Just as the global marketplace has settled into the new normal and embraced hybrid work solutions, a new buzzword has emerged that deserves our attention: Quiet Quitting.
Essentially, quiet quitting is a social media term that has gone mainstream, and it refers to the idea that people are moving towards a mindset of treating work as the task of just meeting their job description and no more, with no intention of adding real value, really engaging, and certainly not of going above and beyond.
As all business leaders know, valuable employees that really drive business success are those that understand that job descriptions can’t accurately capture all that is required to make a success of a role. Most jobs are nuanced – and success requires agility.
Quiet quitting is, when pushed to the extreme, a genuine issue for business leadership.
I have to be honest: when I first read up on quiet quitting, I wrote it off as poor management. Either managers were managing their employees poorly, which left them disillusioned and disengaged, or they were hiring poorly in terms of character and determination to succeed.
Either way, this was entirely a management issue.
Having given it further consideration, I have come to realise that, as usual, there are two sides to every story.
In essence, the global pandemic was a time for many to take stock and re-evaluate.
Many people suddenly realised what they valued most – and work seemingly wasn’t it. People obviously still need to work and are prepared to do so, but they are consciously taking the pressure off themselves to be career-driven – they’re no longer subscribing to the culture of people being defined by their jobs.
While I unashamedly do not condone quiet quitting, I certainly appreciate that times have changed. Many professionals are now prioritising their own mental health and protecting themselves from burnout.
A recent World Economic Forum report indicated that up to 80% of young people are vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and disillusionment. From this point of view, quiet quitting can be seen as a natural realignment of priorities, or as a form of self-preservation by a more aware generation of workers, one which I wholly support.
This is a rebellion against the old mindset and narrative of “the harder you work, the more important and successful you must be”, which admittedly was incredibly unhealthy, and one I’ve certainly fallen foul of myself. There has been an evolution in generational thinking, shifting towards balance, personal time, and boundaries – and that’s a good thing.
But there is a fine line between this and crossing over to disengaged, disinterested and even disruptive, as this new pursuit of balance causes some of the workforce to unplug.
So, what do we do about it?
It’s up to your management teams.
1. Stop Talking about Culture – Demonstrate It
Culture comes from the top – it’s not an HR function. Employees are finally saying to their leadership teams, “We hear what you say, but we see what you do”. If there is an expectation of a high-performance culture, then Leadership must demonstrate this themselves as well as provide the necessary support. While culture has become the big buzzword, it’s more than funky workspaces, coffee on tap and free snacks – culture is behavioural, and it starts in the boardroom.
2. Communicate Strategy
Just as you can’t expect an army to win a battle without knowing what they’re trying to achieve, your workforce needs to have a connection to your mission as a business.
Not only is it essential to be inclusive about business strategy to effectively cascade the tasks associated with strategic objectives and key results, it’s critical to understand that when teams outside of the boardroom can’t explain WHY your objectives and key results are what they are, you can’t expect them to help to pull your business in the right direction or be genuinely engaged in doing so.
3. Provide a Purpose
As the saying goes, money doesn’t buy happiness – we need purpose in our lives to feel valued. If employers want their people to really care, to jump out of bed in the morning to tackle their work with vigour, there is a responsibility to give them a purpose to do so. In my view, the greatest answer to engaging a workforce is to make your employees understand what they contribute, why they’re doing what they’re doing, and why it matters. When people know that what they do really counts, it’s the rare minority that don’t care about dropping the ball.
Let all voices matter. As stated in an article in the Harvard Business Review that I recently shared from, authority bias – tending to value opinion from the top and undervalue from anywhere else – is a cultural barrier to progress. Businesses must find a way to give true merit to ideas based on substance rather than source if they want to unlock true productive and progressive collaboration and flow of information. Let every voice have merit – the greatest ideas often come from the frontlines. If you want your teams engaged, let them speak.
The stats around mental health are frightening, and Employers of choice need to take their responsibility of managing the wellbeing of their employees seriously. Treating the symptoms without addressing the core issues of stress and breakdowns, such as taking advantage of hard workers, not having boundaries, and having unreasonable expectations in terms of deliverables without providing the necessary support, will solve nothing. Preventative care and wellbeing programmes matter.
Having said all that, businesses that do look after their people, provide healthy work environments, and pay high regard to communication and valuing employees’ work, must protect these values vigorously.
Management must excel at these things in order to give their people purpose and eradicate the quiet-quitting mindset from ever becoming a consideration of their staff, but sometimes great management also means having tough conversations and ensuring that the lowest level of tolerated behaviour and work ethic (whether that be at team or individual level) doesn’t derail the good.
Healthy management doesn’t mollycoddle – part of good culture is well-defined expectations and standards that are upheld and apply to everyone.
It’s still okay to manage!
Ryan Bayman is Chief Executive Officer, IgnitionCX.