personal form of protest against a work/life imbalance, the laws on industrial action may apply if it becomes a collective action to be used as a bargaining tool for better terms and conditions. From an employment law point of view, quiet quitting is a new term for what has traditionally been known as 'work to rule'. Work to rule is a type of industrial action, short of going on strike, which aims to slow down production or disrupt the employer's business by, for example, refusing to take any overtime.

Speak With Our Employment Team

What are the consequences of quiet quitting?

In many cases, there is likely to be little recourse for an employer whose employees are performing in accordance with the terms of their contracts of employment. However, depending on the individual facts and the extent to which the employee has quiet quit, an employee may be in breach of their contract of employment.

Many employment contracts expressly state that employees may be required to undertake other duties or work additional hours as necessary for the proper performance of the employee's duties or to meet the needs of the employer. Alternatively, the contract of employment may contain an express overtime clause. There are also implied terms in contracts of employment that employees will serve the employer faithfully and not act with the intention of disrupting an employer's business. Therefore, even if an employee is adhering to the letter of their written contract of employment, an employee could potentially face disciplinary action.

Potential disciplinary action for employees who undertake industrial action, such as work to rule, will depend on whether the industrial action was lawful or unlawful, and further information on industrial action can be found here.

How should an employer deal with quiet quitting?

As a best practice, employers should be monitoring and measuring an employee's output to ensure that their productivity is at an acceptable level. Quiet quitting should not be seen as an opportunity for the employee to shirk their responsibilities or to miss targets. However, employers should exercise caution when disciplining employees who have performed their duties in accordance with their contract but go no further.

It may be an extreme measure to discipline an employee who chooses to prioritise their mental and physical health over their work or who feels that they have not previously been recognised when they have previously gone above and beyond.

Whether it's quiet quitting or "the great resignation", there could be a common cause: unhappy employees that don't feel heard. Therefore, instead of disciplinary action, employers may wish to pre-emptively identify and explore the reasons for employee dissatisfaction through the use of staff forums or engagement surveys. 

If issues such as low pay or long hours are raised, employers may wish to address these issues. For example, if a business routinely relies on voluntary overtime to meet production requirements, additional staff may need to be recruited. Employers could also look to promote the social aspects of the workplace or provide employee benefits or incentives to motivate the staff and create a better working environment. 

Contact Our Employment Solicitors

If you have nay more questions regarding quiet quitting or would like more information on how we can help you, please get in touch with our Employment Solicitors below.

0161 941 4000