Techies Don’t Quietly Quit, They (Eventually) Leave and Slam the Door

Anyone who hasn’t lived under a proverbial rock has seen the many discussions regarding "quiet quitting" over the past few weeks. I wrote about it as well in our Chasing Psychological Safety newsletter

I put it to us that there’s no quiet quitting in technology. Or not as much as everywhere else. Let me explain. 

Tech teams are like no others. Here are ten things that tech teams (in particular developers) have, that set them apart from the rest of the organisation:

  1. Great flexibility - being able to roll with the punches and not be utterly discouraged by changes;
  2. Intense and continuous intellectual challenge therefore learning and growth;
  3. A greater team bond and ability to communicate if they are working in an Agile way because it demands extreme collaboration;
  4. Less fear and more openness; therefore a higher consistent degree of Psychological Safety;
  5. A stronger sense of personal brand or identity as their skills and strengths are always on display and that offers them the safety of easy mobility;
  6. Some protection from the organisational HumanDebt™ and toxic culture of politics and command and control;
  7. More of a feeling of being valued than other employees in other sides of the same organisation;
  8. Fewer brushes with extreme command and control;
  9. Evident, regular and quick signs of progress and incremental improvement towards important outcomes;
  10. A habit of human work on their own self that includes a relationship to purpose in spite of the enterprise not thanks to it.

This last one is crucial. What it means is that tech people end up often holding themselves accountable for reaffirming both personal and organisational purpose. Perhaps not in a flash or declarative fashion and some may not be able to even articulate this is happening, but in the sense that, irrespective of consciously or not, technologists have to remember what they personally stand for and what the point of their product is, how it affects their consumers. 

Am I saying techies are engaged, happy and thriving? Hells to the no, the delta between them happy, always in the zone, always in flow and therefore high performing and them as they are today, weighed down by extreme amounts of burnout and still suffering from the effects of the HumanDebt around them, is probably the size of a small nation’s GDP but who’s counting? Certainly not the people who don’t even remember the big numbers around general disengagement. 

That said, no one lives in a world of techies only and many of the business people in the same teams have definitely quietly quit aeons ago. The project manager who never got over their PRINCE qualifications now being worthless. The Product Owner who has been beaten down by the ails of the organisation for long enough that he now employs no critical thinking and expounds no passion because they can not care less. The BA who ticks boxes. The line manager who is watching the hours go by while mindlessly inApply-ing to new positions on LinkedIn. The CTO who just has to ride it out for another year before an early retirement just as so many other senior leaders do. And countless others. In every other department, at every other level. All firmly *out* in their hearts and their minds and yet around enough to make life infinitely harder because the contrast between those who still manage to keep their heads in the game and those who have de facto resigned, may be invisible but is stark. 

It’s stark because the people who have practically left but offer acts of presence are the ones who are supposed to make sure that the sine qua non-conditions of a high-performing organisation are in place. They are the ones who need to approve budgets and drive process and change so that the developers have what they absolutely can not live without: structure and clarity, a view of impact, a way to demonstrate dependability, healthy team dynamics and ultimately the tools and support to effectively do their work and collaborate. 

These people have none of the ten magical things above themselves and what a hard work-life that must really be. None of the excitement of extreme and continuous learning, none of the intense team connection, none of the inbuilt flexibility and extreme desire to always do more and better. This is not a reflection on them as people or even as professionals but a function of how their work is still water-falling its way through antiquated thinking structures and soul-killing politics. 

Far be it from me to reassure the organisational powers that be that developers are not as disengaged and they are staying put, not at all, they too are suffering tremendously, I am simply saying those numbers will quickly reflect in the “Great Resignation” tally instead and talent will fast slip through their fingers.

I believe that techies don’t “check out” or not to the same degree that everyone else does. Tech people don’t disengage or even worse, actively disengage and stay, they just walk out when they have finally had enough of all the quiet quitters around them making their lives harder. 

So to the CTO who told me the other day “My guys still care and bust their chops to do the very best job they can, I’m not worried about this disengagement thing” - I agree they do but I don’t agree it’s not a worry so long as we let our passionate, high achieving brains suffer at the hands of all the other quitters surrounding them in the enterprise. If we don’t quickly learn how to make everyone genuinely happy and not have them merely survive, we won’t get far at all. Not to mention that even the most passionate of techies eventually reach a point where they don’t quietly quit in their heads but instead, leave and slam the door on their way out. 

Related: Quiet Quitting Isn't New or News