Updated: Oct 25, 2022
There has been such an overwhelming buzz in the media lately about quiet quitting that you’d practically have to live under a rock to have avoided hearing or reading something about it these past few weeks. It has sparked article after article, post after post, and many debates, particularly on social media.
In one camp, you have those who view this idea as an issue with employees disengaging due to a sense of entitlement and lack of work ethic, and in another camp, you have those who view it as a symptom of, or even a form of rebellion against, toxic cultures, horrible bosses, and unfair wages. Both emotionally charged points of view bring to light some deep-seated belief systems that are the underpinning of low-energy, oppressive, fear-based work cultures that lead to burnout and declining mental health.
Here are some ideas for preventing this trend in your workplace:
1. Communicate clear, truthful, and consistent expectations during hiring, onboarding, and the day-to-day
One definition I repeatedly see for “quiet quitting” is simply to perform a job up to expectations – no more, no less. If that is the case, it’s not really quitting and there is no reason to keep it quiet. However, if an employee and a direct supervisor have conflicting expectations, and the employee begins only performing the role up to a certain level of what they assume is acceptable, this is where the quitting happens. The employee has given up on communicating and confirming that they are performing up to their supervisor’s or team’s expectations, and likely no longer cares. If clear, bilateral expectations – i.e., the expected values, knowledge, and activities that must be contributed and exchanged for a successful working relationship – are not communicated upfront and ongoingly, incorrect assumptions from either party in the relationship are much more likely to be a root cause of conflict, stress, and disengagement.
2. Create a culture that gives people opportunities for expressing themselves and for pursuing personal enrichment
Who would choose to work in an environment where no one cares about them unless they feel they have no other choice, plan to take the job as a temporary cash-grab, or don’t want to be on the hook to care about anybody else? Under the assumption that most people don’t want to spend almost half of their waking lives in misery at work, employers who hire and nurture people in a culture that supports self-expression and personal growth can attract people who amplify a great culture and make meaningful contribution part of the cultural norm.
While many people have white-knuckled their way through toxic cultures to reach their career goals, it doesn’t have to be some sort of rite of passage to do so. The idea that it is a rite of passage - that suffering and struggling are somehow virtuous or required for success - is a massive blow to every generation as they enter the workforce. If you can provide a different narrative, you can become the employer of choice for the very best talent who reject the idea of quiet quitting because they know they can proudly and officially walk away from a job that is not a fit for them.
3. Observe, evaluate, and address issues quickly and carefully – i.e., don’t let things fester
Once clear communication and a supportive cultural tone are set, you have the mechanisms in place to help you gather regular, honest feedback from your people, build trust in yourself and in your team, and solve problems quickly. The more time that goes by with unresolved issues, the more likely incorrect and destructive interpretations, beliefs, and miscommunications will form and amplify problems.
Encouraging feedback during times of change is especially important. If someone’s job is impacted due to organizational or operational changes, market changes, or other unforeseen circumstances, it is especially important to take extra care in supporting them to find their stride, align themselves with the new work, and adjust to new expectations, just as you would with a brand-new employee still on the learning curve.
At its core, quiet quitting sounds like another term for employees having one foot out the door of their current job – i.e., if something better came along, they’d jump at the chance to move on. According to a 2022 Willis Towers Watson study, 25% of all workers, including 55% of senior managers, said that “while they intend to stay with their employers, they feel stuck in their positions and would change jobs if they could.” Implementing some of the ideas above can reduce the number of people in your organization who feel this way and help you be the employer of choice for those who are ready to move on from an employer unable or unwilling to improve their culture.
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Andrea MacKenzie, Founder of Lead With Harmony, is an MBA, multi-certified coach, Kolbe-Certified consultant, and leadership and team-building expert with over 20 years of combined experience in corporate roles and business consulting. Andrea enjoys working with growth-oriented business owners and executives who advocate for the advancement and well-being of the people they serve, hire, and inspire.