Quiet Quitting – Disengagement or Healthy Boundaries?

By Amanda Beattie
22 Aug 2022

48 hours a week as standard. Plus overtime. Oh, and you’re expected to answer your phone on the weekends—in case of emergency. Also, if you could keep on top of your emails out of work hours, that’d be helpful. Let me know what ideas you come up with for the new project over the weekend.

Do these seem like realistic expectations?

Employees pursuing a policy of ‘quiet quitting’ don’t think so. However, this is putting some staff at odds with their employers who think they’re slacking. Are they right?

In this article we’ll see if we can find the truth behind the phenomenon. Is it a reason to slack off, or is it employees establishing health boundaries?

What is quiet quitting?

Let’s start by defining the latest HR buzzword.

While there is no exact definition, a few key principles are agreed. “Quiet quitting” is when an employee renounces the culture of hustle, overwork, and taking work home with you. An employee who quits quietly is someone who doesn’t go above or beyond. Instead, they simply do the bare minimum to fulfil their role.

The trend may or may not have started on TikTok, but it has been made popular via the app. Many users have been sharing their stories of how their work ethic has changed, or how they’ve always worked in this way.


Why an employee quits quietly

Why now?

First, it’s important to recognises that this isn’t a new notion. Quiet quitting has always existed, it’s just that now it has a name.

Why does it have the limelight now? Partly due to the ‘Great Resignation’ and partly due to COVID.

The employment market is thriving at the moment, which means that employees are in a better position to negotiate their position. What’s more, COVID meant a large percentage of new workers started their career working from home. This blurred the lines between professional and personal life.

Understandably, this led to many wanting to take greater control of their work life balance.

The final factor in this puzzle is a platform. In this case, TikTok.

The social app allowed the idea of quiet quitting to spread, and for employees to share their individual stories. This bolstered the idea and turned it into a movement.

Disengaged or divided?

So, are staff setting healthy boundaries, or are they just work-shy?

Perhaps it’s the name that is scaring employers. After all, the word “quitting” has quite a strong implication. But, coming at it from an employment law angle (as we would, being the HR professionals), it’s useful to look through the lens of an employment contract. In other words, an employee’s role is outlined in their contract. Sometimes there are clauses that allow for a degree of flexibility, both in terms of the time they work, and the nature of the work they do. However, in many roles there are silent duties that aren’t mentioned in the contract. These are tasks or ways of working that aren’t written down, but are considered to be standard practice for the role. Things like answering calls outside of office hours, or taking on extra responsibilities that don’t quite fall under the job’s remit—exactly what quiet quitting is trying to eliminate.

If it’s not outlined in their contract, the employee has no legal obligation to do it. Use this as a baseline to identify when staff are taking on extra responsibilities.

Remember, everyone works differently, so while some individuals will be happy to take on a little more, others will prioritise family life or other pursuits. A good employer is able to accommodate all styles of work and make each of them productive.

The mental health perspective

A 2021 Glassdoor survey found that over half of UK workers surveyed felt they had poor work-life balance. It’s an insightful look into working life in Britain, and it is intrinsically linked to mental health and quiet quitting.

Our wellbeing partner, Health Assured, found that workplaces that promote a better work life balance find the following results:

  • 35% decrease in presenteeism
  • 35% decrease in workplace distress
  • 20% increase in life satisfaction

The results speak for themselves. If you still have any doubt that a good work-life balance helps productivity, speak to our wellbeing experts about the effects it could have on 01455 858 132.


improve productivity quiet quitting


Staff taking advantage

Of course, when any trend kicks off, there will be those who take advantage of it. So, while quiet quitting is, at its core, about setting health boundaries, some employees may see it as an opportunity to slack off.

If you suspect this is what is happening with your workers, your first port of call should be your employment contracts. Look at the responsibilities outlined here, and see the employee is meeting their targets and fulfilling their responsibilities. If they are, then you have no reason for further action. If they aren’t, then have a meeting with the employee to discuss your concerns and set expectations moving forward.

If there is no improvement on the back of this, you may start to pursue disciplinary action.

Final verdict

On the whole, employees who are pursuing a course of quiet quitting are usually ones who are working beyond their responsibilities and their limits. Sometimes this is of their own volition, sometimes it’s because of work pressures.

If it’s the latter, you should consider reviewing your current working practices to see how you can reduce overwork.

However, if a staff member does start to take advantage of the trend, you can seek expert advice from the HR professionals.

Call 01455 858 132 today to get independent advice from one of our HR consultants.

About the Author

Amanda Beattie

Amanda represents corporate clients and large public bodies, including complex discrimination and whistleblowing claims. Amanda also drafts and delivers bespoke training regarding all aspects of employment law, including ‘mock tribunal’ events; in addition she also frequently drafts employment law articles for various publications for Croner and their clients.

Get expert views & insights delivered directly to your inbox