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Why employers should embrace quiet quitting

By Breetel Graves · September 1, 2022
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If you're on The Internet, you've heard about "quiet quitting" by now: the idea that workers have stopped going above and beyond for their jobs. It involves a tangible change in work hours and effort, but it's also a mindset that's intended to reduce work-related stress.

The framing of it—quiet quitting—makes it feel like you're getting away with something or like you've discovered the next great life hack. It's no wonder it's become the buzzword-du-jour. And it's led to all sorts of hot takes. Some people think it's "a step toward quitting on life." Others support the idea, but not the term: as Danielle Cohen put it in The Cut, "I'll just be calling that work."

My hot take? Quiet quitting isn't just an opportunity for employees to reduce burnout—it's also an opportunity for companies to succeed.

My friend and spreadsheet expert Tyler Robertson pointed out to me that the "a step toward quitting on life" response isn't unexpected. In fact, it shares a lot with the misunderstanding of the Luddite movement, which is often interpreted as being anti-technology (they were not).

Quiet quitting is an opportunity

With the Great Resignation, we saw large numbers of retail and service workers decide they'd had enough, but even before the stress​​ and increased risk brought on by the pandemic, burnout had become a well-known and common occupational phenomenon

I'd argue that the buzz around quiet quitting is indicative of a cultural shift. The idea may not be new, but it's captivated the current zeitgeist for a reason. People are questioning what their relationship to work should look like and taking steps to protect their well-being ahead of their company's bottom line.

I've worked in some form of customer support for the past decade, so I understand exactly why it's those customer-facing roles that burn out first. In many cases, customer support roles are paid the least and have the least amount of power and autonomy. But more importantly, as Mathew Patterson of Help Scout points out, customer service is often used to cover up more detrimental underlying issues. 

Slapping some tape over a leak might be effective in the short term, but tape will wear out. And in the meantime, you'll have ignored the question of how the leak got there in the first place.

Quiet quitting may be the result of burnout. But burnout is caused by something too—and it would be in employers' best interest to figure out what that something is.

Tom Walker, a manager on Zapier's Support team, agrees:

"If members of my team are working additional hours in our support queue, that tells me there's a bigger issue somewhere to address. For example, is there a bug or product defect that's accounting for a number of new emails? Is there a process that we can refine? Or do we need to focus our attention on hiring?"

When someone goes above and beyond their job description to help solve a pressing company problem, they deserve recognition and thanks. But leadership should also treat these instances as warning signs and not become complacent and dependent on the sacrifice of their employees' personal time and mental health.  

"You can't solve a problem that you can't see," Tom continues. "As much as I love and appreciate the generous spirit of the teammate who goes the extra mile in times of need, I also see the incredible value of the teammate who questions what we are doing and leans into our grow through feedback value. The ideal teammate for me is one that draws personal boundaries and gets leadership's attention toward what's falling through the cracks."

Instead of denouncing quiet quitting, or even ignoring it, employers would be well-served to embrace it—and learn from it.

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