2022. What a year.
We’ve seen a crypto empire crumble, Chris Rock get slapped, the dark (and then darker) side of the rapper formerly known as Kanye; and, in a few short months, are likely to see the anniversary of a war that many thought would be finished in weeks.
And that’s not even the half of it.
But as the clock ticks down, I can’t help but reflect on events closer to home.
I’m struck by just how many hashtags, terms, and phrases were created as people struggled to define work’s evolving role in their lives, and how my start at 1Huddle just so happened to coincide with the rise of one of them: “quiet quitting.”
Back in July, the phenomenon and what it meant for workplace dynamics was the subject of many of my first conversations with coworkers and teammates. It even formed the basis of some of my first work here.
But while the passage of time has clarified other workplace-isms – the Great Resignation, for example, turned out to be more of a Great Reshuffle– quiet quitting remains vague.
There’s still a striking lack of consistency around what it means and, often, it depends on who you’re talking to.
For workers who feel overworked and underappreciated, it continues to be a way to refer to doing the bare-minimum – clocking in, clocking out, no extracurriculars– with the goal of selfcare, while simultaneously providing cover for managers, desperate for validation.
As a recent article in The Atlantic pointed out, the sheer number of quiet quitting articles written from the perspective of “bosses” in The Wall Street Journal indicate that the term is being used as much by managers as a way to pass the buck as it is by their employees.
“Quiet quitting” is an empty phrase that masks, at its heart, a complicated relationship that I believe most people have found themselves participating in, at one time or another, either as a manager or as a subordinate– one that is self reinforcing, and not particularly flattering for either party.
Examined from this angle, it’s become yet another handy way for both parties to talk past each other – and it’s precisely for that reason that it rejects easy synthesis, analysis, and, worse, resolution.
In the course of my research, I came across the following Harvard Business Review Study from 1998. Their report could have been written this year, about these very dynamics– only, they don’t call it “quiet quitting.” They call it “Set-Up-To-Fail Syndrome.”
The “syndrome” they describe starts in earnest, maybe with an assumption a manager makes about a subordinate, the quality of their work, or even their motivations. It snowballs from there, with the boss taking what may seem like the obvious action in light of the subordinate’s perceived shortcomings– “ increasing the time and attention focused on the employee,” requiring “the employee to get approval before making decisions,” asking “to see more paperwork documenting those decisions,” or watching the employee more closely at meetings– critiquing their comments more intensely.
Bosses who, according to HBR’s findings, were “conscious of behaving in a more controlling way with perceived weaker performers,” preferred to label their approach as “supportive and helpful.”
But HBR circa 1998 wasn’t buying it:
Of course, executives often tell us, “Oh, but I’m very careful about this issue of expectations. I exert more control over my underperformers, but I make sure that it does not come across as a lack of trust or confidence in their ability.” We believe what these executives tell us. That is, we believe that they do try hard to disguise their intentions. When we talk to their subordinates, however, we find that these efforts are for the most part futile. In fact, our research shows that most employees can—and do—“read their boss’s mind.” In particular, they know full well whether they fit into their boss’s in-group or out-group. All they have to do is compare how they are treated with how their more highly regarded colleagues are treated.
What managers needed to realize, HBR concluded, was that “their tight controls end up hurting subordinates’ performance by undermining their motivation in two ways: first, by depriving subordinates of autonomy on the job and, second, by making them feel undervalued.”
But where was this clarity in 2022?
In article after article, LinkedIn post after LinkedIn post, managers were told they could nip quiet quitting in the bud by helping workers find ways to “become more valuable to you”; that closely “monitoring employee stress” could help them differentiate between employees who were “merely burned-out” or actively “quiet quitting” (like those things aren’t related); and that “mentorship” could start by setting more rigorous goals “for the day, week and month, emphasizing the needs of the team or meeting deadlines as top priorities.”
Somewhere over the course of innumerable Zoom meetings; between baby boomer anxieties and Gen Z shenanigans, remote work, hybrid work,and, Glassdoor’s word of the year, “Return-to-Work,” we forgot in 2022 something we understood as key in 1998: that, deprived of choice, workers will exercise the only freedom they have left– the freedom to say no.
It’s a new year. This dynamic needs a new name.
Something more accurate than “quiet quitting,” but catchier than “Set-Up-To-Fail Syndrome”– “tacit termination,” the internet’s latest attempt at an alternative, just won’t do.
The truth is, no one is resigning, no one is walking away. What’s happening is a conversation. In this sense, quiet quitting is best described as: Nope By Another Name.
If, in 2023, management can hear that– and ask why– it’ll be a better year than the one that’s just passed.
1Huddle is a coaching and development platform that uses quick-burst mobile games to more quickly and effectively educate, elevate, and energize your workforce — from frontline to full-time.
With a mobile-first approach to preparing the modern worker, a mobile library of 3,000+ quick-burst employee skill games, an on-demand game marketplace that covers 16 unique workforce skill areas, and the option for personalized content, 1Huddle is changing the way organizations think about their training – from a one-time boring onboarding experience to a continuous motivational tool.
Key clients include Loews Hotels, Novartis, Madison Square Garden, PIMCO, TAO Group, and the United States Air Force. To learn more about 1Huddle and its platform, please visit 1huddle.co.
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