The Silent Shift: Understanding Quiet Quitting in South Africa’s Workforce
There’s a silent shift happening in South Africa’s workforce. It’s a new trend amongst employees that affects 50% of workforces globally and drastically impacts productivity and, ultimately, operating income.
It’s called Quiet Quitting, and it is a very real trend that employers need to be aware of and prepare for. Employees are subtly changing their approach to work. They’re clocking in and doing their work, but the fire that once drove them to be productive and effective in their positions seems to be dimming.
It’s not an outright rebellion, nor is it a vocal protest. Instead, it’s a silent decision to pull back — to do just enough to not get noticed but not enough to exceed expectations. For employers, this isn’t just a matter of reduced output or missed targets. It’s a deeper issue that speaks to the heart of employee engagement, morale, and workplace culture.
This trend of Quiet Quitting prompts questions: Are employers doing enough to understand their employees? Are employers creating environments where employees feel valued, heard, and motivated? The global statistics are alarming, but we have an opportunity.
JPS Africa HR Assistant Lu-Anne Maloney has collated some information on Quiet Quitting, which we will explore in more detail below. But first, in order to address the issue, we need to first recognise and acknowledge its existence. We need to look beyond the surface, beyond the usual performance metrics, and truly listen to our employees. It’s time to engage in meaningful dialogues, foster environments of trust, and rekindle the passion that drives excellence. The ball is truly in the employer’s court.
The trend of Quiet Quitting is a wake-up call and a signal to employers that they need to do more. Let’s pave the way for a workforce that’s not just present, but truly engaged and thriving.
The Rise of Quiet Quitting Globally
A recent article by Gallup titled “Is Quiet Quitting Real?” sheds light on the phenomenon, revealing some insightful statistics.
According to the Gallup report, as much as 50% of the US workforce can be classified as Quiet Quitters. These are individuals who, rather than making a loud exit, choose to do the bare minimum at their jobs. US employee engagement saw a decline during the second quarter of 2022. While 32% of workers remained engaged, the proportion of those actively disengaged rose to 18%. This shift in engagement levels, the lowest in nearly a decade, began in the latter half of 2021, coinciding with a surge in job resignations. Notably, managers were among the groups that saw the most significant drop in engagement.
Contrastingly, 18% of the workforce is “actively disengaged” or what one might term “loud quitters”. These individuals not only feel disconnected from their jobs but also vocalise their dissatisfaction, with some even taking to platforms such as TikTok to share their grievances, garnering millions of views.
The data also reveals a worrying trend among younger employees, particularly those below 35, typically the younger millennials and Gen Z. Pre-pandemic, younger workers generally reported higher levels of engagement and satisfaction. However, post-pandemic, there’s been a marked decline in their feelings of being cared for and opportunities for development, primarily from their managers. The percentage of engaged employees under 35 has dropped by four percentage points from 2019 to 2022. Concurrently, the percentage of those actively disengaged has risen by six points.
The Legal Perspective on Quiet Quitting in South Africa
Navigating the complexities of the South African workforce requires a keen understanding of the legal framework, especially when addressing emerging trends like Quiet Quitting.
1. Contractual Obligations and Quiet Quitting:
The foundation of any employment relationship is the employment contract. If an employee fulfils the roles and responsibilities outlined in their contract, they are in compliance with its terms. However, South African law introduces another layer of obligation. Beyond the terms of the contract, employees are required to act in the best interests of their employer. While merely doing the minimum might not breach the contract, it could be perceived as a failure to prioritise the employer’s interests. Such behaviour, if deemed misconduct or indicative of poor performance, could warrant disciplinary measures.
2. Differentiating Roles: Senior vs. Junior Employees:
The corporate hierarchy dictates varied expectations. Senior management, by virtue of their elevated positions, inherently bears greater responsibilities. Their roles often demand not just fulfilling, but exceeding expectations, setting standards, and leading by example. Conversely, junior employees are primarily expected to adhere to their contractual obligations. Meeting the stipulated expectations suffices without the added pressure of consistently going beyond.
3. The Importance of Clear Employment Contracts:
For employers, a well-defined employment contract is indispensable. It’s crucial to explicitly outline roles, responsibilities, and any additional requirements, such as overtime. A clear contract minimises ambiguities, ensuring both parties are aligned in their expectations. In light of the Quiet Quitting phenomenon, a comprehensive understanding of these legal considerations is essential. It not only ensures compliance but also promotes a harmonious workplace where both employers and employees operate with clarity and mutual respect.
