We Shouldn’t Be Surprised By “Quiet Quitting”

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“Quiet quitting” isn’t so quiet anymore. It, also, isn’t that new. We’ve seen and, too often, ignored the signs of this phenomena for years. All we have to do is look at data on employee engagement, tenure/attrition, employee satisfaction.

Organizational leadership has been laying the groundwork for quiet quitting, ignoring the signals around this phenomena for years. For years, in selling, we’ve done everything we can to mechanize the process. People are treated as interchangeable widgets, if they don’t meet our goals, if they don’t make the number of dials, hit their activity numbers, strictly comply with what we are telling them to do, we find someone else.

Hiring decisions have become transactional, when they are really multi-million investment decisions. We hire the best available, with the expectation of replacing them if they don’t work out. Increasingly they are short term decisions.

Some say, that’s just the way Gen Z works, they will never stay committed to anything. But we see the churn is not limited to Gen Z, it covers all generations. And when we interview these people, they discuss what they are looking for–a place to grow/contribute and be fairly compensated. A place where they can feel heard and where they matter. A place where they have a future. Work places that are aligned with their identities.

But people don’t feel heard or included. While we may give lip service to listening to them, making them feel included and valued, the reality is too many managers don’t care. Too many are not committed to their people’s success, only committed to their own and that of their managers. People don’t see a future, they don’t feel they can grow and develop at their current organization, so they have to look elsewhere.

But it’s too easy to place all the blame on managers. They are, simply, products of their own experience, and the direction they get from their managers. They’ve had managers that don’t care, that haven’t set an example. They’ve not had training or coaching to help them understand how important this is to people. They just continue to do what they have learned from their previous managers. And as they get promoted, they continue the same things.

Add onto this the revolving door of tenure, both individual contributors and managers, at all levels. People don’t feel any loyalty to the organizations they belong to, because those organizations are not loyal to them. Leaders may give lip service, saying things like, “People are our greatest asset….,” but their behaviors do not support this.

We talk about relationships and our customers. We believe relationships are a core element to building trust with customers, creating long term growth. Yet, within our organizations, our relationships with our own people, are increasingly transactional. And, not surprisingly, there is little trust.

People are smart, they get it. As a result, we get “quiet quitting” and the “the great resignation.” And none of this is new, but perhaps the shock to the business systems created by the pandemic has made people realize they have choices.

This has been decades in the making. We’ve research, going back years, discussing declining employee engagement. We have years of plummeting tenure. And we’ve seen this extend beyond our own organizations, it has become the way things are done.

Rather than solve the tenure/attrition issue, we are maximizing short term results. It makes sense, if your own mindset is staying in a role for roughly a year, then moving on.

People feel pummeled, with each change of leadership. Every new leader comes in with different priorities, strategies, programs. How can we build any consistency in execution and performance, if we are constantly changing it, or shuffling the people charged with implementing it.

This seems to be the way business is done, the only focus is on the short term results. But it’s the height of irresponsibility. Not only to our people, but to driving business results! If one looks at this from the point of view of sustaining growth over the long term, everything we do, now, sub optimizes it. We do not maximize our growth both in current and future periods. We focus only on today, because we will be some place else tomorrow.

Too much is broken in organizational purpose, culture, values, and leadership. We could be performing much better, both in the short term and over time. It starts with valuing people, with creating workplaces where people feel heard, cared for, and where they feel they have a future.

If we want to maximize performance, both for the short and long term, we have to recognize it is really about people. It’s about creating organizations with purpose, values, culture, engaged leadership. It’s about recruiting, developing, and committing to people that share the identity we create in organizations. People who are committed to the success of the organization, because they know the leaders are committed to them.

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