Should retail worry about the ‘quiet quitting’ trend?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Aug 29, 2022

A global trend dubbed “quiet quitting” has replaced “The Great Resignation” as the latest development among disgruntled workers arising from the pandemic.

Quiet quitting, like The Great Resignation, is about seeking greater work-life balance — except you get to keep your job. Some feel the catchphrase, popularized on TikTok, is about doing the bare minimum at your job, including avoiding overtime and tasks outside your job description as well as limiting engagement at work, such as switching off devices and logging off after work hours.

The New York Times writes, “For some, it was mentally checking out from work. For others, it became about not accepting work without additional pay.”

A deeper view suggests the trend indicates a need to set healthy boundaries in order to dedicate more time to friends, family and personal life. TikTok videos on the topic show users explaining how they’re less worried about putting their employer above all else, at the sacrifice of their mental and physical health.

TikTokker Zach Rachlin in a video that’s been viewed over 3.4 million times with over 485,000 likes in under a month, states, “You’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond. You’re still performing your duties, but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life. The reality is it’s not and your worth as a person is not defined by your labor.”

The movement comes as the global pandemic has led employees to reimagine their professional lives after working remotely for months. Many have also pushed to tackle additional tasks and overtime in a tight labor market.

Gallup’s “State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report” found 60 percent of employees feeling “emotionally detached” while at work and 19 percent consistently feel “miserable.”

Still, many business leaders fear less engagement will lead to reduced productivity and a backlash has developed against the movement. A Wall Street Journal article states, “Some critics say they fear quiet quitting is corrosive to workplace cultures — and the bottom line — because it’s demoralizing to efficient workers to see others phoning it in without penalty.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Has the quiet quitting movement been caused by employees or employers? Haven’t employers always had employees who went beyond their job descriptions and others who did just enough to get by?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Employment is about give and take."
"Retail companies must continue to adapt to the ever-evolving wants of the workforce, quiet quitting is not anything new but clearly now has more visibility."
"The current challenges in the labor market have put more power in employees’ hands allowing them to have more control over their work/life balance."

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26 Comments on "Should retail worry about the ‘quiet quitting’ trend?"


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Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Employment is about give and take. If an employer is flexible, fair and generous to an employee then that is often reciprocated. If an employer does everything by the clock and has no leniency then they shouldn’t expect any back from employees. This applies in retail as it does elsewhere.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

I feel like retail store associates have been quiet quitting for years. Low pay, crummy hours (especially during holidays) and driving operational programs have all added up to a generally lousy experience when customers interact with them. It could be that the pandemic phenomenon created some awareness of just how bad it all was, hence the lack of qualified candidates seeking retail employment. Sounds like an opportunity to change the game to me, and it looks like Target (and a few others) sees it that way too. Let’s hope all retailers join in by the holidays or guess what? Amazon will break even more records.

Karen S. Herman
BrainTrust

Quiet quitting is a manifestation of our rapid adaption to technology through the COVID-19 pandemic along with many other factors, including how employees are redefining work boundaries and how employers are adjusting to these changes. The acronym IRL (in real life) is crucial to understand, from all viewpoints. How do employees want to be engaged IRL? How can employers improve engagement IRL? This is the new reality for work life going forward.

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust

I saw another take on quiet quitting where they described it as more about “acting your wage.” I think this sums it up pretty well and, especially for retail, I suspect this is really nothing new. If you’re going to pay $7/hour, then you’re going to get $7/hour worth of work – that’s happened in retail for decades, especially for front-line employees where there is very little available to them in terms of payoff for hustle culture anyway. Especially in the context of front-line associates, I think employers who are worried about the negative impacts of widespread acceptance of “phoning it in” culture are pretty out of touch with what they do and don’t get out of those associates already. It also shows the potential where if you do pay better than the bottom (which, to be fair, effectively seems to be $15/hour today, not $7), you actually might get more out of your employees for it. The question is whether the productivity/retention/engagement benefits offset the higher wages.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Exactly: “If you’re going to pay $7/hour, then you’re going to get $7/hour worth of work – that’s happened in retail for decades, especially for front-line employees where there is very little available to them in terms of payoff for hustle culture anyway.” DECADES is the right word.

Joe Skorupa
BrainTrust

Love “acting your wage.” It’s saying the quiet part out loud. Don’t expect employees to go above and beyond if they aren’t paid above and beyond, even if you call them “associates.” However, it also means that if employees are fairly compensated, it is fair to have high expectations.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

The new reality will clash with the old reality and it will get ugly. It’s one thing for a relatively new worker to seek work/life balance (good for them) and barely give 100 percent. But they are going to want raises or promotions or different opportunities within their company at some point – I don’t see how they will justify that unless nobody is working harder. Yes, there have always been people like that and mostly they don’t advance very far.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

You will always have three tiers of performance: Overachievers, steady contributors, and the “phoning it in” crowd. Where those tiers fall across the population of employees has a strong correlation to the culture created by the employer. At a poorly run retailer with crummy pay, no benefits, and scheduling issues, I would expect the bottom tier to be a large percentage of their organization. For really well-run companies, I would expect to see the reciprocal.
Compare a strong company like Costco with some of those who are still struggling to fill their $7 an hour jobs (and complaining the about how they can’t find workers these days).