Why are South African Employees Quietly Quitting?
Many employees feel burned out, with the relentless pace leaving them exhausted, both mentally and physically.
2. Seeking Fair Compensation:
Employees expect fair compensation for their efforts. When there’s a perceived imbalance between their work and expected rewards, dissatisfaction arises. Fair compensation isn’t solely about monetary value; it’s also about feeling acknowledged and appreciated.
3. Feeling Undervalued:
Beyond monetary compensation, recognition plays a pivotal role in employee satisfaction. When efforts go unnoticed and achievements are overshadowed, employees often feel undervalued. This lack of acknowledgment can erode their motivation to go the extra mile.
4. The Need for Attentive Leadership:
Leadership extends beyond mere direction; it’s about making every team member feel valued and heard. A disconnect between leaders and their team’s concerns can create a divide. Employees seek leaders who are accessible, understanding, and truly committed to their welfare.
5. Spending Time Doing Things They Enjoy:
In the quest for work-life balance, many South Africans are prioritising personal passions and hobbies. The desire to spend time doing things they genuinely enjoy is driving many to recalibrate their work commitments.
The Dark Side of Management: Understanding Quiet Firing
While the phenomenon of Quiet Quitting is gaining traction, there’s another side to the coin that employers need to be aware of: Quiet Firing. This is a subtle tactic where employers create conditions that are so adverse or unfair that it pushes the employee to resign. It’s not an obvious termination, but a more insidious approach where the employee feels they have no other choice but to leave. This could be through denying progression opportunities, withholding raises for extended periods, isolating employees from crucial discussions, or simply making them feel their career has hit a dead-end. Such practices can further encourage Quiet Quitting, as employees feel undervalued and unsupported. Identifying Signs of Quiet Quitting Recognising the signs of Quiet Quitting is key for employers to address the issue proactively. Here are some red flags to watch out for:
- Avoidance of Communication: Employees avoiding meetings or direct communication with managers.
- Changed Work Patterns: Arriving late, leaving early, or both.
- Decreased Productivity: A noticeable drop in output or quality of work.
- Reduced Team Contribution: Less involvement in team projects or collaborative efforts.
- Negative Attitude: A discernible shift in attitude towards coworkers, supervisors, or the job itself.
- Lack of Enthusiasm: A once-passionate employee now seems disinterested or disengaged.
- Delays in Deliverables: Increasing instances of late submissions or project completions.
- Social Withdrawal: An employee who was once sociable is now not interested in engaging with others.
Addressing the Issue
The rise of Quiet Quitting is a pressing concern for employers, signalling a need for a more comprehensive understanding of employee needs and aspirations.
Open Communication Channels: It’s essential to foster an environment where employees feel they can voice their concerns. The disconnect between employees and their employers is growing. By opening channels of communication, employers can bridge this gap, ensuring that employees don’t feel isolated or unheard.
Recognise Efforts: One of the primary reasons employees resort to Quiet Quitting is the feeling that their efforts go unnoticed. Regularly acknowledging and rewarding hard work can go a long way in ensuring that
employees feel valued.
Positive Work Environment: A significant factor contributing to Quiet Quitting is the organisation’s inability to create a meaningful relationship with its employees. Cultivating a positive work environment where employees feel supported and motivated is crucial. This includes ensuring that they feel connected to the organisation’s mission and purpose.
Regular Check-ins: Rather than waiting for annual reviews, employers should have regular check-ins. This proactive approach can help in understanding employee challenges, aspirations, and ensuring that they have clarity about their roles and expectations.
Professional Development: Treating employees with high regard and being committed to their professional development should be high on employers’ priority lists. Employers should show a genuine commitment to the professional growth of their employees by offering training, workshops, and opportunities for advancement.
Understanding Generational Differences: With Quiet Quitting being a predominant viewpoint of both the Millennial Generation and Generation Z, it’s essential to understand the unique needs and aspirations of different age groups in the workforce. Tailored strategies can help address the specific concerns of these
In conclusion, while Quiet Quitting is indeed a global trend, its implications in the South African context are unique. Be vigilant, empathetic, and proactive. Understand the root causes of Quiet Quitting and implement tailored strategies to ensure a motivated, engaged, and thriving workforce.