Quiet Quitting Isn't New or News

For crying out loud can we stop inventing new terms, running in the direction of the next new shiny thing and instead focus on what matters: helping people do the human work so that their lives get better at work? Can we please just hanker down on the work and land the wins of the pandemic? Can we please just insist on the good dynamic of the team and on the well-being of the individual and set aside time and resources to better them? Can we *please* at long last take a hard look at our performance management and remuneration systems and include the hard self-work and teamwork in them? What’s the real hold-up? How are we getting derailed by new terms of new flavours?

Here’s the thing - as humans, we are eternally in pursuit of newness and excitement and our sense of fondness for adventure and our eternal pursuit of the next thing is what keeps us going and what makes us grow, but the downside of it is that, when we grow tired of the repetition, we drop some important themes if they should be repeated in vain far too often.

For an example of this, we only need to look at the news cycle and see how long until any current event -irrespective of how important or significant it is- takes to be travelling from breaking news to a forgotten item present only on a ticker if that. Not very long at all. If you’re still not sure that’s right, just take a look at the proportion of the news still concerned with the war in the Ukraine today versus a few months ago. It hasn’t magically stopped or taken any turns for the better, on the contrary, the human drama has meanwhile taken unimaginable proportions, but it has lost its “breaking” shine and it has been banished to the “in other news” section because the press has determined the public interest has waned. 

The same phenomenon applies to the human work in the business world. We are collectively growing tired and slightly embarrassed to have to repeat the same common sense things over and again in particular since their importance was ever so clear to begin with. 

Corollaries such as “humans are not resources but beings with emotions and lives” or “we have to care about our employees' wellbeing” or even “we have to start finding ways to elevate the human discourse and build a better life for our employees” are still all true and sorely unresolved but how unsavoury to have to repeat them ad nausea. 

If our reluctance to beat paralysed horses couples with our sense of despair seeing the same things being said over and again and no needles moving, and it lands on a sense of it all being super hard and unclear, it is little wonder we see all kinds of new terms emerging just to give us some respite from the repetition and some hope of things changing. 

One example of that is for instance how Microsoft has now decided to measure thriving not engagement. On the face of it, a good move because of course, the very definition of the word entails far more preoccupation with how the individual feels and how well they are doing in absolute value, one has to wonder why it was a replacement and not an addition. Likely it’s because they were getting nowhere with it and they felt they needed to mix it up. Who knows how many internal Superheroes would have banged their heads against walls of lack of care and interest which ironically led to more disengagement and an inability to show any improvement on the topic. 

Were they genuinely working on engagement as they should have by empowering their individuals and teams with the tools and support to do the human work and rediscover their passion for their jobs and their employment? Who really knows? But what they can’t have been doing, was have enough of an open and honest co-creation exercise around what it takes to have their people happy that the many terms they employed mattered less than the substance and they could do the things that mattered without making a big show of the words.  

Quiet quitting” is another term doing the rounds as a substitute for “disengagement” and while evocative, was the term the issue or the fact that we do too little to prevent it? Don't get me wrong, it isn't a non-issue and it is the clearest example of the masses of Human Debt we have in the workplace but it isn't new words we need but instead, more action.

Another example is how of late, some have equated “belonging” to Psychological Safety and have taken to replacing it as if the terms are interchangeable, I disagree. Psychological Safety is a lot more complex than a diffuse sense of belonging. It’s a complex team dynamic and it practically refers to whether or not the team as a unit feels courageous, open, learning, flexible, resilient and emotionally connected. This isn’t to say that belonging doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter, of course, it does, but conflating two very different terms because we either a) don’t know what to do about it so we have to switch gears to something that is hopefully easier and more clear cut or b) we just loathe the repetition, does neither of them any good. 

If anything if we were to split hairs, “belonging” is closer to “engagement” and “thriving” is overarching but neither is remotely possible in the absence of the very basal need for psychologically safe and therefore high performing teams. It all starts there. 

However bored we are of admitting and repeating it, there are no shortcuts. We have to all do the hard graft of recognising and expressing emotions and of spending intentional time on our own well-being and that of the team. 

Let’s just measure how much human work is being done first and foremost. That we add up all the acts of self-care, all we learn, all the coaching, all the reading and all of the work we put into understanding our emotions and the emotions of others whether alongside the team or separately and lump it all together under the “human work” umbrella then measure how people truly feel when they are doing loads of it versus nothing. Not even the most deluded of CEOs that have been showing anything but disdain for the “fluffy” topics can argue that isn’t needed or that it wouldn’t make a significant impact. 

Let’s stop searching for the next shiny term or shortcut. We don’t afford to get distracted and not land our wins. All we need to do so we belong, so we thrive, so we don’t quietly quit is lower our own resistance to the human work and embed it into our day-to-day.

Related: The 5 Steps to Sustainable Flexible Working