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Quiet quitting: if you can’t beat them, roll with them

The term ‘quiet quitting’ started popping up at the end of July, and now it’s everywhere. And no one can agree on what it means.

Suzanne Lucas
Suzanne Lucas

Suzanne, the Evil HR Lady, shares expertise, guidance, and insights based on 10+ years of experience in corporate human resources....

quiet quitting

Jordan Hart at Business Insider defines quiet quitting as “refusing to do more work than they’re being compensated for.”

The Washington Post reported that Kathy Kacher, founder of Career/Life Alliance Services, describes quiet quitting as a synonym for employee disengagement.

In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald quotes a quiet quitter, software engineer, and musician, Zaid Khan, who says, “You’re still performing your duties, but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle-culture mentality that work has to be your life.”

Then we go into a bit of humor on Twitter with, “We rebranding “quiet quitting” to “acting your wage.”

Refusing to work more, not hustling, disengagement, doing what you’re paid to do, and nothing else, it doesn’t really matter when it comes to how HR approaches quiet quitting. Instead of arguing over where it comes from and the exact definition, you can look at your workforce and decide if you want to do anything.

Do you want disengaged employees?

Of course, you want your employees to be engaged! To be happy! To be working their little hearts out!

Do you?

I mean, we have tons of research that shows how it’s good to have high employee engagement, but engagement is not synonymous with going above and beyond.

You don’t need all your employees to go above and beyond all the time. That’s asking for burnout. That’s asking not for a quiet quit – that’s asking for a full-on “I can’t take this anymore”.

The trick, says Harvard Business Review, is to get the employees super engaged by taking ownership of their work. According to HBR, “to build an inspired, committed workforce, you’ll need middle managers who not only know the organization’s purpose but also deeply connect with it and lead with moral power.”

Here’s a secret: All your employees know that no matter how engaged they are, no matter how much purpose they feel in the work they do, and no matter how inspired they are to do and be better and make the company better, you’ll fire them without a moment’s hesitation should financial problems or a new executive’s desire to reorganize comes your way.

OK, that was a bit harsh. If you’re a normal human, you’ll feel bad as you lay off people, but you’ll still do it. And your employees know you will.

When their entire self-worth is wrapped up in their job – when their job is their everything – losing that job is psychologically and financially devastating.

Maybe, just maybe, having a workforce that isn’t all-in to the company message isn’t a bad thing. Maybe having employees who are well-rounded and have outside interests are good things.

The idea that you have to go above and beyond and dedicate your life to the company is something that most of your employees will never reach and (in reality) you don’t need.

Embrace the quiet quit

Whether it’s “acting your wage” or “refusing to hustle,” this isn’t a new concept. Most of your employees probably worked this way before the advent of this term.

It’s called being an average employee.

And let’s face it, your company is probably an average company. You probably never make the top 10 companies to work for, even on those local lists where you pay $5,000 to be included in “Your Town Magazine!”

You’re average; they are average. It’s a match made in heaven.

For your leadership, you do need engaged and dedicated leaders. And that’s why many companies give stock options and other long-term forms of compensation to their senior staff members. They need actual skin in the game if you want them to make work a priority over their lives.

Then you have the few people with their eyes on the corner office. They are willing to put in the hours and sell their souls on the gamble that it will work out, and they’ll grab the brass ring – or whatever we’re calling it these days. Whether for your company or your competitor, that’s what they are after, and they’ll do what it takes to get it.

Everyone else? They have jobs.

And that’s OK.

Your concern is if they are happy, compensated fairly, and work in an environment free from bullying, harassment, and illegal discrimination. They’d probably like a promotion now and then, but they ultimately want to come in, do their jobs, and go home.

They don’t want to have meetings at 10 p.m., or 6 a.m. They don’t want to spend their weekends staring at spreadsheets. And when you push them to do so, they may quit, or they may “quiet quit” and set and keep their boundaries.

That gives you a choice: Do you demand that they dedicate their lives to the company or do you acknowledge that you hired them to do a 9 to 5 job or equivalent, and you shouldn’t be upset when they do?

If an employee isn’t meeting expectations, then, by all means, coach, help, and put the employee on a performance improvement plan if necessary. But if the employee is meeting expectations and getting the job done and just isn’t all in for the company, smile and know your employee has that elusive work-life balance that HR says they want everyone to have.

If the employee is meeting expectations and getting the job done and just isn’t all in for the company, smile and know your employee has that elusive work-life balance that HR says they want everyone to have.

If the employee is hostile or sabotaging the work, then that’s not quiet quitting. That’s subversive destruction. Termination is the answer there.

But quietly doing the job you offered them? Brilliant. Long live the quiet quit!

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