These days, it seems like everybody and their mother is talking about 'quiet quitting.' Is this the sad result of a self-interested generation entering the workforce? Is it the logical response of employees to an environment that no longer incentivizes going above and beyond? Is it just "acting your wage?" Definitions vary about what quiet quitting is precisely and seem to vary in self-serving ways: groups define it in the most useful way.
That's not to say it's entirely fictional, especially in the software world. So, what could be going on here? After all, happy team members don't need to take drastic steps to maintain their sanity, job satisfaction, and work-life balance. In this blog, we look at what sources say quiet quitting is, what it means for tech leaders, and what you can do about it.
What is quiet quitting?
Before we examine what it means in the tech industry, let's dive into how people across the web define quiet quitting. Here are some examples of popular definitions we found:
- According to this NPR writer, quiet quitting is "the philosophy of doing the bare minimum at your job."
- According to this article on quiet quitting, it is a reduction in employee engagement. They cite a study that states the percentage of engaged employees under 35 has decreased by 6% since 2019.
- According to this TikToker, his version of "quiet quitting" is not allowing job worries to cause distress outside work.
From what we've gathered, quiet quitting appears to be the antithesis of (and perhaps a response to) an earlier working trend the tech world is very familiar with – hustle culture. It seems that self-proclaimed quiet quitters aren't being "lazy." They're simply refusing to "go above and beyond" their job expectations (i.e., "hustle") when it comes at the cost of their wellbeing.
What does quiet quitting mean for tech leads?
If you dismiss what the cynics say – that it's the product of a "lazy & entitled" generation (which we don't believe for a second) – quiet quitting seems to stem from a few valid reasons. We've identified 3 that resonate with many software developers: burnout, meaningless work, and issues with company culture and collaboration.
Helping developers avoid burnout and preserving work-life balance
Avoiding team member burnout is critical for businesses, studies show. The days of demanding 110% from teams are left where they belong: in cornball sports movies from the 1980s. If you look at the biggest cause of burnout identified by studies, it's work overload. People want and need a balance between their work and the rest of their lives.
Since remote working is now a part of everyday life, the question of work-life balance has changed in the past few years. The lines were clear before: in the office vs. out. Now, the lines are blurred, and, for many, it’s causing more burnout than ever.
And, its not just about quiet quitting – according to our developer happiness survey, developers with poor work-life balance are often actually quitting: 21% of developers state that an unmanageable work-life situation would make them look for another job. Work-life balance is even more critical for experienced devs: 35% of developers with 10+ years of experience say work-life balance is what they value most.
How do organizations avoid this? Hiring enough people is undoubtedly a critical step: you can only ask so much from a small team. But it's also important to make sure people can work effectively. In a deadline-driven industry, the crunch will always hang over developers' heads, and they want to avoid it as much as you do. Simple, practical tools and best practices like Agile methodology make it easy for developers to get work done and empower them to work in the best way, whether in the office or working remotely.
Of course, it's practically impossible to entirely avoid last-minute scrambles or a bit of overtime here or there. Sometimes things just come up unexpectedly, and you must manage as best. But if your team understands the vision and have the resources they need to work well, these scrambles will become occasional exceptions rather than everyday realities that lead to burnout.
Lastly, benefits are essential in enabling employees to care for their well-being. Providing mental health benefits and ample vacation time (and encouraging employees to take it) can go a long way in re-energizing your team. Remember, employee benefits are benefits to the whole business!
Making work meaningful and being authentic about it
Much has been written and said about the importance of doing meaningful work. There are two elements to this.
The first is your company culture and your team's values – people want to work towards a common goal or cause and aligning everyone on the “why” of what you do makes a big difference in keeping people motivated. Research has pointed out the importance of culture: if it's self-serving or disingenuous, it backfires and makes people less motivated. Aligning on a “why” that the whole team can get behind – whether its providing special value to customers or humanity in general, goes a long way in rallying the troops and inspiring innovation.
The second part to meaningful work, is what the developer does on a day-to-day basis to achieve this goal. For most, making work meaningful means avoiding “busy work.” The good news is, this type of work, which usually falls under the “administrative” category, is easy to automate. Think automating issues through development pipeline instead of manually updating project management tools, automating sprint planning and other agile processes.
Work that enables other work isn’t always just administrative, sometimes it requires coding – such as building internal tools to enable other teams. While often this work is unavoidable, as a tech lead, its important to remember most developers feel unmotivated and unsatisfied working on these types of low-quality projects, so keep an eye out for them – they may be struggling more than other devs at your organization.
In fact, according to the dev happiness survey, 27% of extremely satisfied developers stay at their jobs due to the quality of the projects they’re working on, so don’t overlook this! Implementing a system of shuffling developer teams up so devs get to work on more interesting projects and aren’t always stuck with these types of projects can go a long way for dev satisfaction and keeping morale high.
Making it easy to work together
As someone who works from home, let me tell you: I don't miss the commute. However, remote work does have to compensate for the fact that we can no longer rely on the face-to-face communication we're conditioned for. And that can lead to people feeling isolated, unsupported, unheard, and many other things that are bad for motivation and happiness.
Culture and management are essential to address this issue: be proactive. Reach out to and talk to your people; give them ways (perhaps even anonymous ones) to signal how they're doing. And when people give you feedback, do something about it. In other words, don’t quiet quit on your devs!
Tools that make it easy to communicate workload effectively are also an excellent way to ensure your people aren't burning out. Agile reporting tools, for example, can help you understand each other's current work capacity, preventing your team from over-committing to a workload you need more resources to accomplish. Speaking of resources – if you notice you're understaffed, don't rely on one dev to do the job of two – either hire more help or reprioritize your team's workload – it’s not worth risking developer retention.
Cultural shifts in working conditions can also help your team work better together. For example, your team’s beliefs around when meetings should be held and when they should be an email can change how your team works for the better and enable more focus time for the whole team.
The fact that the modern workforce is taking steps to preserve their work-life balance and mental health is a good thing. Stepping away from unnecessary work and meetings and prioritizing one's personal life does wonders for a team's motivation, creativity, and productivity. So, embrace the emergence of the “quiet quitting” trend – it's just another reminder that we need to take care of ourselves, not prioritize work over our mental health and other things in our lives and enable our team members to do the same.
For more insight into what makes developers happy at work and how to increase dev happiness, check out our report [link to developer happiness survey].
And to learn how Zenhub can help you get there, check out some of our key features, designed with developer happiness in mind.