Quiet Quitting: Are Employers Culturally Aware?
By Steven E. Sacks, CGMA, ABC
Employees are not keen about returning to their offices after an almost two-and-a-half year (for some) hiatus from the hassle of commuting and balancing child care and other personal responsibilities. What are company leaders to do?
Employees want to strike a balance between their work life and their family life (or life outside the office). The common employee refrain has been “I want to find my life’s passion, and I need work flexibility to accomplish this.”
What about creating value and finding purpose and meaning from work? More to the point: Can meaning and purpose be derived from a job?
Are there impediments to realizing this? Yes. It is important to understand how company management may think and react. The notion of a day’s pay for a day’s work still holds true. But it begs the question of what is a day’s work.
Can We Define Work?
What is work, really? Is it just doing the things that the job requires and getting paid for the efforts in order to afford life’s basic necessities: food, clothing, and shelter? There are jobs whose requirements are plain and simple. Count the boxes of widgets; box the shirts; screw in the bolts, etc. I don’t know if any metrics are used in these and other repetitive human processes (though Amazon will tell a different story) to assess the level of productivity. If none exist, then the ability to do rote tasks will just be the minimum level for keeping a job. There is no incentive to go beyond what is the acceptable base. If there are productivity metrics in place, then efforts will match what is required. Nothing more. No need to communicate regularly with the employees.
What if your work is a profession, such as a CPA, lawyer, or even a doctor? For argument’s sake, let’s remove doctors from this discussion. I cannot imagine productivity analytics being applied to them. No end-of-the-month rush to meet surgery quotas. Just the goal of improvement in health or quality of life.
CPAs, particularly those in the early stages of their careers, the billable hours they generate will be the barometer, along with engagement profitability. And when tax season comes around, what will firms do in this supposed post-Covid era? One weekend day in the office until April 15? Will this be resumed, or will new arrangements be developed; and will those firms that rebuffed tax season Saturdays pre-Covid continue to do so?
Professional services firms are trying to determine how they will get back to normality or whatever is considered normal. There are firms asking their employees to come back to the office full-time. Some are planning for a hybrid model, and some have decided that productivity was and will continue to be maintained through remote work. Their employees who worked remotely proved the age-old philosophy of “presenteeism” no longer was the fulcrum that held a company together.
A Fad or a Movement?
This last group of firms will have the best chance of retaining and attracting new talent from a wider geographic area — and perhaps will be minimally impacted by the current trend of “quiet quitting,” which was introduced in early August as a TikTok video gone viral.
What is quiet quitting? Essentially it is an attitude that doing just the minimum will be good enough to earn a paycheck. The question is what is expected of employees. If they are to do tasks A, B, C, and D and complete them, will they also consider doing E, F, and G, which are necessary, but for which they have not yet been direct responsibility? Well, yes they might. If leadership encourages it by incentivizing behavior through a positive work culture, attractive salary and benefits, and of course, a flexible work arrangement.
Is quiet quitting the new fad-of-the-month, or is it something that started, but was not acknowledged, in the pre-Covid era? Could it have begun with layoffs during the Great Recession when management demanded those employees who remained do more with less, and at the same pay rate? If it were over a period of years, could it have just taken a little kick here, a little kick there, to accelerate the trend?
Companies will be hard-pressed to keep people if they don’t understand how their employees’ thinking and priorities have changed over the past two-and-a-half years of isolated work.
What was once pride in doing a good job has unfortunately shifted to “just good enough.”
If this continues, businesses will face greater challenges. It is not necessarily laziness if the required minimum is done. Instead, there is no motivation. This is because employers may not have been aware or taken the necessary steps to recognize people’s creativity, energy, enthusiasm, and desire.
In any event, this (new) attitude toward work has infiltrated a number of industry sectors. How long it will last is anyone’s guess. In the following webcast, David Bergstein and I chat about quiet quitting and how it may impact the accounting profession.
Steven Sacks is the CEO of Solutions to Results, LLC, a consultancy that specializes in helping individuals, firms and organizations meet the challenges of communicating with clarity and purpose. Visit his website at www.solutions2results.com.