Thinking about quiet quitting? Consider these alternatives for a more fulfilling career

Originally published in the Globe & Mail August 29, 2022

Quiet quitting is the latest workplace-related alliteration that’s gaining momentum, especially among Gen Zs. It is not about quitting in the literal sense. In fact, quite the opposite, it’s about doing the bare minimum required, while remaining fully employed.

As the now viral TikTok video by a user named zaidleppelin suggests, by quietly quitting, “You’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond … your worth as a person is not defined by your labour.”

The notion is not new – “work to live, instead of live to work” is a philosophy that’s been embraced by cultures outside of North America forever. However, describing this as “quiet quitting” has negative, cynical connotations that can be harmful for workplace engagement and performance. It insinuates a fixed mindset, thinking of jobs as a discrete set of tasks, beyond which employees should be entitled to opt out.

The reality is, jobs are more nuanced and complex, requiring some give and take. Sometimes work requires an extra push to get to the finish line. And employees can only feel good about those instances if they are allowed adequate recovery (for example, “fire drills” can’t become the norm). As organizations have not necessarily operated with employee well-being in mind over the past few decades – expecting them to do more with less, leading to more encroachment on personal time and pervasive burnout – this type of quiet revolt could have been predicted. But there must be a happy middle ground where employees are motivated to do their best work and are fairly treated and paid for it.

What can employees do as an alternative to quiet quitting?

  1. Look before you leap: Before jumping on the bandwagon, think about what’s causing you to quietly quit. Are you resentful that you aren’t getting enough pay or recognition? Have you been given an unfair workload without adequate resources? Do you not see the point or context for the work your leader has asked you to do?
  2. Have open conversations: Once you’ve identified your “why,” take steps to proactively address it. It’s better, both for you and for the organization, to pitch a solution (which may include more resources, more context, or help in prioritizing), than to marinate in mounting resentment. Even in cases where you are not granted everything you ask for, you at least will have done your part in attempting to solve the problem, bringing transparency to managers who may not fully appreciate the full weight or implications of their asks.
  3. Reframe: Instead of quietly quitting, consider joyfully joining. As Arianna Huffington suggests, “rather than go through the motions in a job you’ve effectively quit on, why not find one that inspires you, engages you and brings you joy? We have, after all, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to redefine how we work and live. Let’s not settle on quiet quitting.” Take the power back into your own hands – choose work that aligns with your skills and/or purpose. Going “above and beyond” doesn’t necessarily mean extra hours. When we are engaged and in our best-fit roles, we can work smarter, more efficiently and feel good about the impact we are making.
  4. Set boundaries: Know what your non-negotiables are and openly communicate them. Remember, your team and leader(s) are not mind readers, so if you continue to allow your non-negotiables to be sacrificed, they will assume you are okay with it. It’s important, however, to also be aware that jobs are a give and take and we need to flex sometimes if we expect flexibility.
  5. Quit (for real): Instead of taking a passive-aggressive approach, if none of the above are suitable solutions, take your talent elsewhere. Life is too short to be in a job where you are resentful and not operating at your best.

If quiet quitting is a new form of “presenteeism” (where employees are physically at work but mentally elsewhere), there is cause for concern: we can’t afford to have organizations led and operated by disengaged zombie-like workers. However, if it is a rallying cry for better prioritization, fair pay for fair work and career and time management, then it is long overdue, but perhaps deserves a reframe. Whether you are for or against it, the fact that this provocative term has struck a chord with so many is something organizations need to pay attention to, as they continue to manage a fed-up, burned-out work force.

Lessons in trust, empowerment and innovation after a preventable 90-minute flight delay

Originally published in the Globe & Mail August 19, 2022

Air travel this summer is not for the faint of heart. Between sky-high airfares, delays, cancellations and lost baggage, many travellers are experiencing moderate annoyances to significant disruptions as they try to get back to some semblance of prepandemic leisure after two and a half years being grounded.

While some of the root causes are out of humans’ control (such as severe weather), and some will take time to resolve (such as staffing shortages), it is important that airlines address issues that are in their control, swiftly, to start rebuilding trust and loyalty among travellers. There is a lot to be learned from the airline industry’s front lines about the connection among customer (and employee) needs, employee trust and empowerment, innovation and loyalty.

A quick story as an example: On a recent flight home, upon boarding, it was clear to ground staff there would be a weight balancing issue. As we approached the jet bridge, the gate agent attempted to convince passengers to check their bags “for free” to their final destination, warning that if not enough bags were checked, the flight would be cancelled. After an hour already delayed, and with no confidence that baggage would actually make it to our destination if checked, passengers were eager to board, with carry-on luggage, as entitled with our ticket purchase.

A game of chicken ensued – everyone boarded, majority with carry-ons, expecting to call the agent’s bluff that the flight would be cancelled. Once we were all boarded, and all bags were safely stowed in overhead bins, the flight attendant made an announcement that we would need fourteen bags offloaded and checked or we would not take off. This was a safety issue. Stalemate.

We sat on the runway for an hour, no one willing to part with their bag. The flight attendants and ground crew then went through the cabin, randomly selecting bags, each one angering the passengers to whom they belonged, each with a reason why they couldn’t part with them, including running late for a parent’s funeral. At which point, an empathetic passenger turned in his bag, and one by one we got to fourteen. An hour-and-a-half delay was fully preventable, leaving many passengers irate and contemplating switching to a different carrier.

What I observed in these 90 minutes has relevant application for our organizations across industries:

  1. Design incentives with customer (or employee) needs at the core: In the current environment, offering to check bags free of charge is akin to offering an ‘extra curricular’ project to a maxed-out employee, without providing reward or relief. The customer does not value this incentive, because they are fed up and do not trust that their bags will make it to the destination, which would cost them time and money. When designing a customer or employee value proposition, it is important to put the customer or employee at the centre, really understand their needs and provide engaging offerings that motivate action (for example in this customer case, handing over a bag, in the employee case, doing great work for the organization).
  2. Want innovation without employee empowerment? Good luck. Innovation happens when people closest to customer needs are trusted and empowered to make suggestions, decisions and change. When I noticed we weren’t getting anywhere with the proposed free baggage check offer, I suggested to the flight attendant that they offer an incentive (for example, a monetary reward or future upgrade) for passengers who check their bags. Even though this idea was derived from a typical airline practice of incentivizing passengers to give up their seats, she looked at me like I had nine heads. “Not my job, we are order takers” is essentially what she said, even after I recommended she escalate to the person whose job it was to make these types of decisions. If we think about this scenario happening over and over in airplanes and other businesses across industries, think about how much could be solved, and how much time and money could be saved, if those closest to problems were actually trusted and empowered to solve them.
  3. Customers (and employees) are loyal when they feel heard. The more transparent and timely companies are in responding to customer and employee concerns, and their plan to address them, the more customers and employees will give them the benefit of the doubt (note: a recent telecom example also comes to mind with regards to what NOT to do). When the voices of the customer and employee are ignored, people come to their own conclusions and take their business or talents elsewhere.

Safe travels to all this summer.