The term "quiet quitting" recently exploded on social media and in business circles. It describes an approach to work that has you doing the very barest minimum to meet your responsibilities. You don't go above and beyond what's needed. You do exactly what's in your  job description. Nothing more.

The concept originally went viral on TikTok with a video shared by Zaid Khan, a young engineer who said, "I recently learned about this term called quiet quitting, where you're not outright quitting your job, but 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."

Quiet quitting has become a term to describe the ultimate "disengagement" at work. It flies in the face of the thousands of employee engagement initiatives the exist across U.S. companies today. No wonder it's a big concern.

I believe there are two ways to look at the uproar surrounding quiet quitting.

1. Quiet quitting has always existed and is normal

One way to look at quiet quitting is that it simply highlights what's existed forever--that some people just go to work for a paycheck and their "central life interests" lie elsewhere. This topic was in fact the focus of my PhD research many years ago. I analyzed 50 years of workplace motivation data and ultimately concluded most people don't view their work as their primary life interest. They may still perform at an acceptable level so they don't get fired, but they prefer other things like leisure time, family, friends, and community activities over work. They view their job as a means to the end of doing other things outside of work. There was one exception--for senior executives, work provided a greater sense of identify and central life focus.

So, the first way to look at quiet quitting is this: It's normal. Khan's TikTok video simply articulated what's always been true. The uproar arose because the concept challenges the underlying assumption that companies can successfully influence people's central life interests so they become more focused on work. Perhaps all the resources we've poured into trying doing that for so many years may have actually beeen futile.

2. Quiet quitting results from a lack of meaning and purpose

Another way to view quiet quitting is that it's the result of a lack of purpose and meaning in work. If you wholeheartedly believed in your company's vision, wouldn't you give it your all? If you felt deeply connected to your company's purpose, wouldn't you want to go beyond your job description to make it a reality?

From this perspective, it's just a matter of clearly defining your purpose and a compelling vision, and then helping everyone see their role in achieving it. It's a more empowering lens, especially for the internal business functions focused on employee engagement, communication, culture, and strategy.

The goal then is to outline the "why" of your company, including the positive contributions you'll make for customers and the world. Build a strategy that's so compelling people won't want to quiet quit at all. They'll want to step up and lead the charge.

Moving Forward With Your Quiet Quitting Strategy

The disruptions of the past few years have challenged fundamental assumptions about life and work. Quiet quitting may simply be a pithy word to describe a reality that existed long before the pandemic, but that was amplified because of it.

The two lenses I described don't have to be mutually exclusive. Both can be true at the same time. If you hold both as valid, your goal is simple: Create a compelling strategy to bring people on board. Give people all the reason in the world not to quietly quit. Then, recognize that some may jump on, others might not. And that's not just OK, but may also be the new (and old) normal.