An alternative to the Elon Musk approach to ‘quiet quitting’ - a guest post by Mark Topley
Why the new owner of Twitter felt that an email to his team telling them to expect ‘Hardcore’ working hours and conditions would be effective, I have no idea.
If you missed it, the email to employees required them to pledge to stay with the company, working long hours at “high intensity” during its transformation, or to accept a buyout.
Whether there was an engagement and productivity problem at Twitter, the mass resignation and near collapse of the company indicates that the strong-arm approach failed to rally the troops.
Although the approach was probably misguided, there is nevertheless a problem.
Over the past 12 months, a new trend has appeared in teams. In addition to the changes in employee expectations around enjoyment, flexibility and development, something else has surfaced. And it’s the thin end of the wedge of losing good people.
The fact is that post-pandemic, some people don’t just want to work as hard as they did before. This phenomenon has been labelled ‘quiet quitting.’ People who are quiet quitting are doing the minimum amount of work possible to keep their jobs. They aren’t resigning, but they’ve stopped producing. They’ve checked out emotionally.
From a straw poll discussion with my Great Boss Academy members, it seems that at least 50% of practices have at least one ‘quiet quitter.’ The impact of their attitude can have wide reaching impacts on the rest of the team, and so it’s crucial to ensure that we anticipate and address it early. No matter how we might feel about this trend, we need to acknowledge that it’s a reality and get ahead of it.
But before you resort to the Musk approach, I have an alternative. I’ve recently drawn together the advice from a number of leaders and coaches and put together what I believe are the ten key ways to successfully address quiet quitting. I shared these with Great Boss Academy members on our call this week.
One to ones are critical - as much as you can, you need to make both informal and arranged one to ones a part of your routine. Checking in to see how people are doing and going beyond the ‘I’m fine’ responses is important, because the likelihood is people will not be immediately forthcoming. Find out what they are enjoying and not enjoying, what is frustrating them, and how can you help. Be present, not distant with your team especially in the next 3 months.
Make changes where you can - where you have an opportunity to make life easier for your team, act on it. The more you can demonstrate that you understand the ongoing challenges that people have in other areas by making work as straightforward as possible the better.
Be prepared to help people leave - With people who are struggling, your first goal is to help them through it. But if you can’t, you want to help them find somewhere that they will fit better or be able to work with less pressure. If you have a team member who’s toxic or divisive, you want to address this head on, and give them the opportunity to change, and quickly. You’ll need to state the problem and what specific change you need to see from them, give them clear steps to follow. Let them know that if they cannot meet the requirements, you’ll need to make a change. Ensure that you support them and if they don’t make it, help them to move on. As the Boss, you cannot tolerate poor performance or toxic behaviour.
Keep workload increases short term - With the pressure on delivery as high as ever, it’s understandable that workloads will increase. But this cannot be a long-term strategy. If workloads so must increase, agree with your team that they will be short term and agree a review date. Share your plans to address the shortfall. If people who are overworked feel like it’s never going to change, they will vote with their feet.
Make stepping up and taking more responsibility optional - although we’d like everyone to be ambitious, we must accept that at the moment, some of our best team members will not want additional responsibility. Of course, they will have to accept that lower responsibility or productivity will mean lower remuneration, but that may well be OK. Ensure you make promotion and development optional.
Maintain boundaries - sometimes employees will choose quiet quitting because it gives them a sense of control and prevents managers from overstepping and imposing on their personal time. But before they feel the need to resort to quiet quitting, you can impose boundaries on their behalf and show that you are in their corner when it comes to boundaries between work and personal time. You should address issues such as answering calls, WhatsApp, or emails after hours, define what an after-hours emergency is. Reward people for staying late by allowing them to leave early on another day. Make sure that co-workers don’t pressure each other to overwork. The more you can show that you care about employees’ right to private time, the better.
Use recognition and reward strategies - Quiet quitters tend to feel under-appreciated. If good work isn’t noticed or appreciated then people will rightly conclude that they could stop without leadership caring - “if no one cares either way, why bother?” Actively using appreciation and rewards for good work is essential. ‘Catch people doing something right’ and thank them for it. It doesn’t have to be significant, sometimes a simple verbal ‘thank you’ or an appreciative message can make a big difference.
Protect your team’s wellbeing - several team members I have spoken to believe that quiet quitting is an essential part of protecting their mental health. However, this step is unnecessary if you choose to proactively address peoples’ needs. When you prioritise mental, physical, and emotional health, your team will feel less need to defend themselves against potential harm by pulling back professionally.
Breaks and sustainability - one of the curses of the post-industrial age is the belief that humans are simply flesh-covered machines. We simply can’t operate at 100% or anything close to it all the time. Everyone needs margin (the space between load and limits) to avoid burnout. The pace of work ebbs and flows, and team members need breaks and the chance to recharge. A slight dip in productivity is no need for panic, it’s only when complacency becomes the norm that you have an issue. There is a healthy middle ground between constant hustling and quiet quitting. Similarly, there is a happy medium between rockstar performer and burned-out quitter. It’s your responsibility to encourage breaks and aim for sustainable growth. By all means set goals that challenge, but avoid overwhelming them, or overloading for long periods. Likewise, you can empower people to take time to recharge instead of quitting, whether quietly or all together.
Be a Great Boss - one of the biggest challenges of the past 3 years is that almost every headline and social media post has eroded trust. Trust of leaders and institutions has taken a hit. Although you can’t control what is outside your business, it’s critical that you proactively rebuild trust with your team. Tell the truth, build relationships, show that you care in both words and actions, cast a compelling vision, over-communicate, set the tone and be the example. You need to be the leader your team needs, and you need to consistently develop your leadership skills, knowledge, and confidence.
Quiet quitting may be here for a while. Whilst the world remains unsettled and the UK navigates its way through the current economic challenges, the disruption that leads to quiet quitting will continue. But with these principles in place, you have a huge opportunity to minimise its impact on your team.
Quiet quitting, recruitment and retention are just some of the topics I cover in my Great Boss Bootcamp, a ten-week online course to help you grow your leadership skills, knowledge and confidence. The next course kicks off on the 24th of January. Click here to sign up to receive details when registrations open on 16th January.