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Cracking the Code: Unveiling Quiet Quitting (Correct Version - sorry!!!!)

Quiet Quitting: Explore the subtle dynamics of quiet quitting in the workplace in our latest episode, 'Cracking the Code: Unveiling Quiet Quitting.' Discover actionable insights for fostering healthier work-life balance and prioritizing well-being. 

Scroll down for the full transcript.

Pronunciation Pointer

It's quiEt quitting not quite quitting.

quiet - shhh / opposite of loud quiet - to a certain or fairly significant extent or degree; fairly.
Example: It's quite quiet in here
Example: I'm not quitting quite yet but if I hear another Teams monologue, I'll hand in my notice (quit)

 Understanding & Fixing Quiet Quitting: A Comprehensive Perspective

Quiet quitting is a term that refers to doing everything in your job description but not working any more hours than necessary to do so. To my mind quiet quitting sounds like an accusation but it takes two to tango right? In this episode I will encourage you to fine tune your communication skills to address the quiet quitting problem – both from the viewpoint of employee and employer, HR of course needs to be empathetic to both.

The Employee’s Viewpoint:

Given that we are all connected through those beasts in our hands, bags or pockets, those mobile phones have turned into an extension of worklife. It doesn’t have to be like that though, we do not need to have notifications on, we can learn to switch off mentally and be more attentive to life around us when we are not at work but it can be challenging. I run a programme called the Business Fluency Booster and it is based on WhatsApp simply because it is easily accessible and I wanted to make access to these learning boosts as quick and easy as possible.

As an advocate of mental health I make it very clear from the outset that I never expect an immediate reply and that the speaking tasks are there for them to practice and improve their Business Communication, discretely at a time and place to suit them. If they forget one, I give these clients time, but after a week, I’ll send what I hope is an upbeat, friendly reminder but thankfully the majority of the time I will have designed something so irresistible, relevant or fun that I rarely need to do that. I am keeping my clients accountable but on their terms and many have told me that they wished that there was this clear communication around out of hours accessibility with their own employers or team members.

If you used to passionate about your work, team and responsibilities but are now being more protective about your working hours, is that quiet quitting or just looking after yourself? I am inclined to think that we have learned to be more pro-active about our mental health, quiet quitting for me is too harsh a term to describe what I believe is a healthy approach to self care.  Actually advocates of sustainable satisfied and loyal teams would argue that ‘quiet quitting’ is preferable to burnout which can take months or even years to recover from, not to mention the blow to that individual’s self confidence – which might never actually come back.

If when you are at work, you are still getting the job done, honouring your responsibilities and being a team player that’s not quiet quitting. To my mind those that are quiet quitting are ones that have neglected their professional development and have such little self esteem that they cannot find the motivation or energy to apply elsewhere.   ……..  In my opinion quiet quitting is not a new phenomenon, it just got a new name. It used to be called being lazy, or a minimalist but actually giving it a new name to give it some attention is no bad thing because in the employee driven employment market, we need to do everything we can to boost retention and make sure that once we have the right team in place they’ll not just perform but over-perform, driven intrinsically.

Putting in the hours to get stuff done at the same time as sacrificing time for yourself, your family or your free time activities is no longer something we accept as the status quo, we have finally learned to put our own needs first, it still feels awkward for many of us, but as flexible working hours and other new work principles are becoming standard practice, in offices at least, then this is becoming more acceptable.
Flexibility is a two sided coin isn’t it? Working from home can be a blessing but as a purely remote member of staff you are no longer on the radar of decision makers – that can be detrimental to your career. Being more accessible can be a blessing or a curse and to be honest your mindset will determine how you view that. Quiet quitting which incidentally is pronounced quiet not quite is about taking a back seat, not forgetting …. your own needs.  Quite often we identify ourselves as a consultant, we enjoy being depended on, we quite like the idea of being the only one with the answer but at what cost. Getting gratification and acknowledgement can come from friends, your family or your kids if only you give them a little time and attention and let’s face it, there won’t be any former bosses at your funeral will there? Your nearest and dearest deserve to be enjoyed now, we can always put things off but at what cost?

