Last year, it was the “Great Resignation.” This year, it’s “quiet quitting,” or the act of doing what is required of you at work and not going above and beyond. This phrase, whether it’s click bait, hype, or whatever else you may call it, has been making the rounds online in order to catch the attention of today’s workforce and start a movement. This is not a new concept, though. Some say, it’s simply “doing your job.” But it’s popping up all over the place and may last as long as the “Great Resignation.” We need to be careful how we use and interpret the term, and, most importantly, we need to shift our focus from the problem to a solution — creating a sustainable pace of work for all.
Why Is #QuietQuitting Now A Thing?
I see three clear factors driving this trend right now. The first is the pandemic and social distancing. It’s had a significant impact on culture and mental well being. While the benefits of remote work are plenty, at some point, employees may lose that same drive they had in the office where they pulled from their coworkers’ energy and vice versa. Even in hybrid environments, employees may come into the office a few days a week, but there are still a lot of empty desks. It’s difficult to achieve the same level of energy and build company culture without critical mass. Add job hopping to this, and it’s tough for many to feel connected to a team, especially if they’ve moved into a company where there is a cultural mismatch or values are not aligned.
The second factor is Digital Transformation, the acceleration of which has been both a blessing and a curse. It enabled remote work in record time, but it also blurred the lines between the home and office, work and personal time. It tipped the scales in favor of work because synchronous apps were pushing messages 24/7 to our devices. Wrike’s recent Dark Matter of Work research found that employees receive 295 messages and use up to 14 apps a day, on average. And with global teams, employees could receive requests from coworkers on those apps any time of day. This created the hot potato effect, which can get overwhelming and stressful. People feel like they’ve lost control of their work-life balance, and “quiet quitting” is their way of taking that back.
Lastly, and most recently, is the state of the economy. Inflation, talk of a recession, and other societal and economical macro trends are forcing organizations to do more with less. Most have had to cut budgets. Others have had to cut their workforce and rely on those left standing to pick up the work. This, in turn, puts pressure on employees to be more efficient, but how are we, as leaders, enabling them to do so? I’ll get to that in a minute.
Why Must We Be Cautious?
The term “quiet quitting” can be confusing, potentially deliberately so, and if not explained properly on short-form content channels like TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter, it can cause more harm than good. Essentially, it refers to the idea that employees are burnt out and are doing the bare minimum, or only what is absolutely necessary to skate by in their workday. Where some people might hear the phrase and think of it as an effort to take back work-life balance, others may think, “Office Space” – employees barely showing up and getting little accomplished in between.
Unfortunately, if we continue to use this terminology, it may have a lasting, negative impact on the way the next generation thinks about work. The words have meaning and power, and as far as my dictionary goes, the word “quitting” doesn’t mean “do a good job during your work hours,” but rather “giving up.” How would you like to work for a boss who misinterpreted “quiet quitting” and doesn’t care much for your team, you, or the company? Or how would you feel if the project that’s critical for you is being blocked by a colleague who is slacking in another team? If employees aren’t meeting expectations, it’s not fair to anyone – the employee, their coworkers, their manager, or the business they work for. The majority of Gen Z doesn’t have immediate access to experienced career mentors, so misunderstood or controversial TikTok advice can cost them their jobs in an economic downturn and a bad reference that will follow them for years.
So, don’t believe the hype when it idolizes giving up. Look to the advice of experts, journalists, and influencers who are focused on finding ways for a more productive work environment that would allow you to achieve your goals and go home to your family. It’s not a new problem, and there are existing solutions to it.
One of The Solutions Is Just As Old As ‘Office Space’ And Still Just As Relevant
Cutting budgets and laying off employees isn’t sustainable for growth in the long term. Efficiency should be about rethinking the way your employees work so that it can be done in a much smarter fashion. The way to work smarter is to work at a pace that is sustainable.
This word is often tied to the climate crisis. How can we do things in such a way that it will have a positive lasting impact? The same question should be applied to work. Twenty-five years ago, software developers were like hamsters on a wheel. They were sleep deprived and overworked, while the business pundits were issuing the reports that 80% of software projects were a failure. Instead of quietly quitting, some software developers made the decision to have their cake and eat it, too.
In 1996, the first Extreme Programming project began, kicking off the Agile revolution. It really gained steam in the early 2000s, and was a precursor to Kanban and Scrum, which revolutionized the whole software development industry and changed how millions of developers and thousands of companies build software. One of the “rules” of Extreme Programming was “set a sustainable pace” that achieves smaller successes on a more frequent basis. If tasks can’t be done on time, focus on the ones that can be and set the others aside for later. Don’t push your employees to do more than humanly possible (or more than they’re paid for.) Combined with other best practices focused on productivity and outcomes, the results of this approach were astounding and still are. Software developers were able to do more in a 40-hour work week than they were previously doing burning midnight oil, giving them a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie with their coworkers. It helped achieve a better work-life balance, which is what we’re all aiming for.
As you can see, the change for software developers had nothing to do with quitting. It was much rather “the art of completing twice the work in half the time” (which is an actual title of one of the most popular books on agile process called Scrum by Jeff Sutherland). If there’s a better way to work that has been proven over and over again, wouldn’t it be in the best interest of your workforce, your business, and the next generation of workers, to at least investigate it? More on this coming in Part 2 to this article.