Quiet Quitting: Signs, Effects and Prevalence in the Biopharma Industry

Courtesy of SDI Productions/Getty Images

Courtesy of SDI Productions/Getty Images

SDI Productions/Getty Images

BioSpace’s Recruitment Market Q3 Update shows that both employers and employees in the life sciences have noticed quiet quitting in action. Read on to find out the signs, effects and prevalence of it in biopharma.

Courtesy of SDI Productions/Getty Images

By now, many have heard of the workplace phenomenon dubbed quiet quitting. The practice has made its mark in every industry, and life sciences is no exception.

BioSpace‘s Recruitment Market Q3 Update shows that both employers and employees in the life sciences have noticed quiet quitting in action.

The report identified a large discrepancy between how many people seem to be quietly quitting and how many people actually admit to it.

While 40% of employers say they have quiet quitters on their staff, only 26% of life sciences professionals say they themselves are quiet quitting. To make things even more interesting, a whopping 63% of employees believe they have colleagues who are quiet quitting.

To find out the reason behind this phenomenon, the answer may lie in the larger issue: what exactly is quiet quitting, anyway?

BioSpace took a deeper look at quiet quitting, why everyone seems to have a different idea of it and what effect it has on people’s professional reputations.

What is Quiet Quitting?

“Quiet Quitting” is defined as an employee performing their exact job duties, and nothing more beyond that.

“[It is] a term that describes employees only doing their assigned work during a typical workday and not taking on extra duties, working additional hours or participating in extra-curricular work activities,” Dr. Angela Crawford, chief marketing officer and consulting partner at LE, told BioSpace.

Crawford said the phenomenon, unsurprisingly, is part of the fallout of previous COVID-19 job-related side effects.

“We know that the great resignation, or reshuffle, were outcomes from the pandemic as employees spent time re-evaluating their jobs and decided to leave organizations or roles. Quiet quitting has followed these trends as those employees who stay in organizations have had to take on even more work to make up for open jobs or lower productivity from those new in their positions.”

While all this sounds simple enough, individual perceptions of “quiet quitting” can vary wildly. After all, it can be wise to stand up for yourself as an employee, and firmly turn down work that you were never hired to do.

Bosses and colleagues, however, can see this kind of action very differently. “Everyone has a different definition of what (quiet quitting) actually is,” said Daivat Dholakia, VP of Operations at Essenvia. “Some believe it’s only about setting boundaries while others simply don’t take on extra work. So, people who say they’re not quiet quitters might not label themselves as such.”

Why Your Colleagues Might Think You’re Quiet Quitting

The differing opinions on quiet quitting explain why many people might think it’s more widespread than it is. It’s also why while many people don’t believe their actions constitute quiet quitting, their colleagues and bosses might think otherwise.

“From an employee perspective, quiet quitting is about re-evaluating the time we spend working and our personal time,” Crawford said. “Research has shown that employees are stressed and burned out just about everywhere, so quiet quitting is a coping mechanism some employees are using to decrease stress and gain more work-life balance.”

On the other hand, “Employers, however, typically view quiet quitting as similar to disengagement…We know that disengagement creates significant costs for organizations,” Crawford said. This might explain why bosses think they have a significant number of quiet quitters on staff.

Since disengagement has such a negative impact on the workplace, employers are more likely to view boundary-setting as a problem.

In addition, with employees being asked to take on extra work, people are much more likely to believe one of their colleagues is quiet quitting when they aren’t.

“There may be imbalances in workload that can make another employee think that their colleague isn’t working as hard and may be quietly quitting,” said Linda Shaffer, chief people and operations officer (CPOO) at Checkr. “Or perhaps, there is a lack of transparency around expectations and performance management, which fuels perceptions of quiet quitting.”

Is Quiet Quitting Really That Common?

It’s nearly impossible to come up with the exact number of quiet quitters in the life sciences industry. There is no true way to determine if someone is deliberately quiet quitting or not. And with no consensus on what constitutes “quiet quitting”, there’s no way to say if an employer is right about the number of quiet quitters on staff.

“The reason many people think their colleagues are quiet quitters and they are not, is likely due to what psychologists call egocentric bias,” Crawford explained.

“We know the most information about ourselves and it often results in our overestimating how much work we do compared to other people… However, as we know from egocentric bias, most people are not going to view themselves as only doing just enough to earn a paycheck because it would be counter to many of our values and how we evaluate our efforts compared to others.”

Essentially, people are more likely to give themselves the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, their coworkers may choose to blame their increased workload on a colleague’s perceived lack of pulling their fair share. This might explain why so many employees feel they have quiet-quitting colleagues.

To make matters more complicated, it’s important to note the 26% of admitted quiet quitters in life sciences is a self-reported number. Many people may be unwilling to admit they’re quiet quitters, even in an anonymous survey. This means the actual number may be closer to what employers and colleagues claim.

Others believe the phenomenon isn’t as widespread as it seems.

“I think a lot of this has to do with “quiet quitting” becoming the new scapegoat for employers who notice a perceived drop in productivity or workers who feel like they’re taking on too much of their colleagues’ work,” said Shirlene Kyin, director of operations at Soylent. “I’m not sure how much of a trend quiet quitting has ever been.”

How Quiet Quitting Affects Your Career

Of the admitted quiet quitters in life sciences, nearly two-thirds, or 62%, believe this won’t have an affect on their performance evaluations. The reality is, though, that employers are likely to feel differently.

“When an employee does not appear to go outside of their job description, it sends a message to their leader that they do not want to advance,” Crawford said. If that’s true, then the employee may not suffer any consequences.

However, “Part of the way leaders evaluate talent is seeing who is proactively volunteering to take on projects that might lead to extra work, but also could lead to opportunities for promotions,” Crawford added.

Resolving the Quiet Quitting Issue

Regardless of the numbers, quiet quitting has become an issue that both employers and employees would like to resolve.

Companies that want to stop employees from quiet quitting need to show they are committed to fair employment expectations.

“At the end of the day, the difference in views on quiet quitting depends on one’s expectation of work, which shapes their definition of “quiet quitting,” Schaffer said. “Employers may expect more from their employees and see small actions that signal disengagement, such as taking long breaks or frequently checking one’s phone, as signs of quiet quitting.”

“For employees, however, these small actions may be a way of coping with workplace stress and maintaining some semblance of work-life balance,” she added.

Dr. Crawford said this can be resolved by making employees feel they are part of the company’s long-term goals.

“Take time to get to know your team members and understand their needs and aspirations,” she said. “Then, build a growth-focused culture where people feel they are part of a positive vision for the future and can be the best version of themselves.”

If you’re a quiet quitter, it may be better to re-evaluate your relationship with the company than to continue the practice.

“Reflect on how you want to see your work and personal life integrated,” Crawford says. “Once you make that decision, choose a career and role that allows you to create your version of successful work-life integration.”