“Ladies and Gentlemen, the Quiet Quitters!”

“If work violates your values, quitting is an expression of integrity.”

Adam Grant, Author & Organizational Psychologist

February 27, 2023

This last Christmas, I was talking to a friend who didn’t understand Quiet Quitting.

What my friend didn’t understand was Why. Why, if you’ve got a good job, would you not seek to do your best, always?

This person has for many years owned his own consulting firm (with an army of subcontractors who are generally also sole proprietors), working in a field that you could characterize as project management/logistics-heavy, so perhaps his view is jaded. But for those who’ve worked in larger orgs, this is not a new concept but a new name.

Quiet quitting is the pop term for when employees no longer feel their compensation is adequate for exceeding expectations. Unrealistic pressure, no clear responsibilities, and a culture that expects overtime all contribute to this kind of burnout.

We all know “that guy” who’s been at the company forever. Used to be a young, hot-shot contender and now is just content to be what the Japanese salarymen call madogiwazoku: the tribe by the window. The American corporate jargon is “the window seat.” Those who have exited the fast track, coasted to the shoulder, maybe have a decent title, and still collect a paycheck. They no longer participate materially in their company. In addition to feeling underpaid, overworked, and unrecognized, they find little joy in their work, and perhaps feel their jobs cut into their personal lives. The unstated contract between their company and themselves regarding the exchange of time and commitment has been broken.

It’s not a new thing, but it’s new in that HR needs to look for it where they didn’t before. Quiet quitting has also been described as “people protecting the limited capabilities they have.”

The four lads pictured above were at the pinnacle of their professional success: touring incessantly, selling millions of records, and living the life. But due to the traditional financial structures of their industry, the only way they made a profit was by touring and selling tickets. Which after approximately 3 years of runaway success, burned them out. The spark of creativity was gone.

So in a manner of speaking, they Quiet Quit — exiting the road life and seeking to find new fulfillment in the studio. Never mind that they didn’t really have Bosses that could fire them, although some of their consumers initially didn’t like the change in direction. They stayed with the company, so to speak, learned new ways of creative and artistic expression, and got their mojo back.

But as with any new creative pursuit, the spark was redirected, leading to all four quitting to pursue other interests in less than 4 years.

Everyone deserves to explore and enrich their talents. Stretching your creative muscles in your given profession is what makes you successful, and valuable. If you are not given opportunities to grow at work, even though you might find new avenues of expression elsewhere, you might want to rethink your involvement. “That guy” in the paragraph above is not 100% at fault — shame on him to a degree, but shame on his employers for not finding ways to enrich the position, engage him, and find ways to re-light the pilot light of creativity that had been allowed to go out.

Confession: In the past, I personally have set my flame to simmer.

I’ve found myself in situations where my creativity was stifled, and I mentally checked out somewhat. My leadership team — my team of equals — didn’t split up responsibilities equally, which meant I was the one who took the alarm calls (even when on vacation) and put in lots of overtime. At first, I didn’t mind it, but eventually it grew to grate on me, making me question my contribution to the organization. Was I a valued mind, or just a strong back?

When I joined this particular organization, I recognized I was coming into a damaged environment. I thought the best course of action was to be a Plumber for a while; fixing everything that was broken, and then go back to being an Architect, making better recommendations with a deep knowledge of what used to be broken.

They were getting both my mind and my strong back, but only saw the latter and not the former.

Unfortunately, human nature is such that it’s easy to get pigeonholed. Once everything was firing on all cylinders, the opportunities to go back and reinvent oneself to one’s peers wasn’t easy, and not perceived equally by all.

In the end, my disillusionment was too great to overcome, and there would be no easy way to claw oneself back to what I had willingly given away. I exited. I had been working hard for a number of years to build my own brand, and it helped jump-start my relaunch of my consulting business which has been better and more rewarding than ever.

So while I’m back in corporate since late November, I still consult for a chosen few. Nights, weekends, and the occasional lunch hour. It exposes me to a greater universe of technologies and solutions. Plus, it makes me a better leader to my teams, because as I always say: “Tech is easy. It’s people that’s hard.”

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