Sometimes, workplace situations take a toll on our motivation.
When employees feel mistreated or underappreciated, they might pull back and stop coming up with new ideas or putting in extra thought, effort or work hours into their projects. In other words, they quiet quit their job.
How can you prevent quiet quitting?
Sophie Wade, Founder of Flexcel Network, talks about the reasons behind quiet quitting. She gives valuable advice on approaching workplace problems with empathy, and shares tips on dealing with quiet quitting for employees and leaders both.
This blog post was written based on episode 76 of the Level-up Engineering podcast hosted by Karolina Toth.
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Quiet quitting is making a proactive choice not to put extra effort into your job because of a particular situation. You’re still fulfilling the obligations at work, but you’re not going above and beyond.
Quiet quitting doesn’t necessarily mean putting in the minimum effort not to get fired. You could get fired for not going above and beyond, because if you used to be highly motivated in the past, people are going to notice a change in your attitude.
Choosing not to engage more than necessary can happen because of several reasons, but it tends to be triggered by something negative in a particular job situation. A quiet quitter might have experienced unfair treatment from their boss, or they might have asked for more flexibility and didn’t receive it, which took a toll on their motivation.
Quiet quitting happens when someone has made an active choice to reduce how much effort they’re putting in because of a particular situation. Acting your wage, however, could mean not changing the level of effort you’re putting in and only doing what’s required from the beginning.
It’s not about making an active statement and pulling back, it’s doing the requirements, and nothing more. That’s what we’re paid to do: we’re paid to fulfill the requirements of our job.
The Gallup data shows that two thirds of the population have neither been engaged or disengaged in their work in recent years. They’re doing what they need to do without being overly optimistic or pessimistic about their work at their company.
Quiet quitting is not a direct result of the pandemic. However, staying at home gave room for people to reflect on their lives, and to rethink what they consider important in their personal and professional development.
Rethinking our working lives can also lead to the desire of rebalancing our work-life situations, which means different things for everybody. For some people, it means ‘work hard, play hard’: they work long hours, and then they go out and party all night. For others, it might mean managing their energy by putting down work at 6pm to spend time with family.
Finding a balance might mean working intensively on a project to some, and then taking enough time off to rest, or becoming a digital nomad and traveling the world while also working.
Another reason why quiet quitting is becoming more popular is the lack of job security, which is particularly prevalent in the US.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the concept of working used to be different. Workers essentially had lifelong employment at the company they worked for. No company is offering that currently, and employees don’t look for such constructs, either.
Because of this shift in mindset, workers have to be more proactive about their own job security and career development to remain competitive in the job market. This phenomenon also affects how much effort workers put into their activities: they might prioritize the tasks that are most important to their careers.
Don’t quiet quit or walk out the door completely before asking a few questions from yourself:
If a particular area of your job motivates you, you can tell your manager you’d like to do more of that. Offer some suggestions and see what you can do to contribute to the company in a way that keeps you motivated. It’s a win-win situation: not only will the company benefit from your work, but you can also surround yourself with enjoyable tasks and projects while improving your skillset, which makes you a better professional in your field.
People may quiet quit because they had already made such suggestions to their bosses, but their ideas got shut down and they were stuck with a role that no longer fulfilled them. It might be true that the company is not interested in doing what they brought up, but too many nos take a toll on people’s motivation, and they might decide they aren’t going to bother coming up with new ideas anymore.
Sometimes, your current company just can’t provide what you’re looking for at the moment. Talent mobility within organizations is not advanced yet; in many companies, it’s easier to leave for a promotion than to get promoted internally.
It’s okay to leave, you may come back in the future after you gained new experiences. As a manager, helping someone leave creates a better environment between the company and the former employee, and they can nurture these business relationships later on, too.
If you don’t want to relocate your effort anywhere within or outside the organization, it might be a sign that you’ve burnt out.
Much of quiet quitting is about how team members feel, and you can’t always determine if someone has quiet quit or if they’re dealing with challenges in their lives and they can’t contribute like they normally do. This is where empathy is key: ask them what’s going on before making assumptions and reacting accordingly.
If your team members don’t trust you with their problems, make the effort to establish such relationships with them. You don’t have to be friends, but it’s important that they’re able to have open and honest conversations about what’s holding them back, because these conversations can prevent disengaging and quiet quitting.
It’s your responsibility as a leader to build trust within your team. You might not have a close relationship with everyone across the company, but within your team, you must be able to trust each other, feel safe and be comfortable to speak up and share what’s going on.
If you’re not there yet, a good way to start is to ask open questions. Encourage your team members to share what they’d like to see done differently so that they feel connected to their work. Make sure you withhold judgment and don’t get defensive. This is how empathy works: lots and lots of listening.
We spend 8 hours at our jobs every day, and there are some fundamental values and behaviors that are appropriate at work. If somebody is not getting that, it causes a lot of tension. For older leaders who have been working the same way for decades, it’s hard to adjust to today’s changes in the workplace. There’s often a disconnect between what younger workers want and what their leaders are used to.
Learning that somebody has quiet quit is challenging. If the person is fulfilling their tasks and doing their job, you can’t do much as a manager. They might have all kinds of obligations outside work from family to side hustles, so it’s understandable if someone can’t immerse themselves in their full-time job.
If you know that the person’s position doesn’t guarantee them any job security, have empathy, and understand that they can’t put extra effort into such a job.
What you can still do as a manager is trying to see how you can make their work more enjoyable for them. Nowadays, we can look at work as something we can genuinely enjoy and connect with, which is a very new perspective.
We’re going through a huge amount of change: war, recession, economic challenges. Since 2020, work has changed tremendously, so as leaders, we need to try and engage every single worker.
The bar has been raised. Work became much more networked and project-focused, and this means that engaging and understanding employees will be crucial. Being empathetic towards your team and also towards yourself can allow you to do your best work in this period of change.
Sophie’s first career was working at the intersection of technology and media. Her current mission is to help people adapt to the new, technology-driven future of work.
She is the author of Empathy Works and Embracing Progress, founder of Flexcel Network and host of the Transforming Work with Sophie Wade podcast.
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About the author:
Dorottya Csikai is a content marketer at Coding Sans. She has experience in journalism, interviews, management and content marketing. She researches, writes and edits posts for the Engineering Leader's blog.