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Employment Law

What Is Quiet Quitting? And How Can I Stop My Employees From Doing It?

Definition of quiet quitters - and how you as an employer can deal with them at your workplace. Find out more in this employment law blog post.

What Is Quiet Quitting? And How Can I Stop My Employees From Doing It?

Quiet Quitters: A Definition

A quiet quitter is a worker or employee who does what is required of them and no more. They won’t go the extra mile. They do the minimum amount of work required to keep their job.

At least 50% of US workers fall into this category because they are “unengaged”; they have become “psychologically detached” from their work, warn pollsters Gallup.

Gen Z workers and some millennials – under-35s – are more likely to be dissatisfied than older workers, according to Gallup’s research.

The Rise Of The Quiet Quitter

Clock-watchers, coasters and those who secretly work to rule are nothing new – they’ve existed since time immemorial. And they’re not as anonymous as they think they are. There are few secrets in the average workplace. Most employers know who works hard…and who doesn’t.

Conversely, stress and burnout are hardly new phenomena either. Overzealous managers who redline their staff and continually demand ‘more, more, more’ – regardless of those employees’ capacity to deliver – shouldn’t be surprised when those staff eventually push back. Quietly or otherwise.

But what’s new is how rapidly the quiet quitting trend has captured the imagination of those fed up with their jobs. And what started out as a term coined by economist Mark Boldger at a Texas A&M University symposium is now spreading across the UK.

‘Quiet quitting’ had 5,400 Google searches in the UK over the 12 months to August 2022. The resulting graph on Google Trends showed a huge surge.

The Impact Of Quiet (And Not-So-Quiet) Quitters

Productivity inevitably suffers when some employees or workers decide to do the absolute minimum.

There’s also the risk that their attitude may spread to their colleagues. The quitters’ lack of motivation will not go unnoticed, no matter how much they try to conceal it. Some co-workers may feel resentful, while others may follow the quitters in becoming less industrious.

Some quitters are not so quiet. Loud quitters vent their frustration more vociferously – especially on social media. This makes them even more of a problem, though it can make it easier to terminate their employment if their poor attitude descends into misconduct.

Disciplining Quiet Quitters

As stated, quiet quitters coast along by doing the bare minimum – on the assumption that they’re doing just enough to merit a salary. But what if they get it wrong? What if they misjudge how little work they need to do to remain employed?

And what if their idea of the bare minimum doesn’t tally with yours as an employer? What if they’re underperforming? At this point, you’ll almost certainly want to have a word with them.

This will determine whether there’s a genuine reason for the employee’s underperformance – such as overloading, lack of training, mental health issues – or whether they’re simply slacking at the expense of all concerned.

As an employer, you may wish to start disciplinary procedures. But take legal advice first because it’s vital to implement them correctly.

There’s no point being in the right if your HR processes and paperwork are not in order – you could well lose at a tribunal as a result.

What Does The Quiet Quitter’s Employment Contract Say?

As with so many aspects of employment, the contract is key – notably any flexibility clauses.

A flexibility clause states that the employer may, from time to time, call on the employee to work beyond their normal hours of employment, usually due to extenuating circumstances. These clauses are quite common – especially in the food industry where products must be processed before they perish.

In instances such as this, an employee who continually refuses point blank to work outside their normal hours could be breaching the terms of their employment contract.

However, employers relying on this clause may be vulnerable to a legal challenge if they make a habit of forcing employees to work beyond their normal contracted hours.

Get it wrong and you risk being sued for unfair dismissal.

Making Quiet Quitters Redundant

Given the current economic situation, redundancy may be an answer.

However, the redundancy process must always be fair. You can’t just fire a quiet quitter and claim it’s a ‘redundancy’. You must use fair and objective selection criteria and a properly completed scoring matrix.

You will need to examine each employee’s conduct, performance and capability.

You may well have a very good idea about who you’d like to make redundant, long before embarking on the formal selection process. But if they can prove that your methods were anything other than fair and objective, then they could claim unfair dismissal.

Or worse – your actions could be seen as discrimination. And there is no limit on the damages for that! The large sums involved could be enough to tip a small firm over the edge – especially in a rapidly tightening economy.

Again, always get the advice of an employment law solicitor before embarking on a round of redundancies. A quiet word in advance can save a lot of grief and expense later on.

Employees Have More Rights Than Workers

Bear in mind that employees enjoy more protection than workers do. Workers tend to have more casual, less structured roles. Their hours are usually less regular.

Employees’ rights over and above those of workers include:

  • redundancy pay after two years’ continuous service
  • being able to claim unfair dismissal after two years’ continuous service
  • a minimum notice period if dismissed or made redundant
  • the right to request flexible working after 26 weeks’ continuous service
  • protection against dismissal or suffering any detriment if taking action over a health and safety issue.

Employees also have protection against dismissal or detriment if they:

  • reasonably believe that being at work or doing certain tasks would put them in serious and imminent danger
  • take reasonable steps over a health and safety issue
  • inform their employer about their health and safety issue in an appropriate way.

Get Expert Legal Advice

Contact Coles Miller employment solicitor Hugh Reid for specialist legal advice on reviewing your employment contracts, disciplinary procedures, terminating contracts of employment and making workers and employees redundant. He is based at our Poole head office.

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