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Quiet Quitting: The fortuitous antidote to the Great Resignation

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On the surface, quiet quitting can seem like nothing more than another internet trend. And if you’ve been off social media for the last two months, you’ll most likely feel exactly like Stefana Sopco here does.

LinkedIn post by Stefana Sopco

In just a short span of 60 or less days, we went from talking about Great Resignation to Quiet Quitting on the net.

The term "Great Resignation" was coined in May 2021 by Prof. Anthony Klotz, from University College London's School of Management. Meanwhile quiet quitting came into the limelight, thanks to one Tik-Tok video from @skchillin in July 2022. The internet is raging with views, arguments, apprehensions and what not about this new buzzword – quiet quitting.

If you dig deep enough, you’ll realize that even though Quiet Quitting might have replaced discussions around Great Resignation on the web, the two trending words of 2022 are not unrelated and have an unlikely thread that connects them both.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, as companies struggle to find a solution for Great Resignation (or the Big Quit or the Great Reshuffle or simply en masse attrition), employees seem to be have found their (quiet) answer in quiet quitting.

In the interest of their physical and emotional health, to honor their need for flexibility and their desire to do more meaningful work, employees had to make a harder “either-or” choice – to stay and suck it all up or quit to pursue their passions, escape overwork and stress or to meet personal obligations. Quiet quitting, however, promises people a less dramatic and more balanced solution to the same problem. With quiet quitting, employees can choose to retain their jobs, act their wage, earn a living and find the much needed balance between work and other parts of their lives.

Quiet quitting then is an unanticipated antidote to Great Resignation. And unlike what most people have to say, it might have immense benefits for both employees and employers.

Is quiet quitting wrong?

If you jump onto LinkedIn and search for the hashtag #quietquitting, you’ll notice a lot of people brand quiet quitting as doing bare minimum, choosing not to work hard, slacking off, being lazy, being unproductive, so on and so forth. That’s equating quiet quitting directly with employee disengagement. It is as if quiet quitting, as a global online movement, is encouraging everyone to be Peter Gibbons from Office Space.

If that’s the case, without doubt, employee disengagement is a serious concern for organizations. It always has been! Disengaged employees bring a negative attitude to the workplace and usually withdraw from their day-to-day tasks, have minimal output, are mostly distracted and in a lot of cases, openly criticize the organization, their work, and/or their manager, negatively impacting other’s morale too – all of which can have a drastic impact on the company’s reputation and bottom-line.

If you really go back to the viral video that Zaid Leppelin created though, he describes quiet quitting rather differently. He says, “You’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond. You’re still performing your duties, but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life.”

“All jobs have core elements, which we call in-role performance . . . quiet quitting is quitting everything beyond that.”
- Anthony Klotz

If you go by Zaid’s video, quiet quitting isn’t really employee disengagement, it is a way of dealing with burnout. It is more about balancing and finding a middle path; an anti-hustle movement that promotes employee well-being and challenges the unsaid notion in the corporate world that employees are productive and engaged only when they are going “above and beyond” their call of duty. “If your staff turn up every day and do exactly what you ask of them, they aren’t “quiet quitting”, they’re “working”, says Sarah O’Connor in her Financial Times opinion piece, condemning the “above and beyond” culture. So why should the extra mile you go – and often without being paid extra – be the holy grail of determining employee productivity and engagement? That’s the question a lot of supporters of quiet quitting are really asking.

At the same time, in this age of labor shortage when the power scale has tipped in the employees’ favor, employees are also seeking more fairness through quiet quitting. “Quiet quitters are giving 100%. They are doing their jobs. . . [T]hey are demanding to be paid 150% percent of their wages when they’re asked to do 150% of the work. That’s not laziness. That’s math”, says Robert Lloyd-Charles, a senior learning and performance support analyst/officer at U.S. Bank in a LinkedIn article.

Difference between quiet quitting & employee disengagement

Even Arianna Huffington, in her LinkedIn post, states that quitting the hustle culture is great. It’s a response to a very real problem — the global epidemic of stress and burnout. But coasting, that’s not okay. In the disguise of quiet quitters, there are folks who are just going through the motions, are doing more than one job or doing performative work - just enough for the managers to think they are working. All of these are not okay and at the same time, these may not fall under the category of quiet quitting.

