Jory MacKay
Jory is a writer, content strategist and award-winning editor of the Unsplash Book. He contributes to Inc., Fast Company, Quartz, and more.
April 11, 2023 · 10 min read

Is your team “quiet quitting?” How to handle employee overload

Is your team “quiet quitting?” How to handle employee overload

Employee engagement is at an all-time low. According to the latest Gallup research, less than ⅓ of employees say they’re actively engaged in their work. While the percentage of people actively disengaged from work (i.e., doing the bare minimum or worse) has spiked to 18%.

The pandemic, cultural shifts, and remote communication have led to the perfect storm of “quiet quitting” — where employees do the bare minimum to keep their jobs and stay under the radar.

But it’s unfair to put all of the blame on outside influence.

Employee overload is the norm at many companies, with management setting loftier goals with fewer resources. Rather than try to fix the problem, organizations squeeze their teams to the limit, which isn’t good for long-term business growth.

In this guide, we’ll explain how to handle “quiet quitting” the right way by focusing on spotting, understanding, and preventing employee overload and re-balancing your team’s workload.

What is “quiet quitting”? Why is it so bad for teams and companies?

Quiet quitting is where an employee does the bare minimum in their job, putting in no extra time, effort, or enthusiasm than required to avoid raising suspicion or risk getting fired.

It’s important to note that when an employee is quiet quitting, they aren’t actually working against you, they’re just doing the minimum they can.

Quiet Quitting: “Doing the minimum requirements of ones job and putting in no more time, effort or enthusiasm than absolutely necessary.”

While you may think this is better than the employee leaving their position, a drop in productivity, a negative atmosphere, and a lack of new, innovative ideas will put you at a competitive disadvantage.

Here are some examples of what can happen if your team members begin to ‘quiet quit’:

Above all else, quiet quitting is a symptom of a much larger disease that, if left unchecked, can hit your bottom line or even put your entire business in a chokehold. So, how did your team become so overloaded and disengaged in the first place?

Why is your team so overloaded?

The good news is that your team won’t just start quietly quitting for no reason. There are several underlying factors that lead to employees checking out - many of which stem from them being overloaded.

Here are some of the main issues that cause teams to become overworked to the point of quiet quitting.

Job creep

What is it? Job creep is when the scope of someone’s role expands or changes over time without any formal review process.

Why does it happen? Typically, as organizations get bigger and busier, they take on new work to meet customer demands. If additional resources aren’t recruited to support this growth, current employees and teams get pushed past their limits.

Further reading: This article from the BBC sums up job creep perfectly, and how, if left unmanaged, it can lead to employees becoming overworked.

Hustle culture

What is it? Hustle culture — or burnout culture — is the idea that working long hours and overloading yourself with work is the only way to really succeed.

Why does it happen? There are many cultural reasons that hustle culture has come to exist — for example, influencers on social media or feeling pressured to live beyond your means. Organizations have a responsibility to dispel the myth of hustle culture, instead creating a culture that rewards quality of work rather than quantity.

How bad is it? Hustle culture will lead to overwork. According to a study by Deloitte, 77% of people have experienced burnout at their job.

Isolation from management

What is it? If managers don’t adequately support their team, they’ll become isolated without the direction and assistance they need to progress their work.

Why does it happen? There are many reasons managers can’t support their teams, from being overworked themselves to poor management skills or focusing too much on managing up (rather than down).

Pyramid of quit quitting
Source: Jason Kaplan

How bad is it? A 2022 study by Harvard Business Review found that the least effective managers had 3x more “quiet quitters” than their more effective counterparts.

Unreal expectations

What is it? Unreal expectations are when managers and leaders set goals that employees feel are unachievable. While it’s always good to set stretch targets, take it too far, and you’ll simply overload teams with more work than they can handle.

Why does it happen? In most instances, managers and leaders get pressure from above or from customers, leading them to set high targets. Managers also need to remember that everyone is different, and one person’s output level is different from the other. Therefore, setting a common standard can quickly lead to overload.

Further reading: This article dives into the effects of unreal expectations in all walks of life, showing a 30% rise in perfectionism in millennials that leads to increased stress.

Communication overload

What is it? When organizations and teams put too much emphasis on communication (and status updates), employees become overwhelmed, causing them to enter a state of productivity paralysis.

