What began as a TikTok trend is now sparking debate amongst HR professionals, team leaders, and a barrage of burnt out Gen Z – Millennials. The question everyone seems to be asking is: what does quiet quitting imply about our workforce? But perhaps a better conversation to have is: how should companies respond?
Instead of placing blame on one party or the other for collective withdrawal, it’s time we zoom out to examine the industry-wide norms that fueled this behavioral switch, and begin mapping out a way forward that honors larger organizational virtues around employee engagement, mental health, and diversity of thought at higher rungs of the corporate ladder.
What is Quiet Quitting?
Although the term implies egress from a company, perhaps in Pink Panther-esque style, “quiet quitting” actually has nothing to do with resignation — at least formally. Instead, the phrase evolved to reflect a generation of workers who reject the notion that one must “go above and beyond” the scope of their paid work to be successful.
Where the conversation tends to divide people is the utility of the term. It is fair to wonder: “Why call it quitting at all, if it’s just doing your job?” But herein lies the need for a more critical conversation.
For the majority of the workforce (Millennial age or younger), their “jobs” are inextricable from egregious expectations and ideals that have long-haunted corporate offices. Namely: that one must first assume the deliverables incumbent of their promotion in order to “earn” it, and/or that success befalls only those who devote hours “off the clock” to their employers.
Whether or not business leaders can acknowledge a level of truth to such beliefs — at least under their own roofs — is beside the point. What is more interesting is the potential for the quiet quitting discussion to usher in a new era of workplace communication and expectations that benefits employees and employers alike.
Professionals are “Quiet Quitting” Corporate Politics
At The Forem, we teach “the unwritten rules of career advancement.” At the core of this curriculum is the fact that the quality of your deliverables alone will not open up doors for you. Rather, it is the connections you make, how well you advocate for yourself, and your ability to align your personal strengths and passions with positive business impact that support increased opportunities.
What we don’t always say as bluntly is that following this formula is inherently easier for some groups — namely: those who physically reflect the majority representation in corporate leadership roles. Considering that Gen Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation on record to enter the United States workforce, it isn’t hard to imagine frustration with these barriers to advancement.
And because the real skills needed to rise up the corporate ladder are never explicitly taught — until, paradoxically, one floats to the C-suite and reaps the benefits of procured executive coaching — career advancement reads to many as a political game that favors pushovers and/or those willing to sacrifice their own sense of identity and mental health in pursuit of their boss’s favor. To no one’s surprise: a generation united through social media and other platforms that are openly critical of this system, has chosen to opt out.
But it doesn’t have to end in attrition. Companies increasingly acknowledge the need for anti-burnout measures, as well as diverse empowerment at the executive level. The issue that limits progress toward these goals is confusion around how to make improvements systematically that stand the test of time, more so than superficial “tweaks” that keep business leaders momentarily unscathed in public headlines.
With the quiet quitting trend, Gen Z isn’t just starting a conversation, but signaling a great place to start this systematic redesign.
Managers Need Better Talent Development Training
Recruit as many sharp, motivated, and diverse employees as you want, but without a competent advocate in the supervisory role to help them fulfill their goals, they will more than likely disengage and fall flat at entry level.
And it’s well illustrated in the data: in 2021, 63% of people reported “no opportunities for advancement” as reason for their resignation to Pew Research Center, while a similar 63% were polled in the Predictive Index 2021 People Management Report as planning to quit within twelve months due to “a bad manager.”
What does this have to do with “quiet quitting” if the term doesn’t imply a resignation? Before attrition comes disengagement, and before disengagement comes the opportunity for people managers to rewrite the narrative of corporate success.
If there is a single lesson to be learned from “quiet quitting” it is that communication must improve at the individual contributor:manager crossroads to establish new expectations for career satisfaction and (if it behooves the IC in question) career advancement.
First and foremost, we must rid ourselves of the ideal that “if you’re not moving up, you’re moving out,” which undoubtedly inspired the labeling of the quiet quitting trend in the first place. Some employees are content in their roles without vying for a promotion, but that does not mean they deserve any less of a manager’s attention. Piggybacked on that ideal is also the assessment of a manager’s success in terms of how many team members she moves up the ladder — whether or not the promotion is actually aligned with the individual’s passions and goals. Neither of these beliefs supports sustainable career momentum. In fact, both of these “norms” are what lead employees to believe they must overwork themselves and/or accept work that doesn’t fulfill them just to avoid being replaced.
What does inspire long-term engagement is recognition of what fuels each individual. More practically: people managers and individual contributors working together to advocate for their passions and personal goals, and intelligently articulating why those things (aside from what may seem “traditional”) benefit the business. On the flip side, employees find themselves droning on through the motions, if only to collect their paycheck while they ponder pursuit of something that feels more meaningful to them.
Unfortunately, these communication skills are rarely taught from the top-down. First-time managers are frequently promoted based on their performance as an IC, with little to no guidance on how to support and develop talent, while the self-advocacy and personal branding skills that would most benefit entry level employees are reserved for the C-suite.
To help the next generation find balance and fulfillment from their work, and engage in a way that suits their own personal goals, as well as the shared goals of the company, The Forem offers leadership and development training that can scale to 100% of an organization’s workforce, as well as more niche workshops and guidance for new and mid-level managers.
Learn more about how we’re increasing employee engagement, retention, and satisfaction at leading Fortune 1000 companies by connecting with our team.