From an employee’s perspective, quiet quitting reflects a desire for a balanced work-life equation. The pandemic prompted many to reconsider priorities, valuing personal time and energy preservation. Setting boundaries became paramount, allowing individuals to prioritize their well-being without guilt.

The Employer’s Role:
As a manager you obviously need to get maximum performance out of your team and most employees think about quiet quitting not as doing the bare minimum but as being more protective of their time and energy. The pandemic gave all of us the time and head space to reflect on whether we really want a job or business that leaves us exhausted – too exhausted to really enjoy life at the weekends and evenings. Too exhausted to plan things especially if it involved speaking to people or travelling – both of which are an additional layer of effort if you are already running on empty. How often have you had to cancel on friends who you know would have done you the world of good because you just couldn’t face getting ready and leaving the calm compounds of your own home?

Remember that burnout shows up for different people in different ways and making wild accusations of quiet quitting days or weeks before someone calls in sick with burnout can make you look like a egotistical fool, not an awesome leader. So here are some warning signs to watch out for: no motivation or mojo, sleep issues & feeling exhausted, emotional overwhelm…..

When I was working in London, I started to get really acute stomach pain that came in short sharp bursts. I’m literally never sick, I had at this point in time never taken a sick day. So begin with I could grimace and get on with it but of course these things don’t go away as a rule so it wasn’t long before my colleagues noticed me instinctively clutching my stomach. I was sent to the corporate doctor who made it very clear that is was stress related. I found that odd as I loved by job. What I didn’t love so much was a rather unpredictibly explosive boss and the fact that I was trying to please two very ambitious bosses at once. I was given two options – continue as I was with the risk of what would be the 14th heart attack that year in my age range or take it down a notch through more support or finding another job.

So I spoke to my immediate boss who was just about to go for a month long trip to the US and she said that we would talk about it when she got back. We didn’t. By the time I… had got back I had left the company and the country to live in Germany. I had so much overtime, that I only needed to work for a couple of weeks and I was free and pain free for the first time in months. To be honest I am not really sure whether it was burnout –  that wasn’t really a thing in the 90s but I certainly enjoyed the time off and for me it was time to start thinking about what I really wanted out of life. London was not on that list, neither was financial services, so I moved to Munich for a fresh start, new language and culture and to see if my now hubby was a long term option.

This organisation would not have tolerated quiet quitters and believe me, they had some creative workarounds for making life so unbearable that non-performers would be racing for the door. For me too as an individual, I am a very all or nothing person, despite what my colleagues told me when I was getting a bit ‘hyper’ I just find it hard not to go above and beyond and let’s face it, if you love what you do, then you are so in the zone that it’s easy to keep going on a dopamine hit. Staff turnover in this consultancy firm was extremely high because there was always a fresh batch of uni graduates happy to work flat out. I was also inspired by lots of encouragement and praise.  I was very proud to work for them, people’s eyes would light up when I told them where I worked, even though I was so young – the location, the suits, the travel, I have to confess that it gave my ego a boost which in those young years felt like a life line to me.

But quiet quitting, contrary to popular belief is not just an issue for GenZ, despite the term getting a lot of traction on tiktok, employees of all ages are for the first time thinking carefully about life/work balance, particularly those with young families. Younger team members born between the mid-1990s and mid-2010s have seen how hard their parents have worked and they really don’t see the point of sacrificing everything for a job if you are not getting the job satisfaction and opportunities to make that worthwhile. The priority has changed from work/life balance to life/work balance even for engaged employees that are an asset to the organisation. 

Post pandemic, most of us, if we are asked to stay on late, expect a specific reason now and some gratitude makes us much more likely to consider going the extra mile next time. This is a particularly big problem here in Germany where the communication style is direct, the focus is on performance not relationships so in international teams this lack of feedback, gratitude and appreciation can really go against the grain. Just because someone feels ignored, neglected, taken for granted, doesn’t mean that you will know about it – unless of course you are blessed with above average emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence enables us as leaders to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. The ability to connect emotionally with employees and lead with emotional intelligence is essential for leadership effectiveness.

Talking of which, let’s take a military leadership example.

Kurt Freiherr von Hammerstein-Equord (Pronounced A chord) was a German general and a member of the military resistance against Hitler. In a discussion about how we decided about the suitability of soldiers, Hammerstein said:

“I distinguish four types. There are clever, hard-working, stupid and lazy officers.
Usually two characteristics come together.

