“Quiet quitting,” “act your wage,” and “that’s above my paygrade” are phrases that, if taking hold in your culture, are warning signs that should not be ignored. They are like the little bubbles starting in the pot. Discontent is building and might soon boil over because communication has broken down. It is critical to take steps to reverse or prevent ‘quiet quitting’, like the suggestions outlined below, because ‘quiet quitting’ will not fix itself and, like a bad rumour, tends to only get worse.
What is Quiet Quitting?
Last summer, a viral TikTok video defined “quiet quitting” as the act of performing one’s duties while no longer subscribing to the hustle-culture mentality that work must also be one’s life.
This message resonated with younger workers and set off fears among managers that a whole generation of employees was unwilling to go above and beyond their specific work duties.
“Act your wage” and “beyond my paygrade” are extensions of quiet quitting, but are more overt expressions of dissatisfaction with perceived ‘extra work’ or underpay.
It’s Not a Bad Attitude
These sentiments are not ‘bad attitudes’ nor are they indications that employees do not value extra work or stretch projects for professional development. It means that the above and beyond you are asking of them they don’t believe has value for them. It’s a carrot that has been discovered to be unfulfilling and not that tasty.
The Bigger Problem
The bigger problem is that when employees do not feel valued or cannot see the purpose in their work, it is unlikely they will link more work to professional development or career gain. Instead they will see the advantage mostly to owners or shareholders who benefit by maximizing asset output. This is especially so if employees are not engaged in determining the solutions that are driving the extra work.
Furthermore, if the manager asking for the extra effort is not empathetic or contributing to a mutual bucket of goodwill, employee goodwill tanks will be drained, and employees will move towards self-preservation.
Therefore, managers must ask the question, what came first:
1) a disengaging, unappreciative, and/or lacking in purpose work culture or
2) the “quiet quitting,” “act your wage,” and “that’s above my paygrade” behavior and comments?
What is the Solution to Quiet Quitting?
In our fast-changing VUCAH (1) world, managers need to remember that people may already have a heightened sense of self-preservation and putting more focus on the now vs. an uncertain future. Employees need to experience, in an authentic way, their ability to engage with, find purpose, and have input into the work they do.
Being part of a team that works well as a team also helps to mitigate a need for self-preservation because the ‘we are in it together’ and ‘we celebrate as a team’ are positive, and uplifting, with more purpose.
More money is probably not the answer, at least not as a single source solution. Experts caution that throwing more pay at workers is not likely to resolve their feelings of being overworked or under-recognized. (2)
What can managers do to reverse or prevent ‘quiet quitting’?
Four things to implement today:
1. Consistently ask team members how they are with specific questions like: What is important to you today? What are you are celebrating? What are you challenged with? Then listen. Listen without defending or advising. Confirm understanding. Then to challenges ask, “How can I Help?”
2. Understand each person’s purpose and values. Explore how they connect these to the company’s or team’s. Ask if they see any gaps or challenges in meeting these for themselves. Listen and confirm understanding.
3. Encourage their ownership of gaps instead of being a victim. If there are gaps or challenges identified above, ask employees to provide recommendations. Suggest they bring it to the team or form an ad hoc group to develop solutions. Make sure they understand how you will support them, the guidelines they need to work within, and what other authorities or stakeholders need to be considered. Set a checkback date to support progress.
4. Ask for feedback on your leadership. You could do this in person, in a team meeting, or with a survey. You could do it weekly, monthly or quarterly. Have the courage to ask for feedback and embrace the opportunity to become a better leader.
What are you doing to ensure your team is engaged and not feeling overworked or undervalued? Please share your ideas.
(1) VUCAH refers to a volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous, hyperconnected world.
(2) “Compensation tends to be very important to attraction, but not a great motivator of employees,” Maria Amato, a Korn Ferry senior client partner specializing in employee engagement and productivity.