Rather, and in its true essence, quiet quitting is both, a personal choice and a systemic revolution. 

A personal choice for employees who wish to quit the rat race, the fast-paced life and are embracing a more balanced way of living. And a systemic revolution that challenges our cultural obsession with being busy, that questions busyness being accorded as a trophy of honor and hopes to redefine what productivity really means in the workplace. 

So, is it okay to let your employees quiet quit?

If I were to re-word that question, I would ask: Is it okay to let your employees work just 100%? Because, quiet quitters are promising a hundred percent, they are just not promising the additional 10-50% over and above the 100% that’s become an unsaid expectation at the workplace.

Research also shows that employees opting for a better work-life balance can be beneficial for the company. When employees are not overworked, they are more likely to come up with innovative ideas and solutions. They will tend to be less performative at work. These employees will also be less anxious and are less likely to burn out, which means better productivity, of course. Ironically, quiet quitting which is being apprehended as lack of productivity may infact, enhance productivity and even cut down attrition caused by burnout, overwork, and extreme stress.

“The pandemic brough Slack in my life. Initially, it was great to be able to stay connected with my team as you worked remote but eventually, I was on it all the time. And that meant, sending a file at 8:30 p.m., responding to a colleague’s query at 10 and then finishing off an urgent request from my boss at 12. It just got to me!”, quips Shreya who works for a start-up in India.

Shreya was, however, one of the lucky few who found the personal determination and the organization’s support to make the change. “I just stopped. Muted my Slack after 6 p.m. Uninstalled it from my mobile. And thankfully, my manager and the organization was supportive of it. Plus, this has improved my productivity. I can get more done now in the same amount of time.”, she says.

Quiet quitting can also have its downsides as much as it has advantages. It is just too early to say. But if more flexibility, meaningful work and better work-life balance is what the newer generation is asking for, then it will be helpful for organizations to find a middle path with the future employees. 

Here are some ways you can enable your quiet quitters to continue giving their 100%.

  1. Employee well-being strategies beyond performative acts: A great well-being program falls flat if your employees are struggling to manage their workloads and are working long hours. Employee well-being can’t be achieved without answering some of the core cultural issues within an organization - interpersonal relationships, workload and flexibility alongside introducing wellness programs.
  2. Introduce new policies that support better work-life balance: Believe it or not, companies that are introducing moonlighting and four-day workweek are actually catering to folks who may have the tendency to quiet quit. Giving them more flexibility, autonomy and time to tend to their mental and physical health can be beneficial for both, the organization and the employees.
  3. Embrace essentialism at work – automate the rest: If you haven’t yet read ‘Essentialism’ by Gregor McKeown, you must. Essentialism can enable organizations, teams and individual employees to prioritize work and make time and energy investments in the most essential aspects, while automating or discarding the unimportant, bureaucratic, or vestigial practices and tasks.
Quote from Gregor McKeown's book

What can you do about quiet quitting?

Quiet quitting has, quite literally, shaken up not just the HR leaders but also CEOs. In frantic response, a lot of them are turning to productivity tracking tools and micromanagement to combat quiet quitting and get the most out of their employees. Some want to go as far as tracking down the quiet quitters and firing them. 

But will having such power over employees by trying to control them and limiting their freedom and autonomy solve the problem?

It could definitely help with the leader’s anxiety and fear, but as a solution, it is far from the best you can do.

Quiet quitting is about burnout. And if you want to help your employees manage burnout better, ask them what’s causing it in the first place. Run an anonymized employee survey to get insights into the burnout levels at your organization and what employees think are the causes for it. And then take action to combat the specific reasons they mention. Is it the workload? Is it the relationship with the manager? Is it the high-performance culture?

A very interesting snippet from Anthony Klotz's take on quiet quitting

There is nothing like a quick fix to burnout or quiet quitting. And even long after the Q word stops trending on the web, it will continue to take place within organizations. It is now all up to the organizations - do you want to take the easy way out and simply fire your quiet quitters? Or do you want to create a culture where your employees aren’t burning out, becoming less productive as a result and getting disengaged anyway?

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