I’ve been astounded at the flurry of articles about Quiet Quitting. It seems like the press has jumped on some kind of meme that really serves us poorly.
Before I jump down anyone’s throat, let me explain what I mean.
First of all, we all understand that employees are often burned out. Mercer’s data shows that 81% of employees have “had it” to some degree, and in any given team it can often be overwhelming. We are living in one of the hottest economies of all time (unemployment is near 1960-level lows), so people are asked to do a lot.
Second, the problem of “overwork” or “burnout” is both a company, manager, and individual issue. Each of these stakeholders plays a role.
If the company’s goals are unrealistically high, there will be burnout all over the place. I interviewed a team of top leaders at IBM a few months ago and their particular business was growing at over 60% per year. Rather than feeling excited and celebrating, they were all burned out. Why? The goals were constantly being raised, and I encouraged the senior leaders to push back.
If a manager is new, immature, or overly aggressive, the team will suffer too. In healthcare, where nurses make up more than half the workforce, we hear stories of overload, toxic work environment, and all sorts of bad behavior all the time. You, as an employee or leader, have to coach and give feedback to these managers. If they don’t get it, no amount of “quiet quitting” will make life easier. (Managers are human too, and they’re likely as burned out as you are.)
For you as an individual, it’s important to manage your own life well. As someone who works a lot of hours (but I do love my work), I know how burnout can creep up on you. You get tired, cranky, and your quality of work suffers. This is why “slack time” is built into our Employee Experience model. Everyone needs quiet time during the day to rest, think, and reinvent.
Should You Quietly Quit?
While many of the articles and memes are cute, I agree with Arianna Huffington, this is a very bad idea. The original Tik Tok Video seemed harmless at first, but then NYT, Fortune, HuffPost, USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, and LA Times all chimed in, making it seem like a big “trend.”
Yes, as the LA Times article was the most interesting because it points out that “hustling” is not for everyone. And we, as leaders and HR managers understand that. (I highly recommend you watch Office Space, one the best movies I’ve ever seen, if you really want to see what “quiet quitting” is all about.)
But let me give you another perspective.
While many people work for survival, the real value of work is to fulfill your values as an individual. Every job, no matter how boring or mundane, has opportunities for you to thrive. When you lean into your job, and give it extra effort, you find unexpected value as a result.
In my 45+ year career, for example, I’ve had at least 10 years of “crummy bosses” or “poorly run companies” to deal with. In every case I had to drag myself into work in the morning, deal with frustrating, boring, or difficult situations, and then decide if I wanted to stay.
At one point in my life, my kids were both young and on soccer teams, so I used to leave work at 4:30 and rush home to be their coach. I didn’t “stop working” in the office, but I did rebalance my time to spend time on their activities. Later, as they went off to high school and didn’t want as much attention, I focused more attention at work, eventually becoming an entrepreneur.
At every point in your career you have the opportunity to learn, grow, and change. It’s ok to put limits on your work, but don’t do it “quietly.” If you tell your boss that you just can’t work these hours and he or she gets upset, maybe it’s just time to leave. There really aren’t a shortage of jobs right now, and as difficult as it is to leave, it always results in something better.
If you’re just personally fed up, either tell someone or do something about it. We as employees have much more power than you think. If you are the “positive one” on the team, you may find yourself getting promoted just because you have a better attitude.
Finally, if you’re a Millennial, Gen-X, or Gen-Z worker, please don’t feel that you’re alone. We all went through this in our careers, and only by “motoring through the rough periods” did we grow and thrive later in life. And believe me, when you lean in more, you get more in return.