Rethinking Quiet Quitting: Drinking Poison and Expecting The Other Person To Die?

Rethinking Quiet Quitting
Photo By Lazy_Bear @envatoelements

I am fascinated by the Quiet Quitting (QQ) phenomena. From the perspectives of a business owner, a boss and a psychologist.

QQ is nothing new. Closing your laptop at 5 p.m., doing only your assigned tasks – that’s what labour unions called “work-to-rule”. It has been employed for ages, to protest or to exert power in labour negotiations. However, “work-to-rule” or QQ, is an indirect form of exerting your power – a form of passive aggressive behaviour… And then the psychologist in me got really curious. What is really happening here?

What Is Really Happening Here?

The mechanism employed here is non-confrontational instead of direct/assertive. Not engaging in a direct conversation to say that you cannot handle more work or that you’re not prepared to do more over time. No, in its purest form you simply don’t pick up your phone outside of working hours. You simply switch off your computer and let your boss figure out “the message” themselves. As business owner I realise how angry or desperate people must be when they start doing this. I would find it hard to sleep if that happened to me.

Some claim that QQ is merely about setting boundaries and claiming back what is rightfully yours; your life. And I agree. But why don’t they quit outright or express their boundaries openly?

People employ passive aggressive behaviours when they feel that they are not strong enough to face an opponent head on; or when they want to assert themselves, but feel powerless to do so. They engage in passive aggressive behaviour from a place of fear, from a place of not perceiving any way out of their situation. A victim mentality. Passive aggressive behaviour rarely occurs in healthy relationships and makes the victim feel even worse than to comply – because they don’t express their internalised emotion. And sometimes it works. But from an individual perspective it is a rather unproductive way of getting things done and it often has unintended consequences for the person engaging in it. You are really angry or dissatisfied, but you suppress or conceal your real feelings and needs. Like drinking poison and hoping the other person would die.

I understand how this feels. I’ve been an employee in an organisation run by bullies, and I’ve engaged in passive aggressive behaviours myself. I know, however, that staying in those situations caused me and my colleagues significant mental, psychological harm.

There are several real-life scenarios where passive aggressive behaviours would be suitable as a temporary solution. For example, when you are physically bullied or held hostage by an armed terrorist. If, however, setting boundaries at work and negotiating reasonable working conditions rises to the level of bullying or terrorism, we have a real problem. It means that in the minds of the QQers, organisations and bosses are powerful beyond reason and they have no choice and no power to constructively address the situation.  Remember, perception is reality.

There is, however, also the possibility that employees are acting based on beliefs and assumptions of being powerless. And often these beliefs in our minds may also just be that, beliefs and scary pictures that prevent us from taking constructive action towards what we want. The truth probably lies somewhere between the two extremes but what we can deduct is that the relationship between the QQers and their organisations have broken down and has endowed the QQers with a sense of powerlessness and helplessness to stand up for themselves.

From an organisational perspective this should be a worrying wake-up call – our “biggest assets” are actively disengaged and feel helpless and oppressed at work.

From an organisational perspective this should be a worrying wake-up call – our “biggest assets” are actively disengaged and feel helpless and oppressed at work. This is once again not a new phenomenon. Gallup’s reporting on employee engagement shows that despite eye watering investments over the past two decades, few organisations have shifted the dial on employee engagement. 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 to revenge.

Ok, this clearly is a complex problem with many interrelated parts. However, there are things that individuals and organisations can do in the light of the QQ trend. Today, I’d like to focus on steps that individuals can take.

What Can You Do When You Feel The Urge To QQ? 

Let me share some ideas on what individuals can do when they feel compelled to engage in passive aggressive behaviours.

The problem is not your job or the organisation, but the fact that you’re not experiencing meaning in your life and job. Setting boundaries mean that you SET a boundary, not “hint at one”. And the fact that you have to QQ means that you are not engaging with this problem in a constructive way.

It is commendable that you want to set boundaries, take care of yourself and to have a life beyond work. The problem is not your job or the organisation, but the fact that you’re not experiencing meaning in your life and job. Setting boundaries mean that you SET a boundary, not “hint at one”. And the fact that you have to QQ means that you are not engaging with this problem in a constructive way. Chances are there are other areas in your life where you repeat this pattern, so maybe this is a wake-up call or an opportunity to do some renovation work in your own life that would make you happier, more fulfilled and more effective.

Instead of acting in a passive aggressive way, why not stop and look inwards at what’s causing your dissatisfaction, lack of engagement, meaning and feelings of powerlessness? It is an open secret that life in and of itself does not have meaning, but that we can find meaning for ourselves. This happens when we know and accept ourselves, our strengths and our true values & aspirations. And when we apply our strengths towards our values and aspirations.  So, do yourself a favour, while you’re closing your laptop at 5 and switching off notifications on your email for the night, take the time to take stock of your life and to determine what really will give you a sense of meaning and purpose in life.

And I know, for some it seems utterly impossible to pursue a better life. But passive aggressive behaviour starts with the debilitating belief “I don’t have a choice”. If you read this, you most certainly don’t work in sweat shop in a developing country with a huge family depending on your income. So, you do have some choices. It is amazing that many people complain about being stuck, but when given the key to the lock, choose not to unlock it. In order to really free yourself, you need to take a critical look at the stories and beliefs of your mind that stops you from saying no, quitting your BS job, leaving your unfulfilling relationship and living the life that you were meant to live.

Some Constructive Alternatives To QQ

Impossible you say? I have found that people need to do 4 simple things to find their “mojo”. The amount of time and effort required differs from person to person, but the elements appear to be a universal starting point for having a more fulfilled life.

  1. What’s your life dream? Draw it, write it, sculpt it. However you do it, the clearer you are about your dreams and aspirations the more likely you are to  get there.
  2. Understand your strengths, gifts and talents. Ask your family and friends, do a strengths-based assessment, evaluate your work and hobbies to see what you’re really good at. Embrace them and celebrate them!
  3. Clarify your values. There are 5-7 things that most people are prepared to die for. Ok, not really that intense, but you get the idea. Google “values exercise” or buy a life skills book, and identify your top personal values. You won’t regret it.
  4. Find your life essence. I love the Japanese IKIGAI process that finds the overlap between what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs most and what you can get paid for. Once again, google is your friend.

There you go. You are on your way to finding your mojo and the steps you need to pursue to live a fulfilled life. Connect the dots, find the common themes and see what you need to experience meaning. If you get stuck along the way, be patient, slow down, search inside yourself. Consulting a friend or trusted advisor is often immensely helpful and if you really want to spoil yourself, engage the services of a coach or counsellor.

The point is not to be paralysed by the power of your employer or the complexity of life but to start with yourself and to actively move towards who you want to be. Make a bold decision – even if it is to stick to your dead-end job. The mere fact that you make a decision, will give you a sense of empowerment and will free up an immense amount of mental energy that you can employ towards finding meaning in other areas of your life.

Rethinking Quiet Quitting: Drinking Poison and Expecting The Other Person To Die?
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