Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour

Ep. #31. Are you Quiet Quitting?

September 01, 2022 Jean Balfour Season 1 Episode 31
Making Sense of Work with Jean Balfour
Ep. #31. Are you Quiet Quitting?
Show Notes Transcript

Are you Quiet Quitting?

For the last couple of months there's been a lot of talk about Quiet Quitting.

What is it and why does it matter?

I this episode Jean explores some of the causes of this phenomena and what we might do about it. 


Hi everyone. And welcome to this episode of making sense of work. I'm Jean Balfour. And I thought today we'd have a conversation about quiet quitting, which I'm guessing many of you have. Heard about or read about in social media Before we dive into the conversation today, I'd like to let you know that if you would like to be kept up to date about our ongoing coach training or our other personal and professional development product. Or you'd just like to hear what we're up to. You can sign up to our newsletter. It's www.baileybalfour.com, or you can follow me on LinkedIn Jean Balfour or on Instagram, Jean.Balfour so, as I said, I thought I'd have a look at quiet quitting today. I've certainly been seeing a lot about it. And I became curious about what is it, what might be causing it and what can we do about it? And I'm going to actually start with a bit of doom and gloom. I've said on the podcast a few times now that I think we have a general sense of tiredness in our systems as a hangover, from the experience of living through COVID, which we are now nearly three years in that journey. At the moment. We've also got a lot of other things kicking around. Somebody said to me yesterday, when is all the doom and gloom going to end? We've got possible looming recession. Climate change has become very real and we can now see it and feel it. We have increased instability in the world and all our bills are rising. And in business, this means that many leaders are actually really stuck. In fact, some are quite nervous not knowing what to do, not knowing how to navigate these macro impacts on business and on the coming couple of years. And often I've seen that when this is the case, when the pressure is on, we need to find solutions fast. We need to look for everything we can do. And then for employees, this means increasing work. So here we have it. We're already tired. We've got a lot of things kicking around in the system and there's a chance that we're gonna have to do more to. In the coming months on top of that, we also hear that anxiety levels are high. Burnout levels are high, stress levels are high. So we are in a pretty difficult situation, I think. And I'm not at all surprised that for some people, this means they're questioning how they want to relate to their organization and how they want to relate to. Our current situation also didn't happen overnight. Over the past 30 years, we've gone from working mostly an eight hour working day to now working much longer hours to trying to squeeze more into less. Many organizations have become leaner. We've seen productivity increases being important, and so jobs have become bigger, more complex and people have been working longer hours. And I think that initially this came with a sense of kind of pride and machismo almost look at me. Look at how hard I can work. And I, I know that I've done a bit of that over the years. People who know me, would've seen it. And in organizations, we have really rewarded people for being busy for working long hours. And that's had an impact. As a result of that, we've often then needed to relax by escaping into binge watching shows, perhaps alcohol or food for me, computer games. And so our health is deteriorated, less exercise, perhaps less time with friends and family. All of which is actually good for us. I know for me, I really used to pride myself on working a seven or eight hour day. And I was really intentional that I wasn't going to change that. But as time went on, as things in the culture and society changed, I increased my hours slowly, slowly, and for about 10 years now, I've definitely worked more than eight hours a day, most commonly 10 hours a day. And. This is a challenge for us because actually the research is saying that when we work over a certain period, our productivity plummets. So there's some research suggesting that if we just worked six hours a day and we were really focused on those six hours, we would actually be just as productive or more productive than if we worked nine hours. And once we start working 10 hours or more, that's when our productivity drops. So working hours have contributed to some of the situation, but of course that's not all there's other things that might be going on. Some of us may be just really bored in our role or. For some people, I know they had a lot more time with their family during COVID and they miss that. They want to get back to that. We're seeing anxiety, as I've said. And I don't think that the macro environment is changing that. And so if, if I'm anxious, if somebody's anxious, then I don't actually have the emotional bandwidth to go above and beyond. Maybe we are just exhausted and had enough. And for us as individuals, all these things are valid. But for organizations, the concern is that if a high number of people are feeling like this productivity is going to drop, and regardless of how many hours people put in, we are still gonna have a problem. People will either leave the organization because they're struggling and mood will be low. So I kind of think that it's no wonder that we've got something called quiet, quitting happening, because I think quite a few people perhaps more than would even own up are asking a really big question about why bother. So what is quiet, quitting? Well, apparently the trend started in China when millennials who were exhausted by the culture of hard work, started doing something called lying flat, or please excuse my pronunciation. Tan ping in Chinese. In social media. We actually only started hearing about it in July this year, and now only two months on everywhere. I look, I see quiet, quitting, including in a recent BBC article. Where they describe it as doing only what your job demands and nothing more. So questing means doing nothing extra. You still show up for work, but you stay first of all, strictly within the boundaries of the time that you're contracted to work and within the boundaries of your job requirements. So no more helping out with additional tasks