Our Quiet Quitters

By Wade McDaniel | October 21, 2022 | 0 Comments

Beyond Supply ChainSupply Chain Strategy, Leadership and Governance

A recent Gallup Poll indicates that up to 50% of the U.S. workforce — or 79 million people, based on current U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data — falls into the category of quiet quitters.

But what is a quiet quitter?

From TikTok to consulting firms, the general definition of a quiet quitter is not someone who is actually quitting a job, but someone who is just performing only the tasks based on the job description. No extra hours or effort, meeting the minimum standards for the job and getting it done. National Public Radio (NPR) asked some listeners to help clarify the term and provide alternative names for quiet quitting. Acting your wage and doing your job are a couple of my favorites.

Is this a new phenomenon in the workforce?

I’m doubtful, but it is relevant. Quiet quitting is now being amplified by social media while at the same time employee productivity is falling. Specifically in the United States, labor productivity fell significantly in the first half of 2022. Meanwhile, Gartner data indicates the percentage of supply chain workers willing to give an extra effort remains consistently low.

Enter Automation

Let’s reconsider the potential scale of quiet quitting: 79 million people. They hold jobs in every area of the economy. Restaurants, retailing, financial services, mining and, of course, supply chain, just to name a few.

There are new technologies in each of these industries in the shape of hardware and software. Chipotle Mexican Grill is testing an in-restaurant tortilla chip maker. A Japanese convenience store, FamilyMart, is using AI-driven robots to stock shelves, and their technology provider is targeting more than 150,000 stores in the United States for their next move.

Mining is a great example of extensive automation using robots and autonomous machines. Haulage vehicle drivers can be replaced. But the biggest benefit is not reducing people just doing the minimum to get by, its reducing maintenance and fuel costs, which is a much larger advantage.

The trend of these technologies is to augment humans, not replace them. An example is autonomous long-haul trucking. We’ve been hearing for some time about driver shortages. The solution is coming and it will start with hub-to-hub models. But this leaves a need for last mile deliveries where human drivers will perform the task. Even then the solution is some years away at scale.

In a way, robots and automation can be quiet quitters, too. They do exactly what is expected of them, no more no less, but up to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

People Remain

People have always adapted to new technologies, and they remain the foundation of supply chain and manufacturing. For the most part, the majority perform what is asked of them, and this has enabled companies to achieve their financial goals. But this still leaves us with only 15% of supply chain workers willing to give that extra effort.

Improving this metric and generating higher levels of worker engagement has long been the goal of HR teams and leaders. But let’s view this from a different angle: Can we absorb a decline in the 15%?

The workforce is continuing to change, and the way we work is changing too. Worker expectations have shifted. Employees are demanding that organizations focus on the whole person and their lives, not just work experience.​ Leaders must learn to adapt to this way of thinking.

This is why we are seeing a shift towards human-centric work design. It’s a model that can address these changes and recognizes that human beings are at the center of work, not secondary components. This shift in thinking means we design workflows, business processes and best practices (see figure below) around human needs — physical, cognitive, emotional — rather than expecting human abilities and behavior to conform to legacy processes or locations.

As the workforce shifts and the global economy slows, some might be thinking that employers will regain an advantage in their worker composition. In some cases, this may be true, but for the majority the ratio of quiet quitting is likely to remain the same.

Quiet quitters have likely been with us for a long time, but they now have a growing voice that’s being enabled through technology. So, what does this change for supply chain leaders? Fundamentally our challenge remains the same: keeping our teams engaged and providing an environment where their needs are met. But to do so, we also need to embrace new concepts like human-centric work design if we want an engaged workforce capable of delivering on our corporations’ goals.

Wade L McDaniel
VP Distinguished Advisor
Gartner Supply Chain


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