OFFICE HOURS: Are you a ‘quiet quitter?’ [Column]

The pandemic isn’t responsible for everything bad at work, but in some cases, like with “quiet quitting,” it has illuminated.

What is quiet quitting?

Two conceptualizations. First, it’s a conscious choice by employees to limit work and the stress that often accompanies it. It’s a deliberate decision to “just say no” to all of the extras that our employers have been known to entangle us into — staying late, working at night or weekends, responding to calls outside of work hours [excluding workers who are required to be “on call”].

Rick Smith, from the Johns Hopkins, Carey Business School is more eloquent.

“One concept is removing yourself from the climb-the-ladder mindset or decelerating the career ambition to focus more on other aspects of life. This is often considered as a rebalancing. We sometimes see this with new parents, for example, who realize, ‘There’s so much more to life than working myself to death.’” [Hub.JHU.edu]

The other way to understand quiet quitting is in the context of people “who are not happy with their job or employer and may think, ‘My job is awful, I don’t like my company, so I’m going to quit putting in effort, but keep the paycheck.’ In this interpretation, people are doing the bare minimum, perhaps a step short of actively trying to get fired.’”

Today, we’re focusing on the former — the one in which employees seek a better work/life balance.

Origins of quiet quitting

Some trace the quiet quitting trend to American TikToker, Zaid Khan (zaidleppelin), a 24 year-old engineer from New York, when his post went viral with 3 million views, and that would be true as an explanation for its American popularity. But, quiet quitting has its roots in China, in response to its shrinking labor market and the pressure on young people to compensate for the shortage of workers.  [A reader shared that the Los Angeles Times credits Bryan Creely, a Nashville-based corporate recruiter turned career coach, with the first use  in a March 4, 2022 social media posts.]

According to BBC.com, “Young people in China, exhausted by a culture of hard work with seemingly little reward, are highlighting the need for a lifestyle change by ‘tang ping.’” The literal Chinese translation “lying flat” is described as “an antidote to society’s pressures to find jobs and perform well while working long shifts.”

“Lying flat is my wise movement,” a user wrote in a post (since deleted) on a popular Chinese website: “Only by lying down can humans become the measure of all things.” From the little I know about Buddhism, this seems to be very consistent with one of The Four Truths, the Cessation of Suffering. Kadampa Meditation Center New York describes it as how we “develop strong renunciation for this endless cycle, and make the strong determination to attain enlightenment, the permanent cessation of suffering, and to lead every living being to that state.”

This is not mutiny or even silent protest, it is an effective and much needed “No!”

Quiet quitters are productive and effective employees giving their full attention and effort to produce benefits for their company… they’re just not willing to do this 24/7 nor are they willing to be tethered to the work aspect of their otherwise full lives.

What is the impact of quiet quitting?

Obviously, there is an impact on the workplace.  Our friends at Gallop (State of the Global Workplace report) estimate it to be “a staggering all-time high and that unhappy and disengaged workers cost the global economy $7.8 trillion in lost productivity.” They go on to describe the tension that ensues between employees and their employers because they are limiting their workload, and between them and their co-workers who have to pick up the slack.

But, guess what, that’s really too bad for the companies. Sorry, not at all sorry. Companies have been squeezing out every ounce of energy, effort and semblance of productivity from dedicated employees long before the pandemic hit. And this cold, profit-obsessed shenanigans has got to stop. Besides being grossly immoral, it’s not sustainable, at least not when you’re working with human beings.

What would be the best way for employers to respond?

The proverbial “horses have left this barn” years ago, way before COVID. But, being the optimist I still am, it’s not too late to get them back. But, it’s gonna take a lot of sugar, and by sugar, I mean consideration for their humanness.

Lots of great strategies offered in the popular press, but the one I’m going to talk about is again, from Gallop. The cite “quiet quitting is a symptom of poor management.” They say that can change if managers begin the habit of having real (meaningful, substantive) conversations with each of their team members for 15 to 30 minutes each week. They’re not saying these are simply feel-good sessions, although that is partly true. The conversations should reinforce accountability, build or sustain meaningful work, and help people remain or become engaged.

Bottom line: Treat people who make money for your company the way most people treat their dog — like princes and princesses!

Next Week:  Challenge the Prof:  How many readers are quiet quitters?

Dr. Santo D. Marabella, The Practical Prof, is a professor emeritus of management at Moravian University and hosts the podcast “Office Hours with The Practical Prof … and Friends.” His latest book, “The Lessons of Caring” is written to inspire and support caregivers (available in paperback and eBook). Website: ThePracticalProf.com; Twitter: @PracticalProf; Facebook: ThePracticalProf.

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