Quiet Quitting – a new name for an old concept?

Woman seat at desk working on her laptop

Much has been said about what started to happen last year.

We saw voices raised against the new generations – Millennials and GenZ. But there has always been a clash of generations because they differ in who is occupying leadership positions. Should we finger-point them for it?

Others say the culprit was the pandemic that we went through.

If the former was ever present, the latter was indeed the disruptor.

However, an investigation published by Harvard Business Review showed that the real reason is the managers. And I agree. Everybody knows the motto – “employees don’t leave companies. They leave managers”.

Some days ago, during a commute, I listened to a podcast where the author, someone well-positioned in the industry, said she considers a collaborator to be “quiet-quitting” if they don’t go the extra mile.

That comment shocked me and made me reflect.

An individual is hired to perform a certain function.

The person is a good professional and does things with quality and within the deadlines asked of them.

He helps his colleagues, has good working relationships and insists on having a good work-life balance. By his expectations, the performance is pristine.

Considering the author’s comment, and she has been a manager in some of the FAANG companies, this employee is not doing well. He does not go the extra mile. He does not struggle for the company. She had great expectations of him but discovered that her hire was just a solid 3 (on a 1-5 scale). According to her, this guy is quiet-quitting for sure.

We have two different expectations here.

For some countries, the hustle culture was the defacto standard. This culture was defined as encouraging employees to work more hours than expected. They should even think about work when they have free time, such as weekends and vacations (wait, time off???) This culture requires complete dedication from the employee. And we can blame social media and some influencers for creating a huge fuss around this (Gary V. anyone?)

With that said, shouldn’t both expectations be aligned almost by default?

But here enters the disruptor – the pandemic!

We were asked to work from home. And suddenly, we found a new equilibrium between work and life. The hustle culture started to be challenged. Some countries have laws creating boundaries to prevent the hustle culture from being promoted. No team leader can email you after work hours in France, Germany, Belgium, Portugal, and some more European countries. It is illegal. In the UK, contacting a collaborator after work hours is considered an invasion of their privacy, not yet an unlawful act, but people tend to take it seriously.

What does all this as in familiar with the main subject of this article?

The employer expects something different from the employee. And even if the employee is performing inside the bell curve of what was asked, he will be penalised for “quiet quitting”.

This is a significant break in trust. And several studies showed that trust is the most critical factor for employee engagement.

To me, this is the old concept of lack of trust. I’m trying to refrain from saying that most managers tend to see it this way, but I had my share of managers where the relationship was merely transactional. And trust is something that we as leaders need to invest time and effort.

The first step is transparency.
We should have clear expectations from both parties. Transparency starts on day one!
Don’t take single-direction decisions. People like to feel heard and be part of the thing. With bottom-up communications, things can get challenging to manage. But you can leverage the process using surveys and other tools. In the end, you will have to decide, but at least you listened to your people.

The second step is to work on your work relationships.
We don’t need to be the best pals, but we are people, and people need to have social relationships. It would be best if you cared about your people with real intent. Sure, you have your company, department or team to run. But we need people to do the work we expect of them. Hell, we need their expertise. They will be more performant and productive if they are happy and well.

The third step is always looking for ways to improve your knowledge of the job.
Which job? Yours, the manager and leader.
When talking with someone in a leadership position, I consider it a red flag when they do not read books, listen to podcasts, or attend conferences or meetups. For young managers, I make them see that they are at the ground zero of a new profession. The sky is the limit, but you must build your plane, and it has to be commercial because you will be taking with you your whole team.

Stephen M. R. Covey, in his book “The Speed of Trust”, presents the concept of emotional bank accounts. Deposits will increase, while withdrawals will decrease trust.

If breaking promises, violating expectations, disloyalty to the absent, pride and arrogance, placing blame or unkindness will count as a withdrawal, keeping promises, clarifying expectations, loyalty to the absent, acknowledgements, being open to feedback or kindness will count as a deposit.

Using the bank account balance as an analogy takes me to Andrew Miner’s feedback ratio. For each constructive feedback, we should provide six positive feedback.

If we use that ratio to Covey’s emotional bank account, we can figure out that the danger of losing trust is more significant, and it is more challenging to create trust.

We can place the blame for quiet quitting or even for the great resignation on lazy or unmotivated workers. We can even include the pandemic in the mix. But if we continue to look just to that side, we lose the real opportunity to address once and for all these old concept people quitting because of their managers.