‘Quiet quitting' has made headlines worldwide this year, including in Canada. What, if anything, should employers be doing about this apparent trend?
Chances are, you've already heard of ‘quiet quitting'. From Tik-Tok to the Wall Street Journal, this is the latest trend that everyone's talking about. ‘Quiet quitting' doesn't mean quitting your job, quietly or otherwise. It refers to clocking in at work when you're expected to, doing the tasks you have been assigned, leaving on time, and not taking on extra work outside regular hours. It is a misnomer, as it refers to meeting expectations as an employee, but not going above and beyond.
For some that ‘quiet quitting' may be an effort to prioritise one's own mental health and prevent burnout. For others, in a context of increased job security, ‘quiet quitting' represents a decision to do the bare minimum until wage increases catch up with inflation.
As with all trends, much is overblown. There is no evidence of a growing contagion of laziness. However, employers are always justified in taking proactive steps to improve engagement and increase productivity.
Setting clear expectations
Employers should routinely review employment contracts and update job descriptions to make sure they reflect what exactly is expected from employees at the workplace, and to align incentives with performance expectations.
While amending contracts, employers must make sure employees review and agree to the changes, in exchange for sufficient consideration, otherwise those changes might not be upheld in court.
While changing job descriptions, managers should get employees to sign off and provide adequate notice. Any ‘substantial changes' to an essential term of employment could constitute a ‘constructive dismissal', and result in a resignation being treated as a termination.
Employers should also update their workplace policies, and, if they have not done so already, put in place a comprehensive human resources policies manual, which sets clear expectations regarding all aspects of workplace-related behaviours.
Disconnecting from work
Employers should set clear expectations regarding when employees are expected to perform work, and whether employees may ‘disconnect from work'.
As of June 2022, Ontario employers with more than 25 employees were required to put in place a written policy on disconnecting from work. The objective is to provide employees with clearer expectations regarding work-related communications, including emails, telephone calls, video calls or the sending or reviewing of other messages, during hours off work.
There is no ‘right to disconnect' from work in Ontario, other than the entitlements under the Employment Standards Act (the ‘ESA'), which sets daily and weekly limits on the number of hours of work and prescribes mandatory periods of rest.
The ESA requires employees to have 11 consecutive hours off work per day. However, employees who are expected to be ‘on call' when they are not at work, that is, accessible by phone or email to respond to calls to perform work, are exempt from this requirement.
It is important to review the requirements in your jurisdiction, and clearly outline such expectations in contracts, job descriptions and workplace policies.
Employers have a legitimate business interest in monitoring employee productivity, to identify bottlenecks, gain valuable insights, and maximise efficiency. In many workplaces, electronic surveillance is an important tool to ensure health and safety, and promote accountability.
Employers must provide notice regarding whether they conduct workplace surveillance, and if so, how, in what circumstances, and for what purposes. As of October 2022, Ontario employers with more than 25 employees are required to have a written ‘electronic monitoring policy' that must be shared with employees within specified timeframes.
Employers must be aware of protections under statute and common law of employees' reasonable expectations of privacy, even when they use a company-issued device. Sensitive personal information, such as medical or financial records, are subject to especially stringent protections under privacy law.
It is important to have well-drafted policies that meet your business needs while navigating these legal requirements, to provide you with all the options you need to effectively manage the workplace.
Flexibility, innovation, and adaptability
In the coming months and years, employers will need to innovate to attract talent and build engaged and productive workforces, in an era of constantly shifting expectations about the future of work. ‘Quiet quitting' is just one of many trends that employers will need to manage as a part of this process.
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The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.