Business leaders face a new management challenge: managing workers who are "quiet quitting." This is what some Gen-Z professionals -- born after 1996, according to Pew Research -- are doing in the workplace. Quiet quitters reject hustle culture and do no more than what they must to hold onto their jobs, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Unlike previous generations, Gen-Z -- which started working at the dawn of the pandemic -- uses TikTok to share their workplace views. Gen-Z workers have experienced both the "blurred borders between work and life" and the sense of empowerment that comes from a low unemployment rate, according to the Journal.

Gallup research reveals that many quiet quitters are not engaged with work. For example, in the first quarter of 2022, only 31 percent of workers born in 1989 and later felt engaged at work. Over half the people in that age group described their work as doing the "minimum required but not much else," noted the Journal.

Yet anecdotal evidence suggests to me that quiet quitting may simply be a new term for working smarter. Here are four examples from the Journal story:

  • Forty-one-year-old Clayton Farris said that quiet quitting is a new name for what he has been doing all along -- getting his job done without "ripping himself internally with stress."
  • Twenty-four-year-old Paige West's hair was falling out and she could not sleep because of work stress, so she stopped taking on training and trying to socialize with colleagues. This made her more engaged in meetings and garnered her more positive feedback.  
  • Zaid Khan (age 24) posted a TikTok video -- it got millions of hits -- in which he argued that people who put productivity above everything do not see a payoff.
  • Josh Bittinger (age 32) says no to more requests, does not work during the evening, and leaves his email unchecked while on vacation. Despite this, he gets his work done and receives positive feedback.

The wave of quiet quitting could threaten companies' ability to develop the next generation of leaders. While these anecdotes suggest that being less stressed about work makes people happier and better able to get their work done, their lack of engagement may mean that business leaders cannot develop these workers to take on leadership roles.

Here are four things business leaders should do.

1. Make their values explicit.

Business leaders must make their values clear. If you expect people to work long hours and put the company first, you should make that value clear.

Some of the most successful business leaders do just that. Indeed, Mark Zuckerberg recently suggested that Meta employees who are not willing to work hard should quit. Other successful business leaders -- Zoom video CEO Eric Yuan comes to mind -- value the opposite: making their employees and customers happy. 

Unless you make your values crystal clear to long-tenured employees and new hires alike, you run the risk of confusing people about the meaning of working in your company. Without clear meaning, your workers are likely not to be engaged. And that lack of engagement means that you will miss out on the opportunity to develop potential leaders.

2. Listen to Gen-Z workers.

To avoid that missed opportunity, business leaders must listen carefully to their Gen-Z workers. This is particularly true for leaders who incline more toward Yuan and less toward Zuckerberg.

For example, when Hubert Joly took over as Best Buy's CEO in August 2012, he spent months meeting with people who had direct customer contact and with other line workers. In so doing, he conceived of many strategies that helped turn around the company.

By listening to their Gen-Z workers, business leaders may discover new ideas that could help improve the company's market position and potentially engage their younger workers in realizing a compelling vision for the company's future.

3. Encourage quiet quitters to become more engaged.

Business leaders must take action after their listening sessions with their younger workers. For example, Joly encouraged store managers to find ways to align Best Buy's mission with the dreams of the people who worked in their store.

For example, in one Massachusetts store, a worker's goal was to buy a house, so the store manager worked out a career development plan that would enable that worker to take on more responsibility. 

4. Actively hire workers who aim to take on more responsibility.

The first three strategies may not suffice to develop the next generation of leaders. Therefore, leaders should also actively hire new people who share their values and have an appetite for professional growth.

Business leaders who do these four things can engage some of their quiet quitters and help build their next generation of leaders.