Quiet Quitting or Rightful Rebalancing?

*Originally posted on LinkedIn

I remember the day, what I was wearing and exactly where I was when she said it…

I was having a 1:1 session with one of my most adored coaches, discussing how out of balance my life felt. I was explaining the conflict between how I wanted to be spending my time (more mothering and more creative pursuits) vs. how I was spending my time (overworking in a thankless corporate environment).

What she said rang true for that situation and so many others I’ve encountered in my life since –

Things must get OUT of balance before they can get back IN balance.

And she was right. I needed to feel that imbalance in order to make the changes necessary to feel more balance in my inner world and the outer world in which I was operating.

We are seeing the signs of imbalance in all areas of our world right now– politics, racism, gun control, student loans, climate change, the list goes on. While I don’t plan to delve further into those polarizing topics, the truth is, they are all rearing their heads in polarizing ways right now, begging to be rebalanced. The cycle of rebalancing that happens in our personal lives constantly, also happens at a grander scale collectively in our communities and our world.

Now let’s apply this principle to what is happening in our work environment today.

I’ll first say that there are always exceptions to every trend or headline. There are great employers out there who truly care about their people and are operating on the core human principles of trust, respect and open communication (which BTW typically renders all those other corporate “score keeping” dynamics obsolete). In fact, I’m proud to say that several of those people-centric employers are Truist clients, whether they evolved that way on their own or got there through the influential work we’ve done together. There are also workers who intentionally seek to manipulate the system to gain more while giving less.

My thoughts captured in the rest of this article are for those unnerved by and clinging to the recently coined term “quiet quitting” as a means to retain dictatorial sovereignty over well-intentioned employees without listening or engaging in a constructive dialogue and updated agreement with them.

I am currently working on a book which highlights 8 toxins that pervade many corporate cultures, driving profit at the expense of people’s well-being instead of as a byproduct of people’s balanced growth towards their full potential. High on that list is “gaslighting”, and it is exactly what I would categorize the “quiet quitting” label under.

In my book, I talk about how gaslighting, “expired agreements”, “faulty math”, and other unhealthy dynamics present in a shockingly high number of company environments. Not to mention the promotion of “hustle culture”–  burnout is at an all-time high. With 1 in 5 adults experiencing mental health issues, the majority of our U.S. family systems are at their breaking point.

Willful humans won’t bend until they break. They’ll bend until they’ve almost broken, and then they’ll find a way to rebalance, with or without permission. Most employees have tried to take the “above the line” approach for years without much success…

I’ve conducted hundreds of primary research interviews and focus groups with job seekers and employees alike over my 15+ year career in the Talent Brand & Marketing domain.  What I’ve collectively learned is that when baseline Pay & Benefit needs are met, people want 4 main things to feel meaning and satisfaction in their work: Purpose, Autonomy, Appreciation, and to be treated like a human (which includes being genuinely listened to, honestly communicated with, and respectfully engaged with to problem solve when things start to feel out of balance).

Even though my team and I try to end most of our talent research interviews with a heartfelt thank you to the interviewee for their time and shared insights, the interviews usually actually end with the interviewee expressing a heartfelt thanks to us for listening. They convey a sense of hope that their employer commissioned this type of work in order to understand them better and use that newfound understanding as a means to make meaningful changes in the days and months ahead.  In short, they are intensely relieved that someone finally listened to what they’ve been trying to share for months, sometimes years– in 1:1 meetings with their manager, in employee engagement surveys, in anonymous letters to executives, in peer circles, in all the communication channels that the leaders around them seem to have approved putting into action, but too busy to actually respond to or take action against.

So, don’t put this false label of “quiet quitting” on employees. If good workers have been quiet, it’s often because they’ve either been silenced or just not listened/responded to. