Real Talk: Quiet Quitting Is About More Than Bad Work Environments

Quiet quitting is one of the latest trends to arise in conversations around careers, and though it can be a symptom of a toxic or disconnected workplace, it's also a consequence of a workforce far more concerned with achieving balance.

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The term "quiet quitting" is relatively new, but it's just a label for something that's always existed. From a transactional perspective, it's okay- someone doing precisely what they're paid to do is a fair rate of exchange. But it's probably not a coincidence that this is trending post the COVID-19 pandemic. Let's stretch ourselves to rethink multiple angles of this old concept.

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Quiet quitting refers to a decision made by an employee to remain in their job, but to limit their tasks and duties to their job description. They give no more and no less. It is one of the latest trends to arise in conversations around careers, and though it can be a symptom of a toxic or disconnected workplace, it's also a consequence of a workforce far more concerned with achieving balance.

Quiet quitting highlights what's always existed- and no, not apathy or laziness. There always have been and always will be people who go to work simply to earn a paycheck. They may take pride in what they do and perform at an acceptable level, but their job is a means to an end. Their primary interests are focused on other areas of their lives.

If you're career-driven or feel valued by achieving promotions or accolades at work, the value system of the person described above might confuse you. But try this on for size: we can't assume they lack ambition.

A big problem is assuming that what we value is valuable to others. If we perceive ourselves to be good employees because we take calls over weekends, or set goals to earn a staff member of the month award every month, then we might perceive anyone who doesn't aspire to achieve the same as having less drive. Perhaps your colleague places value on setting boundaries that prevent him from taking calls after hours. You're both winning in the preferred area of your life.

The world has also changed dramatically. For centuries, workers accepted gender disparity and general inequities in employment. In addition, a cutthroat culture meant that individuals, at their own expense, needed to resort to pushing additional hours and multitasking to stand out or simply to keep a job. But many work environments have gotten much healthier. Society has gotten better at recognising most signs of exploitation. Especially after a global pandemic and lockdowns that saw so many positions successfully transitioning to remote outfits, the workforce is much more inclined to seek a better work-life balance.

Related: Destigmatizing Conversations Around Mental Health At Your Workplace: The How-To

The Buck Stops At Business

Although we might understand why people are choosing to dial back on working hours on a personal level, this maturation of thinking is required at an organizational level.

Business owners and managers will need to accept the evolving needs of the workforce and create working environments that are supportive, stimulating, and inclusive if they hope to keep their staff engaged and productive.

Many employees still report feeling judged for leaving at the precise end of their working day or being unavailable after hours. We can imagine the pressures placed on working parents, as an example.

Why does this happen? Many reasons, of course, including a lack of trust and transparency of expectations. Some businesses might say all the right things, i.e. "we value our people and work-life balance," but then that doesn't translate to staff experiences on the ground. Ultimately, people vote with their feet, and once they leave, business owners scratch their heads and wonder why.

Workers who will only ever arrive, deliver, and leave might be highly valued in certain businesses, and completely devalued in another. Finding the right fit for both is the win, and both are responsible for showing up honestly.

It's important to understand that most people enjoy feeling successful, capable, and cared for. Businesses have to assume responsibility and consider what would drive an employee to feelings of apathy and disengagement from a role or organization. A company continuously looking for ways to engage and support its staff with fair compensation, and creating a safe and comfortable place that stimulates them mentally and emotionally moves toward actively proofing itself against disengagement.

Workers dealing with depression/home pressures etc., are more inclined to find reprieve and support in the workplace. When employees are happy and taken care of, not simply financially but holistically, they tend to give more. A happy employee is likely to engage deeply and immerse themselves in the culture of the workplace.

Quit Quiet Quitting

Quite a few debates are talking about Generation Z being the least resilient in the workforce. That's not entirely fair, and we'd need to address that in a different article, but consider this: taking anything too literally risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Building a work ethic that includes putting in reasonable extra time, volunteering to participate in company initiatives, and showing a willingness to go above and beyond results in invaluable experience and builds a bank of transferable skills. Quiet quitting really must be a last resort, because:

  • If quiet quitting is about drawing healthy boundaries and creating balance, then business strategy needs an overhaul to improve conditions, environment and terms of employment.
  • If what is discussed and agreed to in the interview is binding and respected, quiet quitting wouldn't be an issue. Setting boundaries and expectations early on is the first step, but ongoing collaboration as employee/manager to create balance enables the job to get done while respecting the terms of employment.
  • Some organizations are soul-destroying and don't have a drop of inspiration left in them. It might feel toxic, punitive or lonely. You simply don't see a path of growth or enjoyment; to you, there are plenty of choices, so perhaps now's the time to join the great resignation yourself!

These strange times could be the perfect opportunity to reflect on what fulfils you and find a work-life balance that suits your needs. Or, if you're a business owner, an opportunity for you to quit-proof your organization. It is possible to live a good life ripe for many moments of happiness, but it takes radical honesty, collaboration, and action.

Related: Questioning The Status Quo: Distilling Both Sides Of The Debate Between Office Work And Hybrid Work