Why does it happen? Communication overload doesn’t come from a bad place. In a bid to build great cultures and boost productivity, many organizations look for ways to stay connected with their staff. But some push it too far and end up in over-communication territory, leading to employees feeling overwhelmed, confused, and stressed.

Further reading: This LinkedIn article provides great insight into the dangers of overcommunication and why it’s important to get the balance right.

How to tell if an employee is overloaded: 7 warning signs

In a culture of overwork, even managers can feel the pressure and stress of a busy workload. If this is you, it may lead you to miss the signs that your team is suffering, leaving you unable to stop quiet quitting in its tracks.

7 warning signs of employee overload

Here are some warning signs to look out for in your team members:

How to fix the employee overload problem in your team

To avoid quiet quitting in your team, you need to get a grip on any overload. While employees have some responsibility to raise their hand, the onus is on you as a manager to solve the problem and help them find a healthy balance.

If you’ve identified an overload problem in your team, here are some actionable steps you can take to fix it:

1. Start by taking the time to listen

If you sense someone may be feeling the strains of overwork, schedule a dedicated opportunity to listen to them. Having an opportunity to vent may help team members reduce their stress levels. Beyond that, it can help you understand what problems need to be addressed on your entire team.

How to do this:

Quiet quitting is a symptom of a much larger disease that can hit your bottom line or even put your entire business in a chokehold.

2. Revisit each team member’s core job tasks.

Once you’ve understood the team’s mood and the problems they’re facing, try revisiting and assessing their workload (vs their role’s core tasks). This can help you identify any job creep or resource gaps within the team.

How to do this:

Note: A project management tool like Planio can help give you visibility into all of the tasks a team member is responsible for. Simply filter by team member to see how many tasks are currently assigned to them - and if it’s too much.

Issue list showing assignees filtered and workload with

3. Track and prioritize work with a resource management tool

As a manager, the key to beating overload is having visibility of what everyone is working on. Proper workload management is essential for busy teams, so it’s worth investing in a tool to help everyone prioritize their work.

How to do this:

4. Make sure your team has the right resources

Next, focus on enabling your team to deliver faster by providing them with the right resources to do their roles. This might be training, software tools, process guidance, or simply networking with the right people.

How to do this:

5. Reset your communication practices

According to studies, 86% of teams attribute company failures to poor communication.

To avoid communication overload, agree between the team on how, when, and what you want to communicate about. This will help ensure people can access the information they need without feeling overwhelmed by emails, chats, and video calls.

How to do this:

Putting it into action: Planio gives you options to find the perfect balance between asynchronous and real-time communication. Task comments and wikis allow you to collect and share important information, while team text and video chats help you work together in real-time.

Task showing asynchronous communication working well

6. Become a buffer for your team

Lastly, if you feel your team is overloaded, don’t be afraid to use yourself as a buffer from outside influences. The key here is to ensure you don’t accidentally overload yourself, but by putting yourself into a servant leadership role, you protect the team while building a culture of trust and collaboration.

How to do this:

Self-care: What to do if you’re feeling overwhelmed

While quiet quitting is becoming a serious problem for many companies, dealing with it can often feel like you’re putting yourself at risk. But remember that you also need to look after yourself. At the end of the day, anyone can succumb to quiet quitting if they’re feeling stressed, overworked, and unsupported.

Self-care: What to do if you’re feeling overwhelmed

Here are some quick tactics to employ if you feel overwhelmed in your role:

Loud criticism is better than quiet quitting

Quiet quitting is bad for business, leading to a dip in productivity, low team morale, and even reductions in your bottom line. But quiet quitting isn’t without its root causes — overwork, stress, and a lack of support.

The good news is that, as a manager, there are things you can do to prevent quiet quitting. Alongside better communication and a review of job specifications, the best way to reduce overload is to get better visibility of your team’s workload.

That’s where Planio comes in. With Planio, you get more visibility into your team’s workloads so you can identify bottlenecks and keep track of tasks.

Whether through task management, resource management, chat, or time tracking features, Planio has all the capability you need to keep your team ticking over nicely while fending off the symptoms of quiet quitting!

Try Planio for free for 30 daysno credit card required.