As a business owner, you may have recently come across the term ’quiet quitting’ in the media and may not be sure exactly what it means, how to recognize it, or how to approach it.
The concept of quiet quitting is not quitting per se, but rather an employee doing just enough to keep their job, while expending their energies on other areas within their life.
You could think of it as a form of unilateral and unofficial ‘work to rule’ or as the antithesis to the traditional career ladder / corporate burn-out ideology.
If this trend of quiet quitting continues to grow, how can you tell if it’s happening in your company, and how can you deal with your employees that are doing the bare minimum in a way that is both fair and legal?
The origins of the ‘quiet quitting’ trend
The quiet quitting movement has gathered pace in the post-pandemic times. The various lockdowns allowed many employees to reflect on their work / life balance and their drivers of happiness and fulfillment.
A portion of these employees have concluded that whilst they may be dependent on the income their jobs provide, their jobs do not define them, nor is it the most important part of their lives.
By ‘quiet quitting’ (as opposed to simply resigning), they get to keep their monthly pay cheque whilst mentally checking out. They may have decided to concentrate their efforts on their family life or a new hobby.
They may even be looking to start their own business and spend their time in the evenings and weekends on launching that.
You may find that an employee is:
- arriving later or leaving the office earlier than usual
- looks unhappy or disinterested in their work
- is not volunteering for additional projects, whereas they may have done so previously.
Signs of quiet quitting could be that they may be reluctant to go the extra mile to help, and may show little desire to travel on business or attend networking or social functions.
How to approach an employee that might be ‘quiet quitting’
The key is to engage sensitively with the quiet quitter in an informal, open, and honest manner to discover what is genuinely causing them to disengage from your company. You must try and discover why they are quiet quitting.
It may be that their morale is low or that they are simply bored in their current role. Alternatively, they may be suffering from burn-out or mental health issues.
If the reason is one of these drivers, then you can potentially make changes to improve the situation; examples could be a change in role, an agreed reduction in hours, or a sharing of job responsibility on key duties, etc.
However, it may be that their reasons are so deep-set that realistically as their employer, there is little you can do.
They may be fundamentally looking for an entire change in their career or life, and if this is the case, you may want to consider the potential damage this could cause to your business.
As your main objective is to protect your business, difficult conversations and decisions may need to follow.
Can you dismiss an employee who is ‘quiet quitting’?
The brief answer to this is ‘unlikely’. If an employee is meeting the expectations of their role and hasn’t committed gross misconduct, you’re unlikely to have any grounds for dismissal.
If the employee has been working for you for over two years and you dismiss them, you risk a claim of unfair dismissal being brought at the Employment Tribunal.
Therefore, when facing this type of situation, you must tread carefully, take appropriate legal advice, and consider all your options.
Are there any legal options available?
There is the possibility that you may be able to agree on a Settlement Agreement package with the employee concerned to terminate their employment, but this is not guaranteed as the employee cannot be compelled to accept this deal.
A Settlement Agreement is a legally binding contract between an employer and an employee. Usually, this Agreement states that in return for compensation, the employment relationship will be terminated, and the employee will waive their right to bring a claim against the employer in the Employment Tribunal.
These agreements are best suited for situations where the employment relationship is often used in situations where:
- there is a serious dispute between an employer and their employee
- discrimination claims
- an employee is to be made redundant
- the employment relationship is not working out and it is best for all involved that it ends.
Obtaining expert legal advice before negotiations begin will ensure both you and your employee achieve a positive outcome.
About the Author
Ashley Gurr is a commercial and employment contract lawyer at LawBite. Ashley has over 15 years of experience in private practice helping SMEs and in-house for an international consultancy group advising on commercial contracts and multi-national utility giant in a contract strategy role.