  1. Some are clever and hard-working; they have to be on the general staff.
    2. The next are stupid and lazy; they make up 90 percent of every army and are suitable for routine tasks.
    3. Those who are clever and lazy at the same time are qualified for the highest leadership tasks, because they have the mental clarity and guts to make difficult decisions.
    4. Beware of those who are both stupid and hard-working; resist giving them any responsibility because they will cause problems.”

In the discussion about quiet quitting, we are talking about laziness, but perhaps we are talking about neglect – well that is a very strong word but neglect in terms of not having received the attention that they need to be motivated. The motivation to go the extra mile. To my mind though quiet quitting is more about when you work and not about the quality of work that you do when you are at work. If you have someone who is reliable, thorough and knowledgeable then we cannot talk of quiet quitting, they just want to balance private and work life. That’s unlikely to qualify them for leadership, but we need 90% to get the job done, right – the routine stuff. That doesn’t make them stupid and lazy necessarily but for routine tasks it is to be expected that work life balance will be a priority.

But what about the clever and lazy, they are the secret sauce right?
So by respecting their boundaries in terms of time worked you have someone who has the guts and mental clarity to make the tough decisions that keep the organisation ticking over effectively and efficiently. Bingo.

Leaders need to notice more, by actively watching, listening, paying attention and zoning in on their teams. Observation is a leadership superpower. It is a skill that needs to be practiced. In contrast to the controlling, judgemental, micro-management that is focused on what your staff are doing, ….observation is about how your staff tick, what motivates them and what they need from you to feel comfortable, accepted and valued. It’s about respect. You can’t fake it and whilst not every member of staff might demonstrate brilliant performance all of the time, the trick as a leader is to zone in on what they do do well and give them more opportunities to do more of that – easier said than done but if you are to be accepted and promoted as a strong leader then you need to become a people person as well as a preacher of performance.

Managers and HR professionals play a crucial role in creating a supportive work environment. Recognizing and respecting employees’ boundaries is vital, especially in remote work scenarios. Employers must ensure connectivity and support for remote staff to prevent feelings of isolation and disconnection.

Recognizing Signs of Quiet Quitting:

So when does quiet quitting kick in?
To my mind quiet quitting starts rather subconsciously when someone is fed up of putting in the hours and not really getting any gratitude or thanks for it. ….Most of us are happy to go the extra mile if a client is in trouble, there’s an important deadline or a problem to fix. When we pull together to rise to the challenge, with the buzz of excitement that goes with the territory, we get that sense of community and of course once you have solved the problem or pulled it off, there is that massive sense of achievement. That brings the team together, which is why team building often brings in an element of problem solving, ultimately it’s acknowledgement that people appreciate. But this is the exception, not the rule and most people are happy to do their bit in situations like that, but if overtime becomes the norm, that’s when resentment and frustration sets in.

Perhaps you have to yourself to blame though. By being accessible outside work times, you are not keeping to your own boundaries and hence you are inadvertently inviting other people not to respect those boundaries. Actions speak louder than words so if you want your boundaries and private time to be respected you need to reciprocate. If you are not at work, not on duty and not expecting anything dramatic to happen, then ignore your phone, turn it off, turn off notifications and consider leaving it at home.  If you have a groundbreaking idea or similar, write it down, send yourself an email or schedule an email to go out at a sociable time. Just because you are thinking about work, you don’t need to pull other people into your zone of self discipline.

Try relaxing at the weekend, it’s a novel idea I know and as a self employed coach and consultant clearly I sometimes have to catch up on things when my family are asleep or watching the sport. To be fair I also do sport or do those homekeeping chores during the week, so it is swings and roundabouts I guess. I have to consciously make time to do sport, gone are the days when I could give up alcohol and chocolate for a week and lose 5 kilos, so I need to look after myself and you should too. Particularly when our kids are young it is easy, particularly as mothers to put everybody and everything before our own needs, but we need to create some me time and being protective of your work time, sleep and accessibility are basics for keeping burnout at bay – after all as parents, but also as partners, daughters or sons and friends we all have other things in life that give us joy beyond work. 

