Quiet Quitting Isn’t Bad
(it’s what’s underneath that’s cause for concern)
The recent cultural focus on ‘Quiet Quitting’ is a fascinating study in social psychology and influence. Like other 21st-century social megatrends (for example, shaming), quiet quitting isn’t a new phenomenon. Rather, it is a set of behaviors and attitudes that have existed for millennia but have recently been renamed and given attention.
Wikipedia (the ultimate authority of defining all things modern) states:
“Quiet quitting is an application of work-to-rule, in which employees work within defined work
hours and engage solely in activities within those hours. Despite the name, the philosophy of
quiet quitting is not connected to quitting a job outright, but rather doing precisely what the
job requires. Proponents of quiet quitting also refer to it as acting your wage.”
Even though I am a Baby Boomer business owner, it may surprise you that I’m not going to rail against quiet quitting and expound on how bad it is for all involved. That has already been done, and isn’t really needed or helpful.
In fact, I would argue that quiet quitting, in and of itself, isn’t really that bad. Rather, I believe, that the dynamics and beliefs which underpin the quiet quitting movement are the issues which cause concern.
Let me enumerate:
- Indirect communication. A common trait I’ve seen demonstrated among Millennials, Gen X and Gen Z individuals is the unwillingness to communicate directly to others when the conversation is uncomfortable or involves some degree of disagreement (for example, preferring to text so they can avoid a confrontation by not responding). The problem is, our research has found that a core characteristic of toxic workplaces is frequently using indirect communication (sending a message through someone else; going around a superior to get permission from someone else).
- Inauthenticity. With all of the focus on authenticity in recent years, it seems ironic to me that a key component of quiet quitting is to not be open and honest with one’s employer regarding how you feel about your responsibilities and associated compensation. If you feel your employer demands too much and is taking advantage of you, you need to actually discuss this with them.
- Lack of focus on serving customers or clientele. Work is ultimately the process of providing a good or service a client needs or wants, and getting paid for doing so. What I find interesting is the lack of consideration on the impact to customers that quiet quitting creates. Eventually, if a company does not meet the need for its customers, they go elsewhere (and the company goes out of business).
- Lack of empathy. When a person is doing “just enough” as defined by their job description, the effort often does not truly fulfill the requirement. Frequently situations in life are more complicated and require a little more effort or problem-solving to truly meet the need. When you quietly quit, you are saying, “Sorry. That’s all I’m going to do. You will have to figure it out,” which doesn’t show any concern for other people’s situations. This approach doesn’t communicate any concern for the extra work potentially created for one’s colleagues.
- A passive approach to life and life’s challenges. You are not proactively taking responsibility for your life. Quiet quitting is a passive approach to dealing with dissatisfaction. Yes, you may need to set boundaries with your employer regarding expectations for availability, number of hours worked, or being asked to do tasks not in your job description. But does responding by “just doing my job” really help you attain your any of your goals or change your work situation?
- An overemphasis on fairness. The quiet quitting movement reminds me of two children arguing — shouting “That’s not fair!” at each other and then going on a ‘strike’ of some nature in an attempt to get their way and to show their displeasure. Fairness is always an issue of perception and is in the eye of the beholder. I agree that some employers and managers do take advantage of employees and abuse the work-life balance boundary. But I would ask: Is it fair that you were born during this time period in one of the richest countries in history? Would someone born into poverty in Sudan, Sao Paulo, Bangladesh, or Haiti view your life circumstances as fair to them? Ultimately, it is important to spend some time being introspective about what aspects of your job and employer’s expectations are and are not realistic and fair.
When considering the call to engage in quiet quitting, I think it would be wise to stop and reflect on a few questions:
- What is driving your desire to quit quietly – to avoid conflict? Fear of negative response? Sense of a lack of empowerment? A desire for revenge for being treated unfairly?
- Do you have an overall sense that the system/ people owe you things?
- Is quiet quitting an easy way for you to get something for little effort?
- Do you care how your actions impact others? Or are you primarily concerned with getting your own needs and desires met?
- Are there other areas in your life where you aren’t honest with people and don’t tell them what you really think or give them honest feedback?
- Are there other areas of your life where you respond to situations with passive noncompliance (sometimes labeled as being passive aggressive)?
- What is your personal track record for persevering through difficult circumstances?
- What are your career and personal growth goals? How does quiet quitting help you achieve those?
Ultimately, one’s position on quiet quitting is not an issue of what you believe (or what I believe) but what matches reality? I would strongly argue that people who are successful (not financially or career-wise, but in terms of reaching their goals in life) rarely create the life they desire for themselves by utilizing a quiet quitting approach.Tags: Quiet Quitting, Work Your Wage
Categories 5 Languages of Appreciation, Authenticity, Toxic workplaces, Workplace Culture
Interesting that all of the questions to ponder were directed to the individual quietly disengaging and none directed to the manager. Before my retirement last year, I did a fair bit of coaching on both sides of this dynamic. My direct reports [and theirs] were a mixture of talents, expectations, and needs. One adapts. They were no more clairvoyant than I as demands and situations shifted. Talk to me. Some my peers expressed frustration with promising talent they felt ghosted them – in many cases by the same individuals who asked me why the boss was ghosting them.
Ann, you make an great point. Open communication on both sides can help bridge the disconnect between the two parties and get to the root of what might be going on. Thank you for sharing.
