Why tech has become uniquely exposed to quiet quitting

Graphic of three office workers in different positions feeling unhappy

Quiet quitting is a trend that refers to employees who do only what’s required of them in their job, and nothing more. There's no voluntary overtime and no filling in other tasks that fall outside their remit. Some say this is what work should be and, although some workers might do more, they should only really do so on their own terms –not because it's an expectation.

Many sectors across the economy, however, have grown to expect things like voluntary overtime (i.e. working for free) and find the trend of quiet quitting concerning. Workers feel especially unwilling to commit beyond what's absolutely required in the context of the cost of living crisis, though. For many tech companies, usually fast-paced and dynamic environments, countering quite quitting – and its root causes – is become more important than ever.

How prevalent is quiet quitting?

Quiet quitters make up at least 50% of the US workforce, according to Gallup, with just 32% of the workforce “engaged” compared with 18% actively disengaged. The ratio of engaged to disengaged workers is also the lowest it's been in almost a decade. Similarly, in the UK, 34% of workers put "maximum effort" into their jobs, according to YouGov, with a further 42% saying “I am trying hard, putting in a decent effort”. Roughly one in five workers fall on the other end of the spectrum, with 4% having “checked out” entirely.

Although the discourse around quiet quitting has expanded in recent months, it isn't a new phenomenon. “Quiet quitting is, ultimately, just employees doing what they are paid to do," says professor Katie Bailey, a professor of work and employment at King’s Business School. “We all take into account the effort-reward bargain when we think about our work – sometimes, what we get from our jobs in terms of pay and benefits just doesn't justify what we're being asked to do.”

Despite more conversation around quite quitting, she adds there’s little evidence the number of employees actually engaging in the practice is rising. This, therefore, might instead point to an anxiety businesses feel, rather than a trend manifesting. That the nature of work has changed drastically over the last couple of years could be another factor.

“The opportunities to ‘quit quietly’ are far greater, and, indeed, more tempting, when working from home," says Dirk Buyens, a professor of human resource management at Vlerick Business School. Working from home, or adopting a hybrid working pattern, is now the norm for many, especially in forward-thinking organisations. “People, despite not needing to work from home, have found they very much do not want to [return to the office] and indeed will not accept a return to the past," he adds.

How to counter quiet quitting in tech

While burnout, and a desire for a better work-life balance are key factors in quiet quitting, the tech sector is particularly exposed. "Most industries are at risk … but the tech sector comes with a unique set of challenges – pressure to innovate, move quickly, and be first to market," Andrew Filev, CEO and founder of Wrike tells IT Pro.

Buyens adds hybrid working is often more available and feasible in tech, meaning there can be more distance between workers and managers – allowing greater freedoms. Tech workers might interact solely or mostly with machines, rather than other people, too, which could lead to an absence of commitment to co-workers. As a result, “tech workers who feel unmotivated by their work may be more inclined to quiet quit".

For those hoping to 'counter' quiet quitting, Bailey flags the elephant in the room. “If quiet quitting is just people working their contractual hours, then perhaps the solution is to be more realistic about project deadlines and workload,” she tells IT Pro. If it goes deeper than that, she adds, there may be a need to help employees feel more engaged by helping them find actual meaning in their work.

“Businesses should focus on creating a more flexible, transparent workplace,” Filev advises. Organisations worried about disengaged staff should use great remote working tools, support flexible schedules and asynchronous communications, reassess workplace culture and ensure remote workers can get together regularly both remotely and in person.

Buyens offers anther practical suggestion: “I would recommend implementing a code of conduct for hybrid working that establishes the expectations, responsibilities and freedoms of the hybrid worker,” he says. “Can I take long breaks during the day if I catch up in the evening? Can I regularly block out my calendar to pick up my children from school? How many days do I need to come into the office?”

Employers must, ultimately, face up to their responsibility to help people find fulfilment in their work. Especially in tech, organisations must understand the previous status quo of voluntary overtime, crunching, and unfeasible deadlines is no longer fit for purpose.

Sandra Vogel
Freelance journalist

Sandra Vogel is a freelance journalist with decades of experience in long-form and explainer content, research papers, case studies, white papers, blogs, books, and hardware reviews. She has contributed to ZDNet, national newspapers and many of the best known technology web sites.

At ITPro, Sandra has contributed articles on artificial intelligence (AI), measures that can be taken to cope with inflation, the telecoms industry, risk management, and C-suite strategies. In the past, Sandra also contributed handset reviews for ITPro and has written for the brand for more than 13 years in total.