Everyone’s talking about it, and everyone has an opinion on “quiet quitting.” According to a New York Times article, “quiet quitting is essentially a rejection of the idea that work has to take over your life and that you as an employee, should be going above and beyond your role.” The buzz word “quiet quitting” is new, but not the behavior. The behavior used to be called “presenteeism” in the nineties, followed by “lack of engagement” a decade later. It’s a story about the unempowered employee and the giant corporation; a victim and a persecutor, a David and Goliath. Who you root for depends on your bias.
While there’s plenty of debates about “quiet quitting,” there’s very few meaningful conversations between employee and manager, between manager and director, between director and executive and between the executive and the corporate headquarters.
“Quiet quitting” is rooted in avoiding meaningful conversations upwards, laterally and downwards. The antidote to “quiet quitting” is to face the issues head on — to stop avoiding and start leading. Here are ten questions to get a meaningful conversation started.
- Are our decisions aligned with our stated mission?
- Do we see people as cogs in a wheel or as valued partners?
- When do we withhold resources to cut costs?
- Are we only looking at the spreadsheet and not the entire picture?
- What is the connection between turnover and burnout?
- Do we offer leadership development to our chosen leaders?
- Are managers managing up but not managing down?
- What is our definition of performance?
- Is behavior part of performance in our organization?
- Do employees feel they have a voice and a choice?
If someone had the courage to start the conversation perhaps, we could eliminate finger pointing and game playing. We could stop “quiet quitting,” quiet firing and all the other forms of avoidance that contribute to workplace conflict. Here are some tips for starting a meaningful conversation.
If you are an employee, summon the courage to talk with your manager and discuss your job, what’s expected and what’s realistic given the resources. Ask for what you want. See if you can negotiate flex time or salary. You won’t know unless you ask! Set boundaries where you can.
Remind your manager of all the priorities and ask them to clarify expectations so that you can achieve success without feeling that it’s never enough. Give your manager regular updates about your success so that it’s top of mind. Your manager may not realize how often they change priorities. That may not be completely their fault, as so many of their initiatives are driven from a higher authority. If you believe your manager doesn’t care, then look in the mirror and ask yourself why you aren’t seeking other employment. Never sacrifice your own work ethic and justify it just because everyone on social media is cheering you on. Live and work by your own values and you will easily find another organization with the culture that aligns to your work ethic and sense of balance.
Mid-level managers and directors
Check in with your employees to hear their concerns. You don’t necessarily have to agree, but you need to understand their perceptions. Ask what you can do to lighten their load, or what resources would make them more efficient. If you’ve never had this kind of conversation, they may be shocked and won’t have an answer. Ask them to think about it and come back later. Stop telling your employees it’s all the fault of upper management. Instead, see yourself as a bridge between employees needs and the demands of upper management. Be prepared to present a business case upwards of why you need to be able to support your employees.
C-suite and executive
Stop looking at the spreadsheet for a moment look at the people. Get curious about the reality of working on the front and middle lines. How much unwanted turnover do you have? What is the rate of absenteeism? Where are you short on resources, including staffing? Put yourself in your managers’ and your employees’ shoes. Ask your mid-level to tell you how many of the salaried employees are working overtime without a bonus or without pay. (Some managers hide this type of information in order to look good to the executives.)
The corporate headquarters
Your executives should be able to take the temperature at the front-line levels and communicate that to the very top. A red flag is an administrator or an executive that always blames employees for the tough times. Many times, it’s their own leadership that’s lacking. Look hard specifically at a high-level executive who is high on competency but low on care; they’re great with the numbers but lack people skills. Eventually you’ll see workplace drama and turnover. Don’t be blindsided because you’re so impressed with their numbers. See the bigger picture.
“Quiet quitting” is yet another example of avoiding difficult conversations in the workplace. Good workplaces are built on meaningful work, good relationships, and the ability to have difficult conversations about the state of the business.
Marlene Chism is a consultant, executive educator and the author of From Conflict to Courage: How to Stop Avoiding and Start Leading (Berrett-Koehler 2022). She is a recognized expert on the LinkedIn Global Learning platform. Connect with Chism via LinkedIn, or at MarleneChism.com
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.