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Quiet Quitting: New Trends or Old Behaviours?

Written by the Green Cross Global Consultancy team

There have been many references in the media and on social media about quiet quitting. Do we, or should we do more than our job role requires, or stick to the strict letter of the job description?

Especially in the current climate of economic downturn, it is hard to decide on the right approach.

Fear that not being seen to be going the extra mile could disadvantage yourself (or worse, lose your job) versus “I am fulfilling the requirements of my job within the working day – why should I do more for no reward?”

Ross Abbott, our Health And Wellbeing Senior Manager reflected from his 20 years in Learning and Development:

“Communication is the most vital activity for any business. This means being clear about responsibilities and specific about boundaries”

He went on:

“Discuss expectations openly and honestly, be clear about additional requirements and address any concerns straightaway. There is a difference between working additional hours for necessity and for effect”

We all need to look after our careers, mental health and wellbeing, so ultimately, it’s a personal choice….or is it.


New term – Old behaviours

We see many people on our courses, webinars and discussion groups referring to their challenges in balancing their workload with their personal well-being priorities; feelings of “not being valued”, “taken for granted”, and “being taken advantage of” are common and people are genuinely looking for answers.

For many, involved in the current debate about this, there are parallels with Equity Theory, which goes back to theoretical behavioural principles from the 1960’s – but has scarily familiar themes in 2022.

Equity theory has been widely applied in business settings by industrial psychologists to describe the relationship between an employee’s motivation and their perception of equitable or inequitable treatment in a business setting. Equity theory has several implications for business managers, which are reflected in Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman’s recent article in the Harvard Business Review:

  • People measure the totals of their inputs and outcomes. This means a working mother may accept lower monetary compensation in return for more flexible working hours
  • Different employees ascribe personal values to inputs and outcomes. Two employees, of equal experience and qualification, performing the same work for the same pay may have quite different perceptions of the fairness of the deal.
  • Although it may be acceptable for more senior staff to receive higher compensation, there are limits to the balance of the scales of equity and employees can find excessive executive pay demotivating.
  • Staff perceptions of inputs and outcomes of themselves and others may be incorrect, and perceptions need to be managed effectively.

An employee who believes he is overcompensated may increase his effort. However he may also adjust the values that he ascribes to his own personal inputs. It may be that he or she internalises a sense of superiority and actually decrease his efforts.


Managers Role

A recent article by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman in the Harvard Business Review looked at the manager’s role in people’s attitudes and decisions to ‘quiet quitting’.

Whilst acknowledging this as a ”new name for old behaviours”, they “found that the least effective managers have three to four times as many people who fall in the ‘quiet quitting’ category compared to the most effective leaders.”

They also highlighted, “These managers had 14% of their direct reports quietly quitting, and only 20% were willing to give extra effort. But those rated the highest at balancing results with relationships saw 62% of their direct reports willing to give extra effort, while only 3% were quietly quitting.”

The manager role and the relative effectiveness of individual managers was a significant factor in how people manage themselves and their well-being relative to the job requirements.

So it would seem that many of the elements of Equity Theory from the 1960’s are equally true – and perhaps underscored more acutely – in our 24/7, ‘always on’ society of 2022.

Does this suggest that nothing has changed from decades ago? Are people just always going to feel unfairly treated and being asked to do more for nothing? Is our only option to ‘graft harder’, as was highlighted in the political world recently.

We asked our in-house Business Psychologist, Ellice Whyte, to shine a light on Quiet Quitting from her work and research.


Ellice Says:

Ellice believes that the problem is more complex and has some roots in the fundamental process of creating a job description that accurately reflects the job role.

There is also climate and environment to be taken into account:

Is it ‘quiet quitting’ when fulfilling the role requirements? Is it fair to expect more than doing your job description effectively? People need to manage their priorities and are entitled to fairly execute their work without being penalised for not doing more”.

How many examples are there of a job description stating the work hours are 9-5, ‘but may occasionally require additional hours’, and ‘additional’ turns out to mean ‘usual’ or even ‘mandatory’.

People invest additional hours when they feel they will be rewarded in some way. This is not always about pay and can be many other things – even just as simple as recognition.”

A company must recognise that people’s lives change and must be aware and adaptive to that. Someone should not be penalised for not working above and beyond, chasing that next job promotion or simply wanting to finish work on time to enjoy their free time.”

The flip side of the additional hours coin”, continued Ellice, ”is that some people stay on after hours – but don’t effectively work. Some people are there because they feel peer pressure to be present, even if they have completed their work already.”

This is where work culture can clash with Psychological Safety. “People work better, more productively and creatively when they feel their contribution will not have any adverse outcomes.

People need reassurance that they won’t get in trouble or that it will come back to bite them if they do something. You are entitled not to work above and beyond whilst maintaining your job requirements, and should not face discrimination“.


What are the options?

Ellice says that if she could advise on dealing with ‘Quiet Quitting’, she would point to 4 key things:

  • Conduct a thorough Job Analysis – what the role needs, what skills set required, and what training and mentorship can be offered, before writing the job description.
  • Be honest in the Job Description about what skills and hours are required and what support will be given to anyone recruited into the post without all the skills. Make sure this is honoured by the business.
  • Create a climate of Psychological Safety – Recognise and be fairly rewarded for what you do well, give quality feedback, and share new ideas without fear of retribution.
  • Manage expectations – people are entitled to fulfil their job description and no more. If changes need to be made, effectively communicate and agree with your employees. Employers could be breaching the terms of your contract if you are expected to work beyond expected or reasonable duties.

For help on how to approach ‘Quiet Quitting’, or to find out more about our consultancy services, contact:

consultancy@greencrossglobal.co.uk OR call 0330 120 0105

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