Rethinking Quiet Quitting: On A Corporate Perspective
I’ve recently commented on the phenomenon of Quiet Quitting (QQ) from an individual perspective. But there is, of course, a corporate perspective on this.
Why exactly are your employees so psyched up by QQ and what should you do about it if you’re a leader or business owner?
Let me recap the essence of my perspective on QQ. QQ becomes famous after a few Tiktok videos about it went viral. Employees engage in QQ say that they do so to “set boundaries”, push back about unreasonable work requests, and to claim back their lives and wellbeing. But there is a lot more to it than meets the eye and if you care about your people and your business, you should be concerned.
QQ is a form of passive aggressive behaviour. It signifies anger at their jobs, their bosses and your organisation. People engage in passive aggressive behaviour when they feel anger or resentment but they perceive themselves to be powerless against their object of their anger. But wait, there’s more. It is an indicator of extreme disengagement, a key indicator of sustainable organisational success. In essence, people are saying that organisations are bullies and that they had enough…but they don’t feel courageous enough to say it to your face.
Instead of simply being unhappy, QQers are engaging in behaviour that could be harmful to their organisation, clients and even themselves. Imagine the impact of people abruptly shutting down, stopping important work or ignoring your valued clients. Like leaving the kitchen with the oven on and the bread in the oven…nothing good can come from this.
That sounds serious…what can I do?
From an organisational perspective this should be a worrying wake-up call – your “biggest assets” are actively disengaged and they feel helpless and oppressed at work. This is once again not a new phenomenon. Global reporting on employee engagement shows that despite eye watering investments, few organisations have shifted the dial on employee engagement over the past 20 years. I believe that the Great Resignation and QQ are both mere symptoms of disengaged employees. But QQ is not merely being slightly annoyed with your work and your boss. It means that you actually don’t care if your behaviour harms your organisation. Or more likely you are passively trying to inflict harm on the “aggressor” as a way of taking revenge.
The practical reality is that organisations need employees that are engaged if they hope to achieve sustainable performance. And engagement is directly related to the quality of leadership in organisations. Furthermore, leaders and executives have a disproportionate impact on the overall culture of their organisations. In the 30 years of my work life, I’ve yet to see an organisation with employee behaviour problems that did not have its roots at senior leadership level.
But if we want to resolve this issue, finger pointing and blaming will get us nowhere. If we assume that “perception is reality”, both parties have the right to be unhappy. But it also means that both parties can contribute to the solution. Organisations, however, have the power to do more and “with great power comes great responsibility. So, in the next section I will explore solutions for leaders and organisations. You can read more about my suggested individual solutions in my previous blog here.
Three simple steps to future proof your organisation
If you are reading this blog as leader or business owner, the message is clear. People do their best work when they are engaged, and to be engaged they need to meaningful work in a constructive environment. Leaders and the culture they create are the main drivers of engagement. This is where you should start if you are facing QQ, resignations and disengaged or unmotivated employees. Let’s look at three simple steps you can take to future proof your organisation.
- Firstly, organisations need to prioritise selecting, developing and shaping leaders at all levels. Start by providing leaders at all levels in the organisation with practical leadership training focussed on constructive practices that will facilitate engaged individuals and teams. I continue to be dumbstruck by the number of organisations trying quick-fix lunch-and-learn style solutions to organisational leadership development. If your leadership programmes are not based on sound behavioural theory (Transformational Leadership is a great start), do not include a form of 360 feedback, and do not provide extensive knowledge of human behaviour, human change and human motivation, you may want to revisit your current investment in leadership development. And no, new leaders and supervisors will not “figure it out themselves”.
- Your second priority is to select leaders for their leadership capabilities, not for their performance, technical skills or charming “presence”. Our data shows a disproportionate number of senior leaders and “high potentials” today who score extremely high on the personality trait, “Self-Promoting” (A dimension from the Saville Wave Personality Assessment). This is symptomatic of the trend to confuse “confidence” and “competence” when selecting leaders and HIPOs (See Thomas Premuzic’s book “Why so many incompetent men become leaders” for more on this topic). A significant majority of organisations continue to use methods proven to select smooth talking confident people instead of true leaders. (Yes, I know, those two are not mutually exclusive). If your organisation is not using a robust psychometric assessment with clearly defined leadership competencies and behaviour based-based interviews, you need to look no further. You’ve found your problem. This is the minimum requirement for leadership identification in the modern world of work. We need leaders and HR practitioners with the knowledge and courage to embrace these tools and to powerfully employ them to find the leaders that will lead and build an engaged work force in the organisation.
- Lastly, stop throwing money at problems related to engagement and motivation. In this regard, Daniel Pink’s advice (see his YouTube video “Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us” for a brief summary) will serve you well: Pay people enough to take money off the table as an issue. Then focus on giving them meaningful work – by unleashing your well-trained, well-paid leadership cadre on your most valued asset – your employees. Sweet and simple.
These three actions are not the full solution or meant to be an exhaustive list of options. They will get you going and point you in the right direction to create sustainable employee engagement solutions. So that the next time QQs in your organisation drive you crazy, you can decide whether to address the causes or the symptoms of the problem.
There is one caveat though. If your organisation pursues a strategy of greed and profit at all cost you will get the work force that you deserve. Instead of wasting money on faking engagement, I recommend that you employ great recruiters and pay top dollar to keep the revolving door of talent flowing through your organisation.