“Today’s quiet quitters are mostly yesterday’s slackers” The i newspaper this week. As a headline it did its job, in that it made me read the whole article. The idea of someone deliberately slacking off at work pushes my buttons. It’s in my bones to ‘do more’ and when I was in corporate (yeah ok and now) I did just that – more. Always. But is it fair to label someone ‘just’ doing their role as a slacker, as lazy? Is it as simple as saying one way is right and the other is wrong? As a coach I spend a lot of time in the land of in between and the land of boundaries – surely someone operating in the realm of their defined role is demonstrating their boundaries?
What is quiet quitting?
It’s staying in your role but dialling back on all of those extras you may have been doing in the past, so anything that is not strictly in your job description is now off the table. No extra responsibilities, no putting yourself forward, or accepting projects or assignments, no extra unpaid time, no answering calls or emails outside of your contracted hours – what is says in your contract and nothing more.
I am old enough to have been taught the term ‘working to rule’ at university, and as I dug into this new term of quiet quitting it brought back this memory. And back in the ‘90’s of my management degree, working to rule was not presented with any positivity – indeed it was part of my industrial relations module and how it can all go wrong.
Twenty odd years later, a corporate career, a leadership role and a coaching journey later I have some different perspectives to draw upon and I can appreciate it’s just not that clear cut. There are so many questions that must be asked if an individual has got to this point and in my mind, there must have been some missed opportunities and quite a catastrophic breakdown in communication.
Why is quiet quitting happening now?
The term went viral on TikTok after @zaidlepplin posted a video saying that work is not your life - it seems simple is powerful… that aside, it’s not much of a surprise surely? The pandemic was traumatic for many and at the very least gave others pause for thought. It was the catalyst for me, which I have spoken about before. Nothing seismic changed, only a new perspective emerged… that life really is just a time block we have, and we must choose wisely where we want to spend our credits – because we really do only get one go.
Working from home meant, for most, significantly longer hours, it did for me as I took on the workload of my furloughed team and yes, my job satisfaction took a dive as stress levels increased alongside the gnawing collective anxiety that was pervasive through the daily news and unsettling statistics. And for some it just became too much, and burnout approached or even took hold. And at some stage self-preservation has to kick in. So maybe you actually look for a new role elsewhere and actually leave, but for some an alternative presents as either an interim or perhaps a new longer term survival strategy – you emotionally disengage from your work.
Gallup’s global workplace report for 2022 showed that only 9% of workers in the UK were engaged or enthusiastic about their work, ranking 33rd out of 38 European countries.
The lack of compensation, that is often a valid complaint of the employee that takes on more, takes on an additional sting in light of the economic situation and current cost of living, but it is also a lack of recognition that really drives this behaviour in employees. Quiet quitting is a way of exercising some control, employees report a sense of motivation and empowerment by working in this way.
There’s a lot being said about generation Z and quiet quitting, but that just seems conveniently simplistic and unfair, ok the term may be new but it doesn’t feel like a new phenomenon.
Is quiet quitting a good or bad thing?
I guess it depends on your perspective. If you’re the one that is always the ‘go to’ person for the extra stuff – and it is so often the case that the dedicated, hardworking, caring, ambitious, self-sacrificing, not so hot on boundaries, people pleasing with perfectionist tendencies person, is that person … and your experience is one of lack of recognition, lack of compensation, lack of appreciation… then quiet quitting may be your way to exercise that control, to make your point; even to reset the balance. If your frustration and dissatisfaction has grown into a festering knot of resentment it may also feel like payback.
If you’re the leader? Wow - there’s some work to do; because your team is disengaged, demotivated and potentially checking out physically in the near future, or arguably worse – prepared to bed in and be miserable for the foreseeable future. It’s hugely corrosive in a team and discontent is a virus that can kill – I’ve seen it first hand, indeed I’ve tried to manage it in my team, and I confess to having found it bewildering and I had limited results. I would approach it so differently now. And I accept that, at least in part, it was a reflection on my leadership abilities (or lack of at that time).
The least effective managers have three to four times as many people who fall in the ‘quiet quitting’ category compared to the most effective leaders. Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman
China thinks it’s something to be worried about. They have censored the hashtag #TangPing ‘lying flat’, challenging the cultural norm of long working hours, which may have been the inspiration for the quiet quitting TikTok phenomenon.
What can I do about quiet quitting?
If one of my coaching clients brought this to a session, I would be delving with them into the world of fulfilment. I’ve been in a role where I wasn’t happy, where I didn’t feel valued, where the work wasn’t rewarding for me, where I jarred with the people around me. And as I battled harder and harder to make it work and I dug in more and more, I became more and more miserable. Cue burnout number one. And it wasn’t necessary – I could have spared myself, had I recognised what was happening and chosen to change my course. I could have told someone about it, asked for support.
I truly believe that your career can be rewarding – and we spend so much of our day in it, we deserve those hours to not be purgatory, or worse. So, if you have already quiet quit, my question would be what’s next? What do you choose to change? Because here doesn’t sound good enough – so what are you worth? What is rewarding for you? Where will you choose to spend your time and share your skills? Where will you be valued?
Look to understand and then articulate what has changed from the time when, I assume, there was that sense of fulfilment. As a leader, the same, what has changed for this employee, in the organisation or in the wider environment? I read that “the onus is on managers and leaders to define expectations more clearly and build relationships with workers” . Yes, as managers and leaders we absolutely do have this responsibility, but I believe the responsibility is shared with the individual. If that individual is you, well you’re a grown up, talk to your organisation, your manager, your leadership. What can change if you are not willing to communicate what you need to change?
Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind. Brené Brown, Dare to Lead.
Quiet quitting to me feels like a waste for all concerned. That’s very different from always having to go above and beyond and never being recognised or compensated for it – that’s a waste too in my book. There is so much reward to be had, in every sense, in the right role, the right team, the right company and, if something is wrong to the extent that you have all but checked out, and you have tried and can’t find a way back; I would ask why you are still there? Because both parties are losing out – the company because you aren’t delivering with all that you could and you aren’t passionate about their purpose, which ultimately is damaging. And you – you’re spending your one set of life credits in a place where you are less than you can be. You can do better than that. You deserve better than that.
There is a lot of stuff we can't control, but it is completely in our power to decide what the definition of a good job is. That's up to us. Mike Rowe
If you are curious about how I can work with you , you can speak to me directly, you can book a free initial 30 minute coaching session with me here and there's no hassling from me if it's a no thanks after that.
BBC News Business: Quiet quitting: The workplace trend taking over TikTok https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-62638908
The I Newspaper: Today’s quiet quitters are mostly yesterday’s slackers. Jo Ellison. Republished from the Financial Times
Gallup Is quiet quitting real? https://www.gallup.com/workplace/398306/quiet-quitting-real.aspx
Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman of Zenger/Folkman consultancy Harvard Business Review