Quiet Quitting - The Latest Thing (That's Been Around Forever)

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Quiet Quitting - The Latest Thing (That's Been Around Forever)

Maybe it’s the alliteration. The fact that it makes a catchy hashtag. Whatever it is, talk of #quietquitting just won’t seem to quit, quietly or otherwise. We’ve delayed our weighing in on it until some of the furor subsided, but the fact is that we (and many others) have been talking and writing about quiet quitting for years, dare I say decades.

For those who’ve been too busy going the extra mile at work to tune into this discussion, quiet quitting is the newly coined term for the ancient practice of doing the job you get paid to do. Nothing more, and, it must be said, nothing less.

That’s it? Yep. That’s it.

Need a further explanation? In the image above, the road marking was painted by a quiet quitter. They understood their job to be painting a white line on the edge of the roadway. And that’s what they did.

Quiet quitting is not a work slowdown, a more aggressive and deliberate action, often collectively executed to reduce productivity, as a way to emit a not-so-subtle cry for attention to management about any number of grievances.

Instead, Q² is more about setting boundaries, or limits, if you will, around hours, tasks, and responsibilities, almost certainly in response to managers’ failure to respect the contract, written or otherwise, as to the scope of the job.

But there’s a much more adult way of registering dissatisfaction with our working conditions, and it, too, has been around forever. We call it communication.

A typical scenario: I’m hired for a position on a team. A few members leave the company, and it’s been hard finding replacements. You know, the pandemic and all. So I’m expected to pick up the slack. At first my boss says “I’m sorry” and occasionally “thank you”. But before long, a sort of mission creep redefines the job, without a commensurate redefinition of compensation. They see I can do the job at its swollen level, and that becomes the norm. And since I’ve been a good soldier about it, they pile more on.

I start shorting other parts of my life and soon resent the evolved arrangement. The once short-term extra stress now feels unsustainable. I feel taken advantage of. I need the job, and used to like it, but I didn’t sign up for all this. Rather than talking with anyone about it, passive-aggressive that I am, I do just enough that they can’t fire me. Remember, it’s hard finding new people these days. I keep my eye out for better opportunities, but stick it out, essentially quitting the extra part of my job. But quietly.

The opposite of quiet quitting is something called Discretionary Effort, a topic we’ve blogged about on not one, not two, but three occasions before. Not as jazzy sounding, but DE, too, has been around since the first employer-employee relationship was formed. It was given a name about a century ago and defined as “that increment of human effort, the expenditure of which is at the exclusive discretion of the worker.” It’s what we do because we WANT to, not because we HAVE to. And folks, it’s the most profitable morsel of effort anyone has to offer, because you don’t pay extra for it. You and I call it going the Extra Mile, or going Above and Beyond.

But we, as managers, reap what we sow. If we find that those we’re supposed to be leading are doing the double Q, we have, for the most part, no one to blame but ourselves. Bill Catlette and I agree fundamentally with Harvard Business Review writers Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman in their August 31, 2022 article entitled “Quiet Quitting is About Bad Bosses, Not Bad Employees” (HBR subscription required…sorry.) Although we’ll temper that by saying that both employer and employee share in the responsibility to make the “deal” work.

The fix

If Discretionary Effort is the opposite of quiet quitting, what are we leader types doing to engage the Discretionary Effort of those we lead? We need to make sure we can put a check mark by each of the following requirements:

  • Giving people a mission worthy of their Discretionary Effort. No, the paycheck is not enough. That pays for everything up to, but not including, Discretionary Effort.
  • Making sure everyone understands how their work impacts your customers, internal and external
  • Adequately recognizing and rewarding outstanding work, extra commitment, a spirit of pitching in, and going the extra mile, so that NOT quiet quitting delivers better consequences than doing so
  • Not tolerating slackers
  • Rolling up my sleeves, doing more than my share of the dirty work, and truly modeling what Discretionary Effort looks like.

Discretionary Effort travels on a two-way street. I’ll never forget hearing first-hand the words of the CEO of a wildly successful company, during an orientation for newly hired leaders: “When you go the extra mile for your team members, you’ll have their full attention when you talk about going the extra mile for your customers.”

Be honest with, and maybe a little hard on yourself, in asking, “Am I taking undue advantage of people? Do I take them for granted?”

If you’ve hired right, your team can pour on the effort, like a sprinter, for a defined period. But at some point, that push becomes unsustainable, and leads inevitably to quitting. Sometimes of the quiet variety. Other times by actual quitting, which, by the way is the more forthright approach. Clear and voluminous communication can put some wind at the runners’ backs. “Here’s why we’re all having to work extra hard right now. Here’s what we’re doing so that it doesn’t go on indefinitely. What ideas do you have that would lighten all our loads?”

Train yourself to focus less on attendance, and more on output. If you’re one of those who still says, “The only ones who are going to get ahead here are those who come in early and stay late,” I need to just gently tell you that you’re working with a model that never really worked all that well, and has now been relegated to the same bin as your fax machine, flip phone, and cassette tape recorder. And it’s not coming back.

If you’re a quiet quitter yourself:

First, just quit. I mean stop. It’s not doing your career or your reputation any good at all. The job market won’t always be as red hot as it is today, and there will undoubtedly come a time when some goodwill is going to come in handy. And while being a quiet quitter may get you noticed, it’s not in a good way.

And besides, there’s a much better way to get what you want. First, be seen as doing your very best work, and then, have an honest, open talk with your boss. If they’re a reasonable person, you’ll be able to work things out to everyone’s mutual advantage. If they’re not, you don’t want to be working there anyway. Do the right thing. Find a new job. Resign, with ample notice, and don’t burn any bridges on the way out.

We can speak to this, and lots of other workplace issues, by delivering a keynote presentation or training workshop, or through one-on-one coaching. Get in touch, and let’s talk about how we can help.

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