On quiet quitting
What’s in a name? Every so often, a new term is coined to describe a modern phenomenon. A lot of the time, this term catches on as more and more people resonate with the experience until it becomes part of the mainstream. Sometimes, however, a term comes along that distorts an experience and generates more confusion than clarity. I believe “quiet quitting” is in the latter camp. This term has been inescapable as of late, with numerous articles describing this new movement happening in the workplace. Quiet quitting is the newly minted label on working precisely within your job description and work hours instead of going above and beyond. Instead of quitting outright, workers opt instead to doing the bare minimum of what is required to prevent further burnout. As expected, most of the articles about this come from business publications, with CEOs and managers worried about this growing phenomenon, so soon after the “Great Resignation” during the pandemic. Arianna Huffington herself decried this phenomenon, likening it to “moving toward quitting on life.”
I’ve spent days being perplexed at this term. Why is it called quitting when you’re simply doing your job? Why are workers owning this term that perpetuates the misconception that somehow setting your limits firmly at work is akin to not wanting to work anymore? Some have already written about the insidiousness of this term. By having workers describe their own behavior as “quiet quitting,” corporate employers are planting the idea that somehow respecting your off-hours is detrimental to your career. Others have suggested to use the phrase “act your wage” instead, as a better representation of the movement that refuses to be exploited for work.
What companies are truly facing with the “quiet quitting” movement is the issue of mere compliance. Mere compliance happens when people are simply being required or mandated to do as they’re told without ensuring that the task is meaningful to them. In the world of behavior change, we don’t aim for mere compliance since the change won’t last once it is no longer required. What we do aim for is to ensure that people find meaning in what they do. We see this with our mask mandates, where many folks wear their masks under their noses because they don’t really believe in its purpose. Companies that use a very top-down approach tend to have compliant workers. They also happen to be the same workplaces where burnout is most likely, simply because workers are not able to express when they’ve reached or overstepped their limits until it’s too late. This lack of dialogue also means that employers are probably out of touch with what it actually requires to get the work done, leading them to insist on unrealistic and unfeasible productivity goals. Ensuring that the work is experienced as meaningful by your employees requires that you are attuned to them to begin with. You know what their personal and professional goals are, and you align these with their tasks and responsibilities. If you want to have workers that care about their jobs aside from how much they’re getting paid, you need to be confident that you’re offering them something truly meaningful beyond making the company profitable.
Another big misconception that’s driving the conflict between employers and employees is the notion that productivity and work-life balance are on opposing sides. On the contrary, we know that adequate work-life balance encourages worker retention. Nothing disrupts productivity more than people leaving their jobs. Also, happy people simply work better. People who are stressed and burned out have great difficulty concentrating and focusing on tasks. They’re also not as likely to come up with creative ideas and solutions. Poor work-life balance affects not just their mental health but physical health as well. They’re less likely to get sick if they were given the opportunities to take good care of themselves, such as adequate time for sleep, food, enjoyment, and rest.
The pandemic has forced many changes in the workplace, for better or worse. Being forced to work from home has shown us that some jobs can be more than handled remotely. We’ve seen that, quite honestly, a lot of meetings are apparently useless, and we can have greater productivity by reducing and focusing on the purpose of such meetings. More importantly, people have realized what is truly meaningful to them and have generally decided to spend more time with their family and their personal goals. One of the greatest lessons during the pandemic is that time is the most precious commodity. People are choosing, with more intention than ever, how to spend that valuable time. It really shouldn’t be surprising that people are choosing not to do work that doesn’t hold meaning for them. They’re not quiet quitting—they’re loudly living.
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