Quiet quitting and presenteeism: lessons for work communities


Quiet quitting has been a topic of discussion in working life in Finland like many other places. Quiet quitting refers to a phenomenon in which an employee does not commit to doing extra for the employer, but sticks to the minimum that still allows them to keep their job. More than half of Americans have quietly quit their jobs. (WSJ 2022)

The phenomenon can be seen as a question of wanting to relax a little more at work and leave time for recovery and meaningful leisure activities. Also, the COVID-19 pandemic and the global re-evaluation of values it brought have prompted a closer examination of one's own life. Life is more than just work! On the other hand, the phenomenon is also seen as the employee's diminished commitment to the employer (Lindström et al., 2023). Quiet quitting seems to be a topic of discussion particularly in workplace cultures where the hierarchy between management and employees is significant (Holmgren, 2023). 

According to American studies on quiet quitting, the reasons for it are perceived employer indifference to various factors affecting employee wellbeing. Employers are not seen as investing in the professional development of employees, making it difficult for employees to envision the progression of their careers and the employer's commitment to it. Additionally, there is limited focus on employee wellbeing and minimal attention to receiving feedback, with employees feeling they have little opportunity to influence wellbeing at work. As a result, employees become disillusioned: they give their best, but feel they are not receiving commensurate returns. If changing workplaces is not seen as an improvement, silent quitting becomes a natural and enduring option (Mahand & Caldwell, 2023).

Many Finnish working life experts do not recognise quiet quitting as a significant European or especially Nordic phenomenon – at least for the time being. (Quoting Kajanto Hakanen 2022) However, through the quiet quitters, we can critically examine our own Finnish work culture and draw some preventative lessons from it.


Presenteeism means working while sick. People are present at work, but with insufficient physical and cognitive capacity. According to the European Working Conditions Survey (2012), 40% of European workers have sometimes worked when ill. (Eurofound 2012)

There are many factors that contribute to presenteeism, with a common aspect being a reduction in job security and income protection. High workload, tight deadlines, overall inflexibility in workload, and limited opportunities to influence one's own work also play a role. The gig economy and self-employment, for example, may not always allow room for taking a break if one is able to work to some extent. (Kinman 2019; Karanika-Murray & Cooper 2018)

If one feels that their absence would hinder their colleagues' work, taking sick leave becomes more challenging. Often, those in positions of responsibility who are loyal to the workplace and enjoy respect are the ones who come to work despite feeling unwell. (Karanika-Murray & Cooper 2018)

Why should we care about presenteeism then? On a population level, presenteeism seems to increase the incidence of long-term illnesses and burnout, thereby adding to the costs for both companies and society, not to mention the costs for individuals. Moreover, working while sick, depending on the nature of the job and illness, poses a risk to colleagues and other stakeholders. (Kinman 2019; Laukkala & Vuorio 2019)

Recognition for Going the Extra Mile

Many recognise the concept of going the extra mile in their own work life. An employee who adheres to their limits and values a healthy life-work balance may be considered less committed and motivated than the 'go-to player' who responds to work messages even on weekends or from the sickbed. The messages conveyed by working life are also recognized as contradictory. On one hand, there's encouragement to take care of one's wellbeing, while on the other hand, the workload keeps increasing. This can contribute to the emergence of both quiet quitters and presenteeism.

Stretching oneself and pushing the limits are often openly praised. But what if, instead, we praised the ability of the team to invest in collective recovery, supporting each other, and staying home to recover when unwell? Feedback and a sense of belonging are crucial elements of wellbeing at work, and who wouldn't want to feel valued in their workplace? In this regard, occasional flexibility is not a problem; the issue arises when crossing boundaries becomes chronic.

6 Tips for Tackling Presenteeism and Quiet Quitting:

  1. Proactive and caring culture: Regular discussions with employees about issues related to work ability, motivation, and wellbeing starting from onboarding. Knowing employees, regular contact, and mutual trust facilitate addressing signs of motivation problems and overload, both reactively and preventively.

  2. Clear job roles and objectives: Employees understand what is expected of them and how their work contributes to the larger picture. They can see the impact and significance of their work. Employees can influence their roles, and assistance is available for task prioritisation.

  3. Psychologically safe work environment: A workplace where employees are valued for who they are, and diversity is respected. The atmosphere is generally friendly, assuming the best in each other. Constructive feedback is welcomed, and there is a collective effort towards development.

  4. Culture of recovery: Clear and open communication emphasising the importance of recovery and setting clear expectations for employees to take care of themselves. The organisation invests in identifying and monitoring factors contributing to workload.

  5. Leadership competence and leading by example: Manager training and the resources and support for managers are crucial. Managers lead by example, whether they intend to or not. How does the organisation invest in supporting the competence and wellbeing of managers?

  6. Facilitating career development: Employees can influence their career path and professional development with support. Programs such as mentoring and various coaching services are available. Additionally, developing other life skills and psychological support, such as services like Auntie, contribute to self-awareness and overall wellbeing.

    When employees have autonomy in their own work and development, are able to develop and use their capabilities, receive appreciation and feedback on their work, and feel that they are part of a meaningful community, the building blocks of motivation and commitment are in place. (Ryan & Deci 2000).


Eurofound. Health and Wellbeing at Work: A Report Based on the Fifth European Working Conditions Survey. (2012) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/278610442_Eurofound_Health_and_Well-being_at_Work_A_Report_Based_on_the_Fifth_European_Working_Conditions_Survey. Retrieved 2023-10-28

Karanika-Murray, M., &; Cooper, C. (2018). Presenteeism: An Introduction to a Prevailing Global Phenomenon. In C. Cooper & L. Lu (Eds.), Presenteeism at Work (Cambridge Companions to Management, pp. 9-34). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kinman, Gail (2019). Sickness presenteeism at work: prevalence, costs and management, British Medical Bulletin, Volume 129, Issue 1, March 2019, Pages 69–78, https://doi.org/10.1093/bmb/ldy043

Mahand, Thalmus &; Caldwell, Cam. (2023). Quiet Quitting -Causes and Opportunities. Business and Management Research 12(1).

Ryan, R. M., &; Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68–78.

The Wall Street Journal (2022) https://www.wsj.com/articles/if-your-gen-z-co-workers-are-quiet-quitting-heres-what-that-means-11660260608. Retrieved 2023-10-28

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