What’s in a word?

Every year when HarperCollins publishes its Collins English Dictionary, I am always a little intrigued to hear what the latest additions to the publication are, mostly because the words or terms have passed me by in the preceding year!

The new term that caught my attention this week was quiet quitting, being a reference to those who are disengaged with their job and doing the bare minimum needed to stay employed.

It goes without saying that quiet quitting is bad for business. Productivity levels in the UK are notoriously poor[i], although how productivity is measured will no doubt continue to be debated as the world of work changes.

What can employers do to avoid quiet quitting within their workforce?

If it’s already happening, what can they do to re-engage their staff?

Leadership is key

It sounds like a cliché, but leadership is key. A disengaged manager is unlikely to have engaged employees. In other words, in order to have engaged staff, it’s necessary to have engaged leaders and managers. The key areas of work design that cause workplace stress – demands, control, support, relationships, role and change[ii] – are also relevant to the level of engagement within the workforce.

A manager or employee who has control over the way they do their work, support to encourage them in that work, positive working relationships and an understanding of their role within the organisation is much more likely to be engaged and, as such, will be more productive in everything they do.


Making sure that everyone knows their role and what is expected of them makes business sense. Getting the culture right involves analysing how things are done, ensuring there is enough support and training and encouraging a collaborative approach to problem solving. Even with all that in place, however, it is not always possible to avoid the occasional under-performer, and in such situations, it is essential that businesses identify problems with individual employees as early as possible so that remedial action can be taken, preferably to improve their performance, but if necessary to remove them from the business before their poor performance affects the performance of other employees.

Performance management

From an employment law perspective, it is essential that employers follow a clear performance management process in order to protect the business from a claim in the event that dismissal is necessary. Setting targets and deadlines for improvement milestones is critical and ensuring that training and mentoring is offered at appropriate points will significantly reduce the risk of an employment tribunal claim.

Protected conversations

In some circumstances, often where the matter is time or resource-critical, a so-called “protected conversation” may be appropriate, allowing the employer to have a “without prejudice” conversation with the employee about the possibility of their employment being brought to an end on mutually agreed terms. Such an approach can be taken where the employer is in a position to short-circuit the performance management process by offering some form of financial compensation to the departing employee in return for them signing an agreement – known as a “Settlement Agreement” – restricting their ability to make a claim against their erstwhile employer. Protected conversations need to be properly managed and legal advice should always be taken before embarking on such an approach.

While “quiet quitting” may be the preferred option for those disillusioned with their job, it’s really not an option for businesses. It’s far better to take action early and avoid it becoming the prevailing culture within your workplace.

This update contains general information only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice.

Dawn Robertson, Partner & Accredited Specialist in Employment Law: dro@bto.co.uk / 0131 222 3242 / Connect with Dawn on LinkedIn

[i] In 2019, the G7 countries’ average (excluding the UK) output per worker was 13% above the UK.

[ii] Health and Safety Executive stress standards – see hse.gov.uk/stress/standards/