Kathleen Fischer
BrainTrust

The current challenges in the labor market have put more power in employees’ hands allowing them to have more control over their work/life balance. While there has always been some form of this in the industry, the COVID-19 pandemic pushed many people to re-assess their jobs and what is expected from them versus how well they are paid.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

“Phoning it in without penalty.” Really? As I understand it, “phoning it in” means meeting the job’s requirements. Since when are people getting penalized for doing the job? What are the employers expecting?

American culture has always been underlined with a hard work ethic that will reward hard work. Employees have realized that “above and beyond” doesn’t have a reward at the end day for most employees.

For years there has been talk about work-life balance. Now that it is becoming a reality, employers bristle at the idea.

Scott Norris
Guest
My brother-in-law was a key IT project director at Wells Fargo, “employee of the year” and on a first-name basis with the C-level. 80+ hour weeks. No mate, just us. One of the first to die from COVID-19 here in Minneapolis in 2020, healthy at age 56. What did he get for his hard work, outside of passing his 401(k) and life insurance policy to us? My father-in-law got to enjoy his retirement for about six months before diabetes took his leg and the pandemic kept him in the house. He died half a year after his son. The hardest working, most insightful man I’d ever known, but what did him going above and beyond at the Burlington Northern, Case-IH, the Soo Line and other places get him? A little bit of Railroad Retirement and staring at the TV while Mom tended to his wounds and arranged medical care. My mother-in-law died three weeks ago, two years after Dad. She was just figuring out how to live as her own person, handle her own finances,… Read more »
Jenn McMillen
BrainTrust

Everyone should be worried about quiet quitting, not just retail. What if retailers instituted a two-tier pay system? One level for people who want to take on extra work, projects or responsibilities, and another for people who want to do the basics? It would be a clear indicator of your level of dedication and desire to rise within the ranks. (I realize this is overly simplistic, but this could be a choose-your-own-adventure for your job/career aspirations.)

David Spear
BrainTrust

Hasn’t this been going on for ages but never been written about? Every company has its top, middle and bottom performers — classic bell curve HR analysis. Yet it seems like there is this movement towards little to no work or doing enough to just get by. It’s personified in more time off, less face time, reduced stress, no more office time. There’s been so much focus on the Great Resignation, but very little on the aftermath, the outcome. Unfortunately, it’s all coming home to roost. Soon, I predict there will be the “Great Sorrow” — story after story about individuals who’ve quit and have lost their place in society and now lack the skills to re-enter at the same level they believe they are at.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

I think all industries need to worry about this, but it’s broader than “quiet quitting.” While I hate to generalize – “Zoomers” seem to have less interest in that good old-fashioned “work hard to get ahead” lifestyle, and are more of the mindset that “my interests are way ahead of yours” for their employers. Anyone else seeing the same?

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

What I see is that there is little opportunity to “get ahead.”

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

Without a clear direction on career growth, benefits, and other incentives, unfortunately, the typical retail front-line worker experience is very transactional. The mercenary-like experience that retail workers face has led to high turnover rates, burnout, and stress in a demanding industry. The sacrifices, long hours, working on holidays and weekends without the appropriate compensation or career growth reflect how challenging a typical retail career is.

There was a brief moment during the pandemic when customers and retail executives acknowledged how vital front-line retail workers are. Now, with the exception of high fashion and the luxury sector (where the retail associates are considered brand ambassadors) retailers have to step up and change their operating models to be more employee-centric. This includes compensation, benefits, education support, flexible work schedules, and a more straightforward promotion path.

Patrick Jacobs
BrainTrust

Retail companies must continue to adapt to the ever-evolving wants of the workforce, quiet quitting is not anything new but clearly now has more visibility. Engaging employees and providing development opportunities and more flexible work schedules are investments every retail company must immediately adopt. The retail industry will also gain from diversifying where they are sourcing staff. On-demand staffing is growing and available to stand in the gap of traditional staffing models.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Where’s the option “this isn’t a movement, but yet another [media] contrived “trend”? Sorry, but I didn’t see a single stat here to even suggest this exists. But Tom seems to have anticipated my skepticism (“haven’t there always been…?”): the answer, of course, is yes.

