Calling Out “Quiet Quitting”
Let’s chat about Quiet Quitting – I personally hate this new phrase, but it’s making lots of media headlines. Before I share some thinking and insight into this topic, I’ll share a story about someone I’m familiar with – Tim; his story is what people are now equating as “quiet quitting”. Tim’s handiwork is all over the city. For starters, there’s the garden median on the main street that provides a splash of colour amid all the concrete offices. A few blocks over, twin traffic circles keep the afternoon parade of cars and trucks from creating gridlock. Pedestrian walkways, intricate drainage systems, and lush greenways are among the other features in Tim’s public works portfolio. A civil engineer, Tim’s given the better part of ten years to the city he works for, putting in 50, 60, and, at times, 70 hours a week to keep the wheels of progress turning. No more. Tim is now among the ranks of those being called “quiet quitters,” workers who continue at their jobs while jettisoning the idea that their work is the single driving factor in their lives.
Some believe that quiet quitting is the natural extension of the “Great Resignation” movement that arrived during the pandemic. Julia Pollak, chief economist at the ZipRecruiter notes, “With layoffs and firings at a record low… people have unprecedented job security.” With job security at a generational high, one of the big incentives for uber-dedication to the job – fear of getting fired – is at an all-time low. Many, including me, think quiet quitting is just a rebranding for something that has long since been talked about workplace settings around the creation of boundaries and/or finding the balance between work and life. Anthony Klotz, associate professor at University of College London’s School of Management, seems to agree. Klotz contends, “Although this has come from a younger generation and in new packaging, this trend has been studied under different names for decades: disengagement, neglect, withdrawal.” Like Pollak, Klotz asserts that trends like quiet quitting grow when the market allows for it. When the job market is weak, workers will put up with a lot more dissatisfaction in the workplace.
Enough of the social science, let’s move to pragmatics. What do those of us who lead do to quell the impact of quiet quitting in our spaces of influence? For starters, let’s remember that burnout is more often about the demands of time and energy created by the work, not the work itself. In the current job market, most of your employees have choices. They continue to work in your organization – and for you – because they find the work compelling and the leadership supportive. Remember Tim? He loves what he does and for whom he works. The problem is (as has always been) work/life balance. The late nights, weekend expectations, and “on call” posture that many workers face in their environment creates a longing for a lifestyle that just isn’t possible in high stress settings.
So, what’s the anecdote for the stress that sets in when one is always “on the clock?” Legitimate downtime from the job. Be open to work arrangements that give the members of your team flexibility to deliver how and when against the clearly articulated deliverables, provide space to unwind, connect with family and friends, support a cause, maintain an exercise regiment, and/or take on an adventure. I’ve created this for myself by cultivating a work/life balance that gives me the bandwidth to freelance, travel, stay fit, and create memories with my family, all while moving the needle forward for the businesses I have worked with. I love working and the flexible schedule that allows me to do my work at a high level. As I was drafting this, I was exploring the French Riviera after attending a friend’s wedding.
As a leader, I haven’t always, but most definitely more recently, model best practices for the people working with me. Because I practice a healthy work/life balance, I certainly want the people working with me to do likewise. It’s good for the employee’s health and their engagement and, ultimately, it’s good for business. And let’s not forget, it’s our job as a leader in the business to combat quiet quitting with empathy and action on behalf of those being led.