by Annmarie Uliano
According to Gallup’s 2022 State of the Global Workplace Report, a mere 21% of employees are engaged at work and 33% of employees are thriving in their overall wellbeing as measured by their hope for the future, feeling about self, and connection to meaningful work. Some coined phrases to describe this are "living for the weekend," "watching the clock tick," and newly "quiet quitting."
What is quiet quitting? @zkchillin on TikTok's viral video captures the idea well: “You’re not outright quitting your job but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond. You’re still performing your duties but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life. The reality is it’s not, and your worth as a person is not defined by your labor or productive output.” The idea of quiet quitting has become widely debated, sparked a great deal of important research, and opened an important public discussion about the nature of work.
I had been exposed to the concept of quiet quitting pretty early on into my career. I joined a department where half the staff had turned over in the 3 months leading up to my joining (no, I didn’t know before I joined). Quiet quitting was pretty obvious with the few that remained. While me and the five others that joined around the same time were passionate, excited and ready to make an impact in the organization, I watched those veterans come late to work and watch Netflix way past their lunch break. Eventually the energized outperformed the “quiet quitters,” which led to a newly defined department with mission, vision, and shared values.
A few years later, the pandemic hit and while all industry was hit with too much work with not enough resources, healthcare got the hardest blow. An already overworked and understaffed workforce was pummelled. There was no money to reward staff for their hard work either. During one of the pandemic years, leadership told us they weren’t sure if we could even get a cost of living adjustment (luckily, we did). After a few months, I started to see “quiet quitting” get picked up by coworkers who once shared my energy to rebuild our department years ago. This time we were working from home, and it could be hidden much more easily.
As my department dwindled due to burnout and new leadership took over, the ones that remained, including myself, were quietly quitting. One coworker got another job to make money, and worked both jobs side by side, mainly due to not getting fairly compensated or acknowledged. Another picked up a health and fitness hobby that seemed to run the schedule of their day. For me, I found my work/life balance became work/couch balance, and I no longer felt I was giving 100% in all of my tasks.
For some of us, the quiet quitting reaction is simply a response to anlack of respect from the organization, i.e. “quiet firing”. According to the Washington Post, employers avoid providing all but the bare legal minimum, possibly with the intention of getting unwanted employees to quit, denying raises for years, failing to supply resources while piling on demands, giving feedback designed to frustrate and confuse, or granting privileges to select workers based on vague, inconsistent performance standards. Those who don’t like it are welcome to leave.
I realized perhaps, for me, a contributing factor to my quiet quitting was being an engineer in an organization where the role was misunderstood, working in a sea of medical professionals - people with a different set of credentials. I always felt I lacked good mentorship in analytics and had to work extra hard to find someone to fill that gap when I needed it.
A Possible Solution: Inclusive Leadership
I recently learned about inclusive leadership and want to propose it as a possible solution to combat the quiet quitting/firing trend. The Harvard Business Review defines inclusive leadership as leadership that assures that all team members feel they are treated respectfully and fairly, are valued and sense that they belong, and are confident and inspired. Another definition provided by Dr. Meghan Pollock from Engineer Inclusion is a set of leader behaviors that focus on facilitating group members feeling part of the group and retaining their sense of individuality while contributing to group processes and outcomes.
What I come to reflect on here is the effect of the leadership cascade on the members of my department. More inclusive leadership, as was demonstrated by my original boss in the original turnover of my department, is what was needed when things broke down over time. At various points in time, my department had interim leadership in place, and my organization went through a large merger and a pandemic. You can imagine that leadership at all levels could not keep up with steady and inclusive leadership with such a changing organization.
For employees and managers alike, if you are struggling with engagement in your work, try learning more about inclusive leadership. The six key traits for inclusive leaders are depicted in the diagram below.
Feel free to comment and engage on how you think these characteristics may or may not help with the quiet quitting phenomenon.
About the Author
Annmarie Uliano is a Healthcare Systems Engineer in Boston, MA currently pursuing her CPEM certification. She is serving as ASEM Secretary and has loved being involved with ASEM since starting a student chapter during grad school at Northeastern University in 2016. Follow her on Linkedin or Twitter.