Identifying signs of quiet quitting, such as lack of motivation and emotional exhaustion, is crucial. Supportive leadership and open communication are necessary to address these indicators effectively….

Leadership and Cultural Change:

Rather than quiet quitting, I am in favour of setting, communicating and keeping to your own personal boundaries, but likewise you need to respect other people’s boundaries and working preferences. What you need to remember here is that each of us as individuals have different lives and so our boundaries differ considerably. An empty nester with less responsibilities at home will have different priorities and schedules to someone with a young family at home. Someone caring for an elderly or handicapped family member will require more flexibility during the day whereas someone else will want to work through the lunch hour to get to the tennis courts on time for his league game.  What seems perfectly acceptable, normal and typical for you is rediculous for someone else…

For instance, I am an early bird so I used to expect my team to get into work early and hit the ground running just because I had already been up for three hours – after all, you’re at work to work, right? But I soon noticed that one of my team members was a real night owl and needed at least three cups of tea before you could get a half decent conversation out of them, this was frustrating for me but my behaviour was clealy infuriating for them too. I was a young manager so I had a lot to learn but I learned through observation – when I was beginning to flag early afternoon, this guy would come up with the most amazing ideas, he was just warming up. So be mindful of different body clocks and energy levels and show a little empathy. It’s actually great if a team is balanced with different personality traits etc, that drives innovation and creates a well rounded team, so avoid seeing the world through you own perspective and push yourself to see it from their perspective. These tough conversations are always uncomfortable but if in your organisation you suspect that employee loyalty is on a knife edge it is worth going the extra mile to get to the root of the problem. That means individual honest and open conversations from a place of compassion not control.

If your organisation has a toxic corporate culture, it’s easy to wash your hands of changing anything but every leader can influence change, that’s what leadership is all about. If the vibe at work is stilted and dull, it’s your job to lead. If that extends beyond just one or a handful of teams, it is worth digging a little deeper. It is worthwhile pulling in a communication coach or consultant for that independent perspective where there is less emotion at play. Clearly this is more expensive than resolving it in house but for as long as your corporate culture is not healthy your profitability will also not be as healthy as it could be. By not talking about the elephant in the room, you could be tolerating dire corporate culture and hence magnifying the problem. Remember that your most valuable talent will leave first when quiet quitting becomes too uncomfortable. Given that they will probably go to the competition, your silence is like passing on trade secrets to your competitors.

Leadership needs to change first, in terms of attitudes and beliefs. It can be tempting if you have been groomed into leadership with conventional idioms like ‘hard work never killed anybody’ or ‘plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead’ but it comes back to whether you can adapt to a modern world of work as a leader.

One approach is to have a bar camp. A bar camp is a relatively new training format where the participants determine which topics will be discussed and shared. In contrast to conventional training where the trainer dumps their knowledge onto the learners, this is a more collaborative approach. The leaders are not on the stage, they are learning in the wings and taking in what is being shared. A well delivered bar camp can be a real eye opener for leaders and can go a long way in terms of opening a dialogue about how people want to work and establishing the psychologically safe space in which employees feel confident enough to raise their hopes, dreams and concerns relevant to their career and the success of the organisation that they are working in.

In episode 52 of the Experts Speak English Podcast,  Jan Theofel reveals some fabulous success stories and the secrets behind a digital barcamp. The episode is called Explore The Magic of Corporate Barcamps with Jan Theofel. It was episode 52. Like the number of weeks in a year in case you need a memory trigger or Eselsbrücke as we say in German.

Leadership is pivotal in shaping organizational culture. Observing, empathizing, and fostering psychologically safe environments enable employees to thrive. Initiating dialogue and addressing concerns proactively are key aspects of nurturing a positive work culture.

Empowering Employees: Understanding individual motivations and career aspirations empowers employees. Aligning tasks with interests and strengths fosters engagement and satisfaction. Building relationships through open conversation cultivates a sense of ownership and commitment.

