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Quiet Riot: What Employers Need to Know About Quiet Quitting

January 25, 2023

After seemingly endless lockdowns, COVID-19 mandates and social distancing requirements, employers are gladly welcoming the return to business as usual. Yet, the same cannot be said for all employees, as we are now seeing a rise of “quiet quitters.”

Although quiet quitting is not new, what was once fringe has become a viral phenomenon. The behaviours associated with quiet quitting fall on a wide spectrum, but there appear to be two main types:

  1. Performing at Bare Minimum. The first type of quiet quitting occurs where employees do the bare minimum that is required to satisfy the essential duties of their job. This means that a quiet quitter would, for example, start and end work no earlier or later than what is mandatory, refuse to take on additional tasks not directly defined in their job description and/or refrain from doing any work outside of set hours, even if such work is necessary to complete a task in a timely manner.

  2. Performing Below Par. The second type of quiet quitting occurs where an employee does less than what is required within the scope of their duties. Instead of explicitly quitting, these employees stay in their position and continue to receive remuneration until they are eventually dismissed. They also may remain in their position for a longer period of time to negotiate a more favourable severance package because their years of service continue to accrue while they remain employed. Given the challenges that Canadian employers have in establishing cause for termination, these employees may be eligible for a substantial severance package. If they had actually resigned, they would only need to be paid earnings and vacation pay earned or accrued to their last day of work.

Quiet quitting can lead to a decrease in productivity and efficiency, not only for the employee engaged in quiet quitting but also for others who can observe the employee’s conduct and follow suit. Quiet quitters often become disengaged from their work and lack initiative, which can have a detrimental effect on both the worker and the team’s performance. This can also lead to strained relationships between workers and management, a decrease in morale and commitment and a decline in customer satisfaction and, inevitably, profits.

Given the adverse effects that quiet quitting can have on the workplace, employers should actively take steps to address this issue. Given that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, we recommend the following multi-pronged approach:

  1. Define a Flexible but Clear Scope of Responsibilities. Employers should clearly communicate an employee’s role and responsibilities and company expectations at all stages of the employment relationship. The roles and responsibilities should be communicated during the hiring process and clearly set out in an employment agreement and reinforced during performance reviews. However, it is prudent to incorporate enough flexibility in the role description to incorporate changes as needed and state that the employer has the discretion to make those changes. Employers should also ensure that employees are well versed on what tasks they should be prioritizing and how they can enhance their productivity.

  2. Manage Expectations With Workplace Policies. The Government of Ontario recently introduced legislation requiring certain employers to implement a disconnecting from work policy (see our April 2022 Five Under 5: Disconnecting from Work: Ontario Employers to Create Policy). Employers should understand that there is no explicit “right to disconnect” in Ontario, and it is permissible to require employees performing certain roles to work longer hours to meet business needs. While not mandatory for all employers or in all provinces, a policy addressing how employees may engage or disengage from work may be helpful in setting and managing expectations in the workplace. Other workplace policies that set out expectations for remote and office work and overtime are also recommended. Employers should ensure all such policies are communicated to employees, again, to set expectations. 

  3. Incentivize, Recognize and Compensate Extra Efforts. Employees may feel as though their “extra efforts” are not recognized, appreciated or appropriately compensated and, therefore, not worth their time. To combat this, employers should consider providing incentives to motivate employees to go above and beyond their explicit job expectations. This could include inducements that are either monetary bonuses, long-term incentives, raises, etc.) or non-monetary (rewards, recognition, additional time off, etc.) that can help encourage employees to work harder and stay engaged.

  4. Provide Feedback on Performance. Managers should facilitate regular feedback reviews, where both the employer and employee can discuss past performance, benchmarks and address any concerns. If an employee exhibits significant performance deficiencies, the employee may be placed on a performance improvement plan to set clear expectations going forward. If performance does not improve, progressive discipline up to and including termination of employment for cause may be warranted. 

The rise in quiet quitting has sometimes been attributed, in part, to Canada’s recent high-employment levels. With the shifting economic outlook for 2023, perhaps we will see attitudes adjust and a return to better productivity in many workplaces. Only time will tell.

For more information, please contact any member of our Employment & Labour group.