The Quiet Quitting Spectrum

When was the last time a business term went viral the way “quiet quitting” has? As Google search trends confirm, the term exploded to close out summer 2022. Not coincidentally, this was the same window in which we were writing the third quarter Macroeconomic Trends Analysis (META) report, which spotlights evidence of significant retention issues in pro AV. These two issues are deeply related. Especially when spurred by weaker on-the-job incentives, quiet quitting can be a strongly negative outcome for employers. Pro AV companies would be wise to ensure they understand the various definitions of quiet quitting, assess how their existing employees’ motivations are shifting, and consider what steps might shore up their workforce in the current labor market.

To look at quiet quitting from an economics perspective, the first step is to sort out the definition. As a new, non-academic term, it lacks a consensus meaning. “Quiet quitting” means different things to different people. From reviewing its usage, we see one Core Definition: Staying in one’s job but not going above and beyond. While this has the advantage of consensus, it is non-specific. The phrase “Not going above and beyond” covers a lot of ground. It has a spectrum of meaning that ranges from potentially good to definitely bad for the employer.

Here's the Potentially Good for Employer Definition of quiet quitting: Maintain a good faith effort at your job but leave all else. Exit hustle culture, stop responding to emails outside work hours, and do not let others dump work on you. While this may cost an employer in the short term, it has potential long-term benefits. Burnout is real, and if this version of quiet quitting keeps your employees showing up energized and motivated, it will serve your bottom line. The strategic value of this form of quiet quitting and how it might be promoted is  an intriguing subject, but we leave it aside here due to concerns that pro AV is facing a wave of a more negative version of quiet quitting.

On the other side of the “not going above and beyond” spectrum, we have the Bad for Employer Definition: doing the bare minimum to not get fired. This is comprehensively negative for an employer. Not only is there the productivity loss of that worker themselves, but there is also the toxicity and motivation loss when other employees encounter this type of quiet quitter.

It is this third definition that motivates us to look at quiet quitting from a pro AV perspective. The industry’s labor market has reached new historical highs of tightness, with employees easily able to find jobs and employers struggling to hire and retain workers. The latest META report reveals that pro AV companies are dealing with a spike in retention issues. And retention issues rarely come alone. The same incentives that spur workers to leave companies also spur motivation and productivity losses similar to the bad form of quiet quitting.

Two more factors help explain our concern about quiet quitting. The first is the changed reality of market rates over the past year. For well over a decade, market rates in developed countries increased only a couple of percent per year. Now those increases have accelerated. In the U.S., it’s moved from about 3% per year to 5%. If your company hasn’t adjusted annual raises in the past year or two, existing employee salaries are likely falling behind market rates.

Employee pay falling relative to market rates leads to the second additional point. Another catchy term has gone viral recently: “Act your wage.” This slogan reminds folks that the employer/employee relationship is a business transaction where a worker’s productivity is bought, not gifted. Underpayment buys underperformance.

Employers concerned about quiet quitting do have options to fight back. Raises are, of course fundamental, but other factors, including opportunity, cohesion, and flexibility, matter too. As we detail in the META report, targeting these efforts is wise, too—especially given tight budgets amidst the current supply crunch.

Here’s the bottom line: in this labor market that so strongly favors employees, the phrase “quiet quitting” has gone viral for a reason. Not all versions of quiet quitting are bad, but our latest research suggests pro AV may be seeing the lack of motivation and productivity losses associated with the negative version. Now is the time for employers to dedicate attention to their employees, consider the implications of quiet quitting, and assess what needs to be done to maintain an energized and effective workforce.