Trevor Sumner
BrainTrust

Every organization should worry about employee engagement and motivation. The turnaround at Best Buy is a powerful case study on how employee morale affects customer experience and revenue. Before “quiet quitting” was a term, many retailers have tolerated poor engagement and performance. Turning around employee engagement in this environment will be an even greater challenge given the competitive job market, limited job applicants and already overworked staff. Employee engagement like many things needs to be a long-term investment that reminds me of a quote my father used to say at Bell Labs: “Everything worthwhile must be won again each day.”

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

These trends and labels get evermore ridiculous. Some pundit or some “influencer” labels an issue and it becomes a trend in the sense that every news or opinion source trends towards repeating it.

Motivated people with rewarding work are great employees that build businesses. Every other situation has degrees of lower and lower positive impact leading to warm bodies punching a clock and ultimately quitting. When employers shy away from greed and share the profits through compensation, education, challenge, career stability, meaningful retirement planning, etc., they will have a powerful workforce and a key component of a thriving business. When they don’t respect their employees enough and grab the most for themselves and when the government backs that behavior by a variety of direct/indirect subsidies, you get negative “trends.”

Mohamed Amer, PhD
BrainTrust

Any business and industry that depends on hourly employees must consider the impact of the “quiet quitting” trend. Part of it is very transactional; you “act your wage,” but there is also the company culture and human relationship aspect. Give me more than the minimum wage but treat me poorly or unfairly, then expect high turnover and dissatisfied customers. As an hourly wage earner, work-life balance is an oxymoron. You don’t have the flexibility of “white collar” remote or flexible work. You are tethered to a physical location with production or service expectations. People will protest in what way they can without jeopardizing the income they need for themselves and family. Going above and beyond might seem, and for good reasons, anachronistic to today’s generations.

Mel Kleiman
BrainTrust
Mel Kleiman
President, Humetrics
2 months 27 days ago

Not just retailers but every business needs to worry about employees who are just doing what needs to be done to keep their job. But the question is, why should one do more than what you get paid for?

A couple of key points.

  1. Employers do not get what they expect. They get what they are willing to accept.
  2. Why should an employee do more than expected?
  3. It is not about engagement. It is about reciprocity. Helping others get what they want so they will help you get what you want.
  4. In most cases all an employee gets for going above and beyond is not positive recognition, but more work.
Brad Halverson
Guest

Retailers will need to own a chunk of the opportunity to turn around this negative trend, whether they created any of it or not. Store employees, especially have been navigating a constantly fluctuating covid environment, supply chain challenges and often interacting with unhappy shoppers. They are just as exhausted as leadership, if not more.

In today’s tough environment for finding good hourly workers, this is a great time to reinforce appreciation, whether a small bump in wage, bonuses, personal experiences, or other offers of recognition.

It won’t solve quiet quitting, but it will help create goodwill, necessary to build forward together.

Christina Cooley
Guest

Since the pandemic there has absolutely been a shift in how many employees view their responsibilities as a worker. Retailers need to worry about “quiet quitting” as it will have a direct impact on the customer experience, and ultimately the bottom line. We see this correlation very clearly across the dozen + industries we cover at J.D. Power. It is in the retailer’s best interest to keep a pulse on the intent to quit and engagement levels. There is definitely a balance to be found between the the required business outcomes (sales), and how to achieve those outcomes through a flexible and adaptable work environment that supports the employees’ greater needs, but also makes them feel like they are a part of the path to success for the company, for themselves, and for the customers they serve.

Janet Dorenkott
BrainTrust
I don’t think the “quiet quitting” was caused by employers or employees. I think it was caused by government shut downs. I was 50 years old before I ever took more than a week off of work. I took two weeks off to go on a cruise for my 50th birthday. Taking those two weeks off had me wanting even more time off. When the pandemic caused schools to close and “non-essential” companies to close, the U.S. experienced a period of non-productivity like never before. I think people in their 50s and 60s decided enough time passed and they just didn’t want to go back and so they started considering early retirement. Young adults and new graduates never felt the hustle and bustle of working with your peers 40-70 hours per week. Many stayed home and spent hours on social media. Family life is good, but let’s not kid ourselves. A new level of laziness enveloped our nation. Since the pandemic, I don’t see the loyalty and dedication to employers like the U.S. has had… Read more »
Oliver Guy
BrainTrust

This is a huge worry for all sorts of organisations — almost as if employees reach a point of diminishing marginal returns for their work efforts. Companies need employees to be ambitious and give their best in order to grow — for both the company and the individual. Identifying the behaviour can be a challenge.
Organisations have always had individuals who excel and those that “just get by” — which is often beneficial for reasons such as stability and continuity.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Employment is about give and take."
"Retail companies must continue to adapt to the ever-evolving wants of the workforce, quiet quitting is not anything new but clearly now has more visibility."
"The current challenges in the labor market have put more power in employees’ hands allowing them to have more control over their work/life balance."

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