What quiet quitting, side hustles mean for business owners

Recently, I appeared on a local National Public Radio station program to discuss quiet quitting. It was the first time I’d heard the term. Quiet quitting? What was that?

A viral TikTok video from July 2022, which attracted more than 3 million views, defined quiet quitting as the idea of no longer going above and beyond at work, that you’re not actually quitting your job but you’re doing just enough. And that attitude, according to the TikTok video, was perfectly fine. This mentality is a byproduct of the pandemic, similar to what’s also driving people to be a bit more introspective and retire sooner than maybe they’d planned.

The pandemic had other repercussions. With extra time on their hands, people felt compelled to fill it. Baking sourdough bread, painting a bedroom, or tackling other DIY home projects became newfound skills and interests.

Yet other people filled their spare time by starting a new business. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Business Formation Statistics report, the growth in new business applications rose more than 20 percent nationally from 2020 to 2021. Most of those new businesses were retail, specifically e-commerce.

Reasons vary. Some were laid off, giving rise to their entrepreneurial endeavor. Others voluntarily quit their jobs to become their own boss and attempt to make their business dream a reality. Yet others continued working and started their business as a side hustle. That last group, the side-hustle group, is another trend linked to quiet quitting — do just enough in your full-time job while launching a startup company during off hours.

While this trend saw big growth during the pandemic, the phenomenon of working full time and starting a business isn’t anything new. But what does quiet quitting mean for business owners and companies? Is it a bad thing if your employees are launching a startup on the side?

I posed these questions to my Weatherhead School of Management part-time MBA student, Nana Kwamena Takyi-Micah. Nana works full time for a large insurance company managing relationships with over 600 agents. During off hours, he also runs his Micah Specialty Foods in Cleveland, a company that produces Ghana Supreme Sauce, an all-natural marinade.

But what does that mean for his insurance employer? Is the company getting a Nana who is less engaged, distracted and not as committed to the work? Just the opposite.

Nana shared that his experience launching Micah Specialty Foods has helped him refine and develop his active listening skills, which have helped him improve performance for his insurance employers. He also believes the venture has sharpened his negotiation skills through his work with distributors, which helps as he engages with the agents he manages.

But perhaps not every employee can balance all those demands. Companies and managers could be at risk when their people quiet quit and start a side hustle. Perhaps someone is distracted by their new company’s demands while they’re at work. Are they earning their keep?

With employers nationally struggling with talent attraction and retention, being supportive may be better than risking the loss of key contributors. Many people find a way to successfully juggle a job and become an entrepreneur. Set expectations for what an employee should be doing in their job, but also ask them how their new-found business skills could be applied in their work at your company.

New business owners have to learn all aspects of their company’s operations. This versatility makes them even more valuable to their employers. Companies should find a way to be supportive so employees who do start a side hustle are willing to stay. ●

Michael Goldberg is executive director of the Veale Institute for Entrepreneurship and an associate professor of design and innovation at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management. 

Michael Goldberg

Executive director of the Veale Institute for Entrepreneurship and an associate professor of design and innovation at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management
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