As leaders then the first step is observation, start noticing more, step into empathy. The second is to create a work culture in which your team is inspired to go the extra mile. Create a psychologically safe space in which your staff can experiment, make mistakes but more importantly stumble upon innovation, improvements and ideas. Make sure that the experts reporting to you have the space to grow professionally, give them opportunities to take on responsibilities, a chance to try something new and rise to the challenge, either with a more experienced member of the team or with training – that can be formal or informal. There is nothing more rewarding than learning something new and being able to try it out, realizing that you can now do more, give them a chance to be the best that they can be, this pride in your work is the best way to build a strong supportive team, learning from and with each other.

Murder these 3 Ms
No monologues, more conversation.
Sometimes you just have to shut up and listen
No micro-managing, more faith in their abilities
They might surprise you
No multitasking, be present for each conversation
Eyes and ears on your team member
They deserve your full attention.
Murder these 3 Ms and you will establish better rapport with your team

If someone is already a quiet quitter, find out why, establish a relationship with them, find out what they want to achieve in their career, what they enjoy doing, what they do in their free time, what makes them tick and how can you adapt their tasks and responsibilities in such a way that they enjoy their work more, if they love complex problems, great give them something cognitive to bring them back to life emotionally. If they would like more time with people rather than products find a way to make them more client facing or working with the stakeholders. What turns them on career-wise.  Sometimes it is worth asking them about previous jobs, about ideas and suggestions or to join a meeting about a new project or client. We’re all motivated by something, you need to find out what it is and lean into that. It starts and ends with conversation, you hired them for a reason, perhaps they feel that their talents are going to waste – find out.

Setting Boundaries and Saying No:

Finally if you are a leader, have the guts to say no. – For yourself but also for your team. Fight for their needs
If you are pushing new tasks and performance indicators onto your team without question, you might be causing quiet quitting. Instead of blindly accepting new requirements, projects and developments, ask yourself whether your team has the resources to fulfill that – do they have the knowledge, manpower and time to do it, if not what needs to go? Most people take pride in doing a good job, frustration sets in when you don’t have the right materials, staff or something else to do a good job, it’s a matter of pride. Being a good leader is about having the guts to challenge a decision or stand up for your staff. Unrealistic deadlines, requirements for overtime and peddling productivity all put putting additional pressure on your team. If they are loyal, already working hard and delivering on time with a decent quality, you need to stand up to your leader to question whether it is necessary. Don’t be a yes man or woman, just for the sake of a career advancement, put your team first and in time their performance, loyalty and effectiveness will be attributed to you as a leader, one that is proud of such a phenomenal team, because being recognized as a strong leader is incredibly rewarding. ….

Leaders must establish and uphold boundaries to prioritize their team’s well-being. Challenging unrealistic expectations and advocating for the team’s needs are integral to long-term success. Prioritizing employee well-being fosters loyalty and enhances organizational effectiveness.

Cocos Communication Challenge


Coco’s Communication Challenge for today and someone said I should change this to Leadership Challenge, is to look around you and spot those that are taking a back seat, who are not as engaged at work as they could be, whether you call it quiet quitting or setting clear boundaries, be there for them, listen, observe, see if you can help them communicate more effectively to those that matter, because if like me you love bringing out the potential in other people you’ll want to make sure that this individual, expert or colleague is not just going through the motions but enjoying their job, getting that dopamine hit of doing a good job. That’s humility right there. This is something that you can do as a partner, colleague or mentor, we need to look out for each other and embrace healthy boundaries if we are to see our careers as more than just a job.

To summarize then addressing quiet quitting starts and ends with open and honest communication, it requires a holistic approach, considering perspectives from both employees and employers. Continuous authentic dialogue and taking action on what you discover, are essential in creating supportive and productive work environments where employees thrive.

Related Episodes
If you enjoyed this episode, you might want to check out episodes
In addition to Nr 52 you might want to listen to…
168 The Humble Leader Guide, an interview with Dr Franciska Frank
167 Respectful Leadership
161 Excuses or Excellence
154 Emotional Intelligence
152 Murder the Monotone Monologues
148 Professional Distance
142 From Feedback to Feed Forward
139 Empathy, Resolving and Recovering from Conflict with Jürgen Von Oertzen

Your Good Deed of the Day
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Have a fabulous week and remember, be the very best communicator that you can be.
I look forward to you joining me for the next episode of “Experts! Speak English.”

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