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Yes, Do Quiet Quit
Poor Title for the Right Behavior
Welcome to Polymathic Being, a place to explore counterintuitive insights across multiple domains. These essays take common topics and explore them from different perspectives and disciplines and, in doing so, come up with unique insights and solutions. Fundamentally, a Polymath is a type of thinker who spans diverse specialties and weaves together insights that the domain experts often don’t see.
Today's topic will explore the current ‘phenomena’ of Quiet Quitting and questions whether our current cultural expectations for work are actually good for us.
A simple Google search will bring forth a bevy of articles from differing perspectives about ‘Quiet Quitting’. For those who aren’t familiar, it’s employees just doing exactly what their job requires of them and nothing more. In the beginning, most of the articles were biased toward disaster for corporate America. Over the past weeks, the balance has shifted toward perspectives that it isn’t so bad. Fundamentally the latter is how I’ve viewed it because I’ve been telling my teams to Quiet Quit for over a decade. Paradoxically, I typically also have the highest performance and efficiency from my teams compared to others. How can these both be true?
The thing about performance reviews measuring your output, and how they result in promotions and pay raises, is that… they don’t really. The dirty secret is that the fastest way to get promotions and pay raises is to leave the company and go somewhere else. The incentive structures within an organization, and the performance reviews that drive them, force the employees to work at a level or two above their pay grade to get anything above a ‘meets expectations’. This means that when I was a mid-level systems engineer, I was expected to have Sr. Manager and Director level impact on the organization while getting paid 1/2 the salary. It’s really kind of a racket. Worse, the people who play this racket are actually not really the people you want to be promoted quickly anyway. Just like I captured in Lazy Leadership, the lazy leader is today called the ‘Quiet Quitter’. Well, it certainly seems like they are putting in a whole lot less effort than the industrious leader doesn’t it? And yet, with less effort, more is often accomplished.
As a leader, I’ve always strived to be a lazy leader. I push work on others, I avoid meetings, I defer tasks, and I even refuse to take action at times. Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? I’ll double down here and admit I also teach my teams to do the same things! Because a different way to look at this is that I delegate, I protect focus time, I hold accountability to the actual task owners, and I avoid the reactive mode and will often let a situation settle down before jumping in halfcocked. Quiet Quitting is a poor title for an actually healthy mindset!
The Wall Street Journal just published an article titled “Why Bosses Should Ask Employees to Do Less—Not More (Paywall, sorry) Here they talk about the role of the leader to protect their people’s personal and professional time. This is exactly in line with the lazy leader in prioritizing success over the semblance of action. The fastest movers are often the least efficient.
A great example was a boss I had shortly after the Army. We had to find a hardware unit that was supposed to ship and make sure it was still moving. We nicknamed this fellow ‘Marvin the Martian’ because he was constantly powerwalking everywhere chugging energy drinks. He comes and grabs me and dashes across the plant site. I didn’t want to jog to keep up so I just stepped it out and watched him head off. I got to the shipping center, and went to my point of contact there, was directed to the final inspector, found the problem, called quality to release a hold, signed off the inspection, moved the product to packaging, and chit-chatted while helping load it, and taped up the box. Just then, my boss comes charging in, having scoured the entire facility looking for the unit (having beat me there, to begin with), and demands to know why I’m not helping him look. I informed him that we had found the unit, cleared it, packaged it, and shipped it. All while he frenetically ran around. The irony is that this person was often highlighted as displaying the ‘energy’ leadership liked to see.
I vowed at that time to flip the script on that measure of success and instead work to enable my team to settle back, relax, and, *gasp* Quiet Quit… At least according to the success metrics that coined that phrase, to begin with!
Because it’s not Quiet Quitting; it’s just not playing by the same rules. Instead of constantly trying to grab the next thing, I’d encourage my team to take time for professional training. Instead of taking the tasks no one wants, I’d have them explore opportunities they thought were interesting. Instead of demanding they achieve results above their level, I’d have them expand their network at their level and build coalitions for future success. As I’ve told people for years:
A company will take every hour you give it and will replace you without a complaint in two weeks
I should add, they’ll replace you with two people and never consider what that actually means or whether they treated or rewarded you appropriately. It is telling how worried Corporate America is about Quiet Quitting because it shows just how much they expect people to sacrifice without due compensation. Companies love to talk about employee loyalty, but companies rarely have loyalty to their employees. This is a very important, and painful lesson to accept for employees.
I learned this lesson over a decade ago and stopped playing. I ensured I had protected time. I clearly set expectations that I’d be in by 6 am and leave by 4 pm so I could have time with my kids in the evening. (Plus nothing good happens after 4 pm) I always strove to prevent the over-reach of reactive time sucks. I made sure that if I had to work outside of normal hours, this was a special case, and not to expect it. I declined ‘career advancing’ roles, or projects because 1. they weren’t, and 2. required tons of extra time. So maybe I was the first Quiet Quitter, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t successful.
By stepping back and quitting the problematic expectations of the corporate rat race, my teams, and I, have been able to achieve results on projects that other teams hadn’t been able to solve for years, (sometimes over 10 years!) achieve innovation breakthroughs no one had envisioned, and create buy-in for enterprise initiatives everyone thought would fail. Instead of dashing around looking busy, we took our time and leveraged the skillsets around us. Quiet quitting can actually look a lot more like a US Special Forces axiom I learned as a Ranger:
Slow is smooth and smooth is fast
I don’t need to work two levels above my own. I need to successfully execute my job function and take the extra effort and grow myself in a way that fits my needs, not someone else’s. I use that time to broaden my background, expand my network, and took opportunities that interested me. In doing so, my career has accelerated beyond, or at least on par with those who put forth so much more effort.
To add one last nail in the coffin of this concept, Quiet Quitters are actually the ones I look for to staff my teams. They are the ones smart enough to jump off the corporate merry-go-round and that’s the sort of mindset that will actually solve the wicked problems we are facing. Given the choice of an all-star team, I’d rather pass them over because they are often only all-stars according to an entire corporate culture that I find incentivizes the wrong behaviors.
So please, be a Quiet Quitter. Step back. Protect your personal life. Take time to expand beyond the demands of work. Turn off the computer after work. Stop giving all your hours to an organization that doesn’t follow through on promises. Grow yourself instead.
Lastly, do the best work within your job expectations you possibly can. Don’t give your time away, but use that time to make yourself so good at what you do that you have extra time. Look up and around and see what other opportunities exist. Make sure others are doing their job and you aren’t doing it for them. Establish structures and proactive accountability so that you don’t have to react to things as much. It doesn’t have to be quitting, it can be self-care that allows you to grow.