A working sits with feet up on the desk as they play a game on their phone

Quiet quitting can kill your business – but only if you allow it

I am just going to say it — proponents of “quiet quitting” are brats. I should acknowledge that there isn’t an official definition of the term; people define it based on ideology.

Quiet quitting isn’t new. It has been called phoning it in, going through the motions, and coasting. It used to be universally frowned upon. Now it is endorsed by the TikTok nation, which defines it as “acting your wage.” (Get it?)

Quiet quitters do the bare minimum, mentally skip meetings, produce less, don’t chip in on team projects, and are disengaged from their work. According to Resume Builder, 21 percent of Americans admit that they are quiet quitters.

It reminds me of when you ask an 8-year-old to make and eat breakfast, and they do. Except the kid leaves milk on the counter, doesn’t clean the dishes, and cuts a slice of cake instead of eating oatmeal. If you point out to the kid that they didn’t do what you told them to, they’ll throw a tantrum and explain how they did exactly what you asked — made and ate breakfast. They might have followed the exact letter of the instructions, but they didn’t follow the spirit of it. You know, a brat.

The solution is to fire them. Brutal, right? Not at all. The best thing you can do for them is let them go so they can find something they’re passionate about. Plus, they’re effectively stealing from your company and ruining what you built. They corrode the morale of your good employees.

If left to fester, it will create resentment among your team and spread. Once you fire them, you must have a conversation with your team to explain that you did so to protect them.

If the employee is quiet quitting because they don’t want to do the work they are assigned (a cake-for-breakfast eater), you could reassign them. I urge you to use that tactic sparingly. Reassignments should only occur when there is a genuine mismatch of skill sets. Don’t reward employees who are ignoring your instructions.

In small businesses, nearly every day, an employee must fill multiple roles, collaborate with a teammate, and perform tasks that can’t be described precisely in the offer letter. Small businesses rely on a workforce willing to step up and do what is needed, not just what they’re told.

It’s more than a competitive advantage; it’s a necessity. For employees, the benefit of re-engaging is increased social capital among employees (we all prefer to work with friends) and a path to career success, including being assigned more enjoyable projects.

Today’s workers shouldn’t be expected to grind as we did. Let’s face it — we old(er) folks may have been psycho working 15-hour days and sacrificing weekends. Don’t fault your workers for not having the same goals as you. If the office hours are 9 to 5, do everything you can to support them to perform excellent work during those hours. But “quiet quitting” isn’t clocking in at 9 and then out at 5. That’s just good work-life-family time management. If you’re faulting your workers for not dedicating themselves to working more hours, maybe you should pay them more. However, if they will only put in about five solid work hours a day between 9 and 5, fire them.

I spoke with dozens of millennials on the subject at the Huntington Beach Future Proof conference. I heard comments like: “The most important thing to me is work-life balance”; “No way I’m coming in early if the (surfing) waves are good”; and “I’m not going 100 mph to get everything done by the end of the day.” These are not unreasonable thoughts. However, John, the owner of a plastics molding company in Pittsfield, had employees with less legitimate views.

John had one employee, Niklaus, who ate the cake for breakfast. Other employees’ productivity began to slip because of Niklaus’ quiet quitting. Not because they felt that since Niklaus did less they could slack off and remain employed, too. But because they resented him; doing less was their revenge against Niklaus, not the company (at least initially).

Eventually, John fired Niklaus. But John waited too long and had to fire two others because Niklaus had gotten it into their heads that they shouldn’t be “pushed around by management to do more than they were hired to do.”

People quiet quit because they feel disengaged. They feel isolated and unsupported. Engaged employees are emotionally committed to the customer. It means they don’t work just for a paycheck but because they believe in the company’s mission.

One way to cure disengagement is to improve the employee experience. Communicate with the quiet quitters about their updated job responsibilities. Some people need direction because they’re not as entrepreneurial as you are.

As duties are added, reassigned, dissolved or temporarily assigned, talk with the employee about your expectations, your intended support, and how you’ll share feedback. Conclude the conversation by memorializing the talk via e-mail so there is no miscommunication. Schedule a follow-up and, importantly, provide the agenda.

The agenda of the follow-up meeting isn’t for you; the employee runs that meeting. People are more spirited in their work if they are connected to the outcome and have ownership of the roles. Let them update you on the project, celebrate their progress, and tell you what they need to be successful.

Gallup research reveals that 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement is manager related. People don’t leave bad jobs; they leave bad bosses. I am not one to suffer the attitude of a quiet quitter if they don’t turn their attitude around, but if you don’t fix the root problem, other workers may struggle with the same disengagement.

To break quiet quitting, offer career management. An employee should do the job they were hired to do and embrace their evolving roles. But they should also have a say in their professional progress.

The LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report found that 94 percent of employees would stay at a job longer if they had access to career development. People don’t want to feel stuck. Employees want control over their life, a vision of where they are heading, and a partner to help them get there.

You must fix or fire quiet quitters, not just because it’s better for them but because it’s better for the company. Engaged employees provide better customer service, which leads to increased sales and higher profit.

I know what you’re thinking — what if I spend time, effort, and money supporting my employees, and they leave? Well, what if you don’t and they stay?

 

This article first appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on October 15, 2022.