Interesting perspective. I am on the tail end of the baby boomers. In reading this, I discovered that in the last two years of my employment, my attitude was that of “just doing my job,” which was a response to nearly being fired twice because I was trying to advocate and was severely reprimanded for it. In fact, my husband begged me to quit my job because it was affecting my mental health. When one has tried repeatedly to discuss things with upper management only to be told that “it’s not your decision”, and “THIS is how things will be done,” one becomes beyond frustrated. My self confidence has been destroyed. I retired in September after 39 years with the same employer. This is not without its own sacrifices. I will have to obtain Obamacare insurance as my husband is also retiring and is Medicare age; I am not. But mentally I just can’t deal with workplace issues any longer. I don’t even want to renew my nursing license next month; for the first time in 40 years, I do not have my contact hours completed. (Historically I usually had the required amount plus some done a couple months before the renewal notice would arrive.)
So, in response to your statement about quiet quitting not achieving the desired goal for an employee, I would concur. It eventually leads to just quitting entirely and wondering what one’s goals were or if it even mattered.
I echo everything that Shauna wrote. Ironically, I am also a Nurse. When I went to Management to share my concerns of an issue that I felt was creating conflict amongst the staff and offered my suggestions, the response I received was “We are sorry that our communication style does not meet your expectations.” I now pause each time that I am in Charge and feel a situation requires me to speak to Management. How does one work under that type of “leadership”?
LC, it doesn’t surprise me that you and Shauna are both nurses. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere (I believe in my work on toxic workplaces), I have found hospitals and many medical settings to be one of the most toxic work environments (unfortunately for them, partially due to the way the payment system and government oversight have been set up.)
I do not have a great answer to your question. But I have found a good starting point is to clearly communicate to your supervisor (or other decision-makers) the practical implications (both short-term and long-term) of the issue — whether it is communication style, decision-making patterns, or policies and procedures. I believe the best way (but in no way guaranteed) is to show and explain the mirror of reality to others. Some will heed the warning; seemingly, many will not.
I am in the field of education and believe teachers are continually being tasked with more responsibilities and expectations within the environment. Some of these tasks are outside of school hours. Along with the growing negative view and treatment by lawmakers and uninformed policing by non educators, the level of frustration is great. It’s exhausting.
Shauna, thanks for sharing your experience and insights. I’m sorry to hear of the negative results in your life as a result of situation. Unfortunately, there are situations either where the management is unwilling to change or that the situation is a “bad match”. I hope that you experience a time of rest and healing in the coming months. Dr. Paul
In a previous profession, I worked with mostly boomers and silents. I found the those generations to be equal to other generations in being poor about direct communication. Granted, the older generations didn’t avoid texts as a way to avoid conflict, but they definitely did their share of triangulating and avoiding direct communication.
Britt, I agree. All generations have a significant number of individuals who avoid direct communication. I may have a biased sample, but it DOES seem to be more culturally acceptable in younger individuals.
The article above is written from the perspective of am employer and not that of an employee. Gen X speaking in this case btw…
1: Indirect communication / Inauthenticity/a passive approach…: This is usually due of the fear of employer reprisal. Directly voicing an opinion can be grounds for termination in many toxic environments.
If your response to a complaint is something along the lines of “suck it up or quit”, employees will do just that… just slowly while they are looking for a better employer.
“Would you work for yourself as am employee?” Record how you react to an employee conversation and then imagine you are on the other side of that chair… would you stay or look for work elsewhere.
2: Lack of focus / lack of empathy are symptoms of the problem… not contributing factors.
3: Overemphasis on fairness: Here is where we see the disparity and obvious bias in the article.
The Boomer model is “Life ain’t fair”…
That does not give someone a license to be unfair. You also lived under another saying, the Golden Rule. Treat others the way you would wanbt to be treated.
If you treat your employees poorly, don’t expect empathy… or good employee performance… or employee retention.
If you do not honor the tenure / experience level of an employee they will look for work elsewhere. You are not entitled to employee retention purely on the basis that you are their current employer.
4: If your employment structure leads to a “Dead End”, and you do nothing to offer advancement opportunities, don’t be surprised that the employees will quiet quit on you. Effectively you are quiet quitting on your employees via blocking advancement by proxy.
Your article above sadly enables the poor behavior of employers to maintain the status quo of employment without offering effective remediation of the situation by your target audience, that of the employers themselves. Your current methods are leading to the situation, so either deal with the results of your current actions or policies or perhaps evaluate and correct the workplace environment while you still can.
Roy, I would agree that my thoughts are written primarily from an employer’s perspective (and I noted so in the blog.) I value your comments — but I’m not able to respond to each of them adequately now. I will in the coming weeks, however. I would say, being forthright, that I disagree with your “either/or” premise in point 2. Lack of focus and empathy can be both symptoms and contributing factors.
I find myself internally reacting (defensively) to your comments because (I think) you have reacted to my comments without viewing my them within the broader perspective of my efforts for 10+ years calling employers and leaders to task for how they have often treated employees. So I will share more thoughts later, when I’m less likely to be reactive.
This is very thought provoking. Maybe we should reflect more before we copy this action. What are we really communicating by this minimal involvement?
Great question! It seems similar to silence — the act can be interpreted (and misinterpreted) in many ways.