November 7, 2022

Quiet Quitting is a Really Bad Idea © Cici Mattiuzzi

I was once asked in an interview, what type of person was the most difficult to work with. I instantly said an unmotivated person. Motivation is everything when it comes to either moving up in an organization or getting a new job. To move up or even just hang on in a turbulent economy, you need the motivation to do your best. When it is time to change jobs, you need motivation to do the hard work to get to a better place.

What is quiet quitting?

Quiet quitting is a term that the press (e.g., the New York Times) has recently been popularizing, attaching a wide range of individual stories in an attempt to define it. News publications – such as The Guardian, The New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal – have covered the story with vastly different takes on what exactly it is and exactly what it is not, and whether it is a good idea or a bad idea.

The press believes they have observed a trend – people keeping the paycheck, but slowing down their pace and decreasing their productivity as a matter of choice, as if it is a solution of some kind.

The Guardian attributes the apparent trend to job dissatisfaction. The WSJ article associates the term with disengagement at work. According to the NYT, it can be about burned-out employees who feel hostile to the company and entitled to gum up the works. But the NYT also says that for some people, it is about setting boundaries and achieving a healthy work/life balance. These news accounts are not about people who quit without making a big announcement (i.e., quietly) or people who are flying under the radar while searching for a new job.

The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear the term quiet quitting is people who have lost their motivation to work and lost the motivation to change. I also think that is how most people understand the term quiet quitting – in a pejorative sense, like you would say when someone is giving up.

To me, what also comes to mind immediately are the slackers – it is not new, they have been out there forever. I am betting there is not a worker anywhere who has not noticed that there are slackers in the room. Slackers are the people who sit at their desks counting leaves on the trees or playing computer games and never volunteered to do anything. They rarely, if ever, deliver. Every workplace has its share.

I have had ample opportunity to watch people who seemed to be retired-on-the-job. They collected a paycheck for basically doing nothing, while getting in the way of people trying to get something done.

In my first job after college, there were people who seemed to do the least they possibly could. It was hard to see a pulse. A secretary who read novels and glared if you asked her to type something or interrupted her novel reading for any reason. In the typewriter era, before everyone had a computer on their desk – you depended on a secretary to type a report or an important letter.

Why you don’t want to quietly quit

There are many reasons why people might feel dissatisfied, disengaged or burnt out at work, and when that is the case, you need to maintain a sense of purpose, meaning and motivation if you are going to get out of the trap you are in.

There are many ways to accomplish that without jeopardizing your career. Abruptly changing the way you work is not one of them. The potential for getting fired if you suddenly decide to slack off at work is high, especially if you are on probation in a new job or you are an at-will employee.

If you are an at-will employee, quiet quitting is not the best tactical move. Just about anyone who works in the private sector is an at-will employee. That means they can fire you without notice and without explanation and that you can quit without giving notice. You can be let go if there is a lack of work or for non-performance or bad behavior.

If you quiet quit while the clouds for a recession are gathering chances are you will be one of the first ones let go. And job recovery can be really hard when you are competing with all the other people being laid off. Can you afford that?

If it becomes necessary to adapt or to adjust to excessive and conflicting demands, it should be a nuanced and thoughtful effort. Your movements should be motivated and informed, and not just an act of passive resistance.

Your feelings are real – how you react matters

Yes, it is ok to require a healthy work environment from your employer. Working is not just about you. It is about the people who depend on you – your family. Work does not just stay at work. It bleeds into your relationships and it gradually erodes your mental and physical health. If you are not happy and healthy, no one is going to be happy. You cannot hide it when your job is killing you.

Setting boundaries and having a good balance is essential to your career and your life in general. Slowing down after the birth of a baby, an illness, because the crisis is over, or because the peak rush is over – is a good thing.

No one can maintain a constant state of crisis or high intensity performance for a sustained period of time. It leads to burn out – doctors, nurses and medical professionals who pounded the halls of hospitals across the globe during the Covid Pandemic, educators, clerks, delivery drivers, sanitation workers and the like all demonstrated that.

Most jobs have rush seasons that push the staff, and usually the staff responds. But employers need to recognize that If the rush is constant, then the company is understaffed and they need to hire more or suffer the consequences. If the environment is unhealthy, productivity will suffer and the top talent will leave.

It is of no benefit to employees or the company if people respond to work-stress by taking on the role of quiet quitters – just waiting for the enterprise to fall apart.

What managers think of quiet quitting

Rich Layne is a Software Engineering Manager, with Solidigm - a chip design firm that is now hiring 750 new employees in Rancho Cordova. He spent 20 years at Intel before that. I met him as he changed careers and acquired a BS in Computer Science. He had previously been a professionally trained chef.

He has high expectations, he treats his engineering team well and he respects their work. He regularly delivers fresh bread and pies to his team – one for each of them to take home! His three simple rules for success: “Show up on time, have a good attitude, and do your best work.”

I asked him what he thought of “quiet quitting”. He described it this way – 

“Quiet quitting is something I’ve heard discussed in the news and in economics podcasts. Individually and collectively my team is a high performing group with a mix of recent college graduates to senior engineers with 20+ years of experience. They support each other without being asked and collaboration is their default mode. The team is selfless because they are confident their contributions will be recognized and rewarded.”

“Almost everyone on my staff puts in extra effort during crunch time. The folks who do that regularly rise quickly. Prioritizing work-life is fine. If you are only doing what’s required a good deal of the time, don’t expect advancement. Promotions are earned by exceeding expectations. If you’re doing the minimum, don’t complain about being passed over or not getting a big raise.”

“In my observation, people that consistently underperform and don’t take on responsibility hurt morale, especially with the stronger team members because they have to pick up the slack.”

If you decide to quiet quit there are going to be consequences. The people you work with who have to pick up the slack are the people you are going to need a reference from.

When it’s time for change – be strategic

There are so many ways to make a productive change if you are not satisfied at work. If you love your work and you want your job situation to improve, you will have to talk to people. Start with your manager or HR and discuss what you need to thrive. Work out a plan to make the changes you require.

If you believe your situation is unsalvageable, change your job. Use your resources and get help with your resume, career plan, job search strategy, and networking. Just ask. There is an army of people out there who would love to help you. Accept it! Use all of your resources – mentors, friends, former colleagues…

But don't destroy your career by slacking. Be strategic – develop a plan, move carefully, and don’t burn any bridges.

If you decide to leave, don’t tell your boss, or any of your work friends you are leaving until after it is cast in stone.

You got this!

Cici Mattiuzzi is the Author of ‘The Serious Job Seeker’ and the founding director (emeritus) of the Career Services Office for the College of Engineering and Computer Science at CSU Sacramento.