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What Does “Quiet Quitting” Look Like for Nurses?


If you’ve been on social media lately, you’ve probably come across the phrase “quiet quitting.” The term can be misleading because the person in question isn’t quitting at all.

Rather, they are stepping back from the job to set a healthy work life balance. People who are “quiet quitting” avoid answering messages outside of normal work hours and rarely do anything for their jobs beyond what’s asked of them. The term has become particularly popular with Gen Z and millennials who take issue with the idea of hustle culture. Critics say it can lead to poor productivity and high turnover rates.

But lots of nurses and other healthcare providers can’t exactly afford to take a step back from work. So, what does “quiet quitting” look like in the healthcare industry?

Jeremy Sadlier, executive director of the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration, recently commented on how this trend is playing out in hospitals all over the country.

“Before the term quiet quitting was in vogue, we were talking about employees who would ‘quit and stay,'” Sadlier said. “In essence, it’s the same concept with a nearly identical motivation. No matter the term used, many disengaged employees will stick around long after they’re finding motivation and stimulation in their work.”

Studies show the trend is already changing the way all kinds of employees think about their jobs. According to a Gallup poll from April, 34% of U.S. employees were actively engaged at work in 2021, compared to only 32% this year. Healthcare professionals saw the largest dip in engagement, with their engagement scores dropping 9% year over year.

Sadlier said this drop in engagement should be concerning for employers.

“Any lack of engagement on the part of staff ultimately impacts patient care, teamwork, safety and throughput, all of which impact the financial health of an organization and the patient experience. It’s incredibly important for leaders to focus on engagement, growth opportunities, and to recognize and reward hard work. These are a few ways to focus on your employees to help them feel engaged with their work,” he said.

However, he added that “quiet quitting” looks different in the healthcare industry than it does in the business world.

“Colleagues in other industries like hospitality and retail, for example, all talk about a lack of willingness among workers to pick up extra shifts, or work beyond the bare minimum requirements. That’s a sign of growing disengagement and may be quiet quitting,” he said.

Sadlier commented that while motivation levels among healthcare workers may be similar to those in other industries, the effects of “quiet quitting” in healthcare can have a direct effect on patient care, quality, and safety.

“There’s an absolute hierarchy [in healthcare], and it doesn’t require somebody to work in healthcare to recognize that when physician engagement falters, that impacts nurses, and when nurses don’t feel engaged, that impacts the rest of the staff, whether it’s ancillary staff, support services,” he said. “There’s a trickledown effect to a lack of engagement at any part of the organization. Inevitably that impacts every position and is ultimately felt by those we serve.”

High turnover rates are also taking a bite out of many hospitals’ budgets. A recent report from Kaufman Hall shows hospitals are experiencing some of the worst margins since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic

“Cost-cutting measures are becoming harder to accomplish without having a direct effect on the care patients receive. When [full-time equivalents] are affected, in many cases the responsibilities are shifted to other members of the team. The additional responsibilities can lead to frustration and burnout and negatively impact employee engagement. These factors are what then lead to quiet quitting,” Sadlier added.

While he admits there is no winning formula to combat “quiet quitting,” hospitals should provide open and honest communication, set and maintain realistic work expectations, closely monitor employee engagement, recognize and reward high performance through options that extend beyond pay, and provide opportunities for career growth.

“The more you round, the more that you spend time with your staff, the more likely you are to recognize changes in demeanor and perspective,” he said. “The sooner you recognize it, the sooner you’re able to have an influence on it. So that’s where the regular engagement for leaders and supervisors has the biggest benefit — recognizing [disengagement] early and trying to find a way to reenergize and reengage staff.”

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