Why Quiet Quitting is especially worrisome in tech
LET’S DEFINE IT
Quiet quitting is loosely defined as a state where workers continue to do their job and meet established expectations, but instead of going above and beyond by working evenings and weekends to get ahead, they’re instead sticking only what’s in their job description, and clocking out at 5 p.m. to spend more time with their families.
While there’s ample debate over exactly what quiet quitting is, and why it’s happening, there’s growing consensus that it’s a response to decades of an advance-at-all-costs business culture that has allowed companies to squeeze endless, usually-unpaid overtime out of employees without fair compensation.
The pandemic is playing a role, as well. After a couple years of working from home, employees may be realizing there’s more to life than endless work. Single-minded passion toward their job is in many cases being replaced by a need for better balance between their professional and personal lives.
And as vaccine and mask mandates are lifted and organizations move forward with return-to-office (RTO) plans, they’re encountering growing pushback from employees who no longer feel the pre-pandemic in-office status quo aligns with their life goals.
Thus, the kind of disengagement that seems to be driving the quiet quitting trend is no mystery. While it’s been around for a while, it’s just now hitting an historic inflection point.
While the uptick may seem a bit random – a TikTok video that went viral earlier this summer seems to be driving the current interest – it’s really nothing new. Frankly, it’s little more than a fancy term for “checked out”, and an easy way to describe what happens when staff are no longer engaged. It’s been a challenge for business leaders since the beginning of time, and it’ll probably be forever.
Whatever it’s called, it’s still a problem, and one that has significant implications because organizations with employees who are less than engaged aren’t deriving full value from their most critical investment – their people. Worse, employees are struggling to find meaning and connection in their work, which if left unchecked can threaten to compromise their quality of life.
While quiet quitting is a challenge in every corner of the economy, it is particularly problematic for tech-focused organizations staffed by legions of knowledge workers.
It isn’t unsolvable, though.
KNOWLEDGE WORKERS ARE UNIQUE
To be completely successful, businesses need to scale. But scaling brings its own set of issues, creating more complex processes. In some cases, the process of scaling can require a complete software overhaul. If you expect rapid expansion, the software that you use initially may not even be able to cope with that, or it may increase the workload of your software system until it breaks.
At that point, custom solutions come to the fore. You get an easily scalable solution that’s designed with future use in mind.
THE PANDEMIC PIVOT
This has always been true, of course, but the pandemic has served up a generational reminder of why this sense of balance is so crucial to employees and their feelings of engagement.
According to Aviva Canada’s annual Risk Insights Report, 45 per cent of all businesses say the pandemic has impacted employee well-being and mental health. This is reinforced by a Capterra survey that confirms 1 in 5 Canadian employees say their mental health has suffered since the first lockdowns were imposed. A further 37 per cent say they’re under stress because of increasing workloads.
Bottom line: employees are feeling the heat, and they’re increasingly recognizing the need to address their mental health concerns. Organizations that ignore this shift will be forced to deal with retention and budget issues later on. If they aren’t already experiencing it.
While the debate over quiet quitting will likely rage indefinitely, forward-thinking organizations in knowledge-related sectors need to start looking more closely at how they maximize employee engagement and prevent them from checking out. Ask yourself some key questions to get the ball rolling:
- Are job descriptions aligned with reality? The pandemic has helped employees to learn the true value of their work. If your roles are structured around a 40-hour work week, but the day-to-day expectations are driving expectations of 60-plus hour commitments, you could be facing a disconnect between what you want from your employees and what they’re willing to invest in your organization.
- Are you paying lip service to employee support? Knowledge workers have different needs than employees in other sectors. Annual reviews, online HR training, and regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings with mentors are certainly necessary, but hardly enough to ensure these uniquely skilled employees will maintain their passion for the mission over time. Mix up traditional formal engagement tactics with more ad hoc and informal approaches help ensure they don’t feel like a simple number.
- Is your RTO plan more of a mandate? Post-pandemic work styles are rapidly becoming a point of contention. The stress for knowledge workers, and the organizations that force employees to return to the office, may find those same employees less willing to keep working long into the evening, or otherwise stretch themselves beyond their agreed-upon employment terms for the company’s benefit. Wherever you land on the remote vs. hybrid vs. in-office spectrum, make sure employees are part of the discussion and aren’t being forced to follow a corporate edict.
- Are you doing enough to measure employees’ temperature? Talent retention in knowledge industries is by definition more complex than in other sectors – and shortages in IT skills has only been exacerbated after the pandemic shifted more of the job-seeking leverage toward in-demand workers. Knowledge workers are more likely than most to quietly switch gears – either by throttling back in their current role or seeking another one – than those in other sectors. Daily or weekly standups and more creative use of collaborative platforms could go a long way toward identifying employees who may merit extra face time.
Like so many trendy HR buzzwords that make the leap into mainstream thought, quiet quitting didn’t originate in a vacuum, and it isn’t something that tech-centric businesses can afford to ignore.
Unlike so many past trends, however, quiet quitting will force many organizations to look inward and ask the tough questions that need to be asked. It ultimately speaks to a lack of passion, and if you’ve created the kind of company where people don’t want to give all of their passion, then you need to make some hard decisions about the kind of culture that will attract and retain the kinds of people who will not only drive your organization forward but will make it the kind of place they’ll rave about to their family and friends.
It may seem like a trivial metric to aim for, but no amount of headline-worthy in-office perks like foosball tables, brightly colored slides, and chef-provided lunches will make up for an environment that fails to make knowledge workers feel valued, included, or whole.
In that respect, it’s hardly trivial at all, and we’re long past the point where keeping quiet about it is considered acceptable.