or even checking emails out of. Of course, some people are saying, well, if people stop doing this, they won't be promoted or they won't progress in the organization. But actually I think this is missing the point because I think those who are behaving in this way are well beyond caring. They're exhausted and fed up. And I think they just don't really care. I'm also not sure it's quite as binary as that, that if you do quiet quit, then you won't progress. And if you don't, you will progress. I think that if we look at quiet, quitting differently and decide to work differently, maybe we can be just as productive. Maybe we can do things above and beyond that. We just find a way to do it within our working hours, or we do it differently. I'm also not sure. This is just a millennial thing, which is how it's being positioned in the media. I'm a baby boomer. And I too have found that I'm asking questions about, do I really wanna work? Like this is this how I want my working life to be? I think that COVID. Gave us permission to start to change the questions we're asking ourselves to ask it differently, to have a look at how we are thinking about work. So I also wonder whether work feels harder because we know we want to change, but we can't see how that change is going to happen. We can't see how anything is going to be. Another part that showed up in the BBC article is that often people would do some form of quiet quitting, and then actually leave in the end. So it was a precursor to them leaving. And this of course is connected to the great resignation which I talked about in episode two of the podcast. So is, is also potentially causing a bigger problem for organizations. Now I have been predicting a revolution in work for quite a long time, maybe five years, maybe longer. And I wonder whether this quiet, quitting and the great resignation is actually the beginning of that revolution. And actually as revolutions go, this is a pretty good one. This is quite peaceful. It's a way of people saying actually we want things to change and we'd really like to look at how we can change. so I have said, because I believe that there's a revolution coming that we probably do need to rethink how we are working and that quiet equity is just one more sign of the problem. We have the small studies that are showing that we, if we have a shorter work week, we are just as productive at helping. But I think that we may, as individuals also need to rethink this. There's also a big problem with a potential recession looming that I think organizations will struggle to think creatively during that period. And actually, maybe if we think creatively during that period, we might ride the recession more effectively. So it can be a bit intuitive. I thought as I was doing this, I needed to see what I could do for myself to make some changes. And so, as I was thinking about preparing for today, I decided to see what would happen if I started to reduce my working day to seven hours. Um, and this could be described as me quiet, quitting from my own company. Um, but I decided that I'd give it a go that I would spend only. A total of seven hours at my computer that I would also take breaks. And during that time I'd either read or cook or exercise. So I would do something meaningful in that time and that I would see what happened now. I'm at a very early stage of this and. However, I already see that I'm actually getting just as much done. I'm choosing to be very focused when I'm working and then I'm taking a break and I'm stepping away. So I'm not wasting so much time sort of going between my emails and something else. I'm saying no, if I've only got an hour to do this job, then I need to give that hour. To the job and I'm gonna focus on, on it. I'm also doing some things that are really important to me. I'm reading more. And that really matters to me because I use the reading I do in everything that I do in my working life. So I read for work and I'm also cooking more healthy food. So that seems to be a good outcome. And as I generally work 10 hours a day, if I'm reducing this to seven hours a day, I've just found 15 hours a week. That's a lot of time. And so I'm a bit determined to see if I can carry on with this and see what happens. Now. I know I have a lot of autonomy over my working life, so I appreciate that this is much harder to do if you are in a large organization, particularly one where there's a long hours culture, but maybe as leaders, we. Also start to think about this. How could we challenge this idea that we need to be on and at our desks between 10 and 12 hours a day? So what, if anything, can we do about it? Well, one of the things I've seen over the last couple of years is that we have done a lot of teaching of resilience and mindfulness. Now I'm a massive fan of both of these things, and I think we should be teaching them and having them as an integral part of work and life. But I have begun to think that. Uh, a way for an organization to kind of put a sticking PLA over the problem to say, let me help you be calm and resilient so you can get more done. And actually what we're asking people to do is probably too much. It's putting a sticking plaster over the problem, and we're not getting to the cause of the wound. We're not solving the pain that is causing people to behave in this way. So I think it's time for us to think about it really differently. now, as you probably know, I believe that all organizations and all work is relational. That is that we do work through and with others, everything we do, even if we're a developer, when we are developing code, we have to talk to other developers for the code to connect. So our working lives are very relational. And that means that if we could find a way to talk to each other more about this situation, to be more open, to perhaps build better relationships. Maybe we can find a way forward out of the situation without doing something that is essentially passive aggressive without quitting quietly, without telling anybody, and yet still being there. Can we talk to each other and talk about all the challenges that we've got going on and see if there's a way that we can do it differently. And actually I firmly believe that we won't be able to navigate these complexities if we don't do this, if we. Talk to each other more, listen to each other more and really create that space to look for the solutions for surviving. I'm guessing that some people are hiding the fact that they're doing less. Maybe they're feeling a bit guilty about it. And this also isn't great. Mostly I think we all want to do a good day's work. But if our job has become unsustainable, we need to challenge and change this. So as an employee, this means that rather than passively working to rule, I might be better to find the courage, to have an open conversation with my boss about it, to explain that as a result of the past few years, I've actually run out of steam. And can we talk about a way for me to work differently? So that I can carry on because I really wanna carry on, but actually I want to do it differently. So I think that for us as employees, we probably need to find the courage to start those conversations. For you as leaders, actually, the full responsibility sits with you. I believe that this means proactively talking to all your employees, whether or not they're showing signs of quiet, quitting, and checking in with them saying, how are you what's really going on? And then I think we have to be open to hearing people say, my job's too big. Or maybe I need to stop doing some things. Can we really begin to explore role shifts, changing boundaries? Can we look at our working patterns and how they're sending a story to people? If I'm working 12, 14 hours a day, if I'm sending emails in the evening and before work in the morning, what am I saying to my employees about what's expected at work? And can I begin to think about this differently to signpost, to people that we can. Have a different working life and that I, as a leader, am open to this conversation. One of the ways of looking at quiet, quitting is as a redrawing of what probably are healthy boundaries boundaries between our personal work and our work lives and boundaries between the size of our role and what. Everything that needs to be done in the organization. And I think that during COVID, those boundaries actually got eroded even more. And so this may be a response to actually having no boundaries and boundaries are really good for us. So if I have a boundary around when I'm working and when I'm not working. And I have a good break. So 12 hours or more between each day, then I'm much more likely to come in, refresh the following day to work. I'm gonna feel better about it because at least I had a break. So I'm also curious about how we can talk about boundaries and particularly for leaders to say, how would you like the boundaries to be drawn around your work and how can I help you to do. I think that Daniel Pink's motivation research actually can also help us here can help us to have these conversations and it can help us as individuals to think about it. He did some research looking at what was the latest thinking really about motivation. And he presented this research in his book drive, which is a really good read. In the book. He identified the top three motivators that affect us. And this is after our basic needs are met. So as long as we've got water and we feel safe and we're either warm or cold, depending on our preference and we have enough money to live, what are the things that are then gonna make the difference in what motivates us at. And he identified these as purpose. Do I know how, what I'm doing connects to the wider purpose of the team and organization, autonomy. How much say do I have in my job and mastery, am I learning and growing? Each of these can be a good conversation starter for helping to think about what might be going on in each person's role. That's causing them to feel disillusioned or that they want to pull away. So for example, with purpose, if I don't see the point in the work that I'm doing, and if I can't make a connection to how it fits into the team or the organization's overall strategy, actually, it's quite easy for me to quiet. because I don't see the point. So why should I put in that extra effort? I can't really see how it's helping anything or what impact it's making. Maybe at the moment, the strategy is vague. I think this is quite common because organizations are not quite sure how to navigate what's coming. And maybe it's that. I don't see how I, as an individual fit into the team, all of that is going to impact how much effort I put into my job. And so having conversations about this purpose and, and how that connects to the wider organization or connects to meaning may bring us back into feeling better about work. With autonomy. If I'm feeling that I've got too much to do my S not working, this may be affecting my willingness to work. Am I being told what to do, how to spend my day, or maybe I'm internalizing this because I see others working very long hours and I don't feel that I have the autonomy to choose the working patterns that are gonna work for me. So again, have a conversation with each other to talk. Where are you on autonomy? How is that working for you? And are there ways that we could look at helping that to work more effectively? And the final one is mastery. You know, when we are bored or doing something really repetitious it leads to us getting less and less satisfaction from work. And so even doing a different job. A small piece of a different job, trying something new learning, studying even actually can give us a bit of a new lease of life for work. Studying is an interesting one because it usually involves work after work. It usually involves things outside of work, but my own experience and that of many people I know is that it actually has given them a new lease of life for their day job. There's a lot going on here. We have some big problems in our organizations and in the way we work, but these won't be solved if we don't talk to each other. The solutions to the causes of us quitting lie in our collective willingness, in our willingness to talk to each other and in our effort in solving them together. So we might have to think about some big changes in organizations. We might have to look hard at the nature of what work and productivity means to us. And we may have to see if we can find a way forward, which benefits both the employee and the organiz. But I think that without having those conversations, we may just end up with employees quietly, withdrawing effort, either staying at work or leaving work. And that's not good for anyone. So I'd really like to encourage you to think about your own quiet, quitting, and how you could talk to someone about it and see if you can bring about change for you. And if you are a leader, how can you bring about change for the others in your.