'Quiet quitters' coasting through work could be a prime target for layoffs as recession fears loom, labor experts say
- The job market is slowly shifting back in favor of employers, labor experts told Insider.
- During an economic downturn, workers may not be able to get away with just doing the bare minimum.
The pendulum swung toward workers in the wake of the pandemic — with trends like "the great resignation" and "quiet quitting" pushing back against American hustle culture — but now, some labor experts are warning that employers are about to take the upper hand.
That means employees who have been putting in the bare minimum at work could be the first to get layoff notices as the economy looks increasingly headed toward a recession.
"In good times, employers are looking at their disengaged workforce and trying to figure out how to engage it," said Coco Brown, CEO and Founder of Athena Alliance. "In bad times, they're looking at their disengaged workforce and trying to figure out which part to let go of."
One point of contention between employers and employees is the concept of "quiet quitting," a viral term used to describe workers who complete their basic job responsibilities but don't go above and beyond what is asked of them.
While employees argue that strategically dialing back at work and "acting their wage" shouldn't be cause for alarm, 75% of 1,000 managers surveyed in September by ResumeBuilder.com said it's justifiable to fire someone for only doing the bare minimum.
"Many of these phrases we're using, like the 'great resignation' and 'quiet quitting' will quickly transform into conversations about layoffs — and the crisis of how to keep your job," Erica Dhawan, executive coach and author of Digital Body Language, told Insider. "I think that a lot of those quiet quitters will be the first to be let go in a recession, or they will quickly normalize and realize the threat of losing their job."
But it would be a mistake for companies to use any regained leverage during a recession to backtrack on the work-life balance improvements made over the past three years, according to Qualtrics' Chief Workplace Psychologist Ben Granger. Doing so would negatively impact a company's ability to attract top talent in the future, as it's easier than ever for the public to hear or see how job cuts are conducted.
"If your company is in the higher leverage position when it comes to talent right now, that's not always going to be the case. It's gonna flip flop," Granger said. "When that happens, are you positioning yourself positively to future candidates?"
23% of US workers described themselves as "extremely worried" about losing their job in a recession
Despite quiet quitting's rise to internet fame — with some statistics showing that half of US workers may have been "quiet quitting" for a decade — many employees do, in fact, care deeply about keeping their jobs.
In a June survey of more than 1,000 US workers conducted by Insight Global, 23% of American workers described themselves as "extremely worried" about losing their job in the next recession. And in the same survey, nearly nine out of 10 managers (87%) said they would "likely" have to lay off employees during a recession.
Workers' more nonchalant attitude toward job security started to noticeably shift around Labor Day, Steve Koepp, co-founder and Chief Content Officer of corporate-values conference series "From Day One," told Insider, comparing the current state of labor market to a game of musical chairs that no longer has an abundance of open seats.
"Companies were desperate to get people. They were offering benefits, compensation, all kinds of enhancements to get workers and then that kind of quieted down during the summer," he said. "The labor gap between what companies needed to hire and who was available has shrunk by about half."
But not all job coasters need to panic about losing their job, said Jay McDonald, an Atlanta-based business advisor and executive coach — noting that right now, it's still an employee-driven labor market.
"You can be a quiet quitter and still be contributing a lot. So it's not necessarily whether you're quiet quitting or not. It's whether the value you're providing is commensurate with the pay," he said. "Because the first group of people who will get laid off are the ones who based on metrics and productivity are effectively giving the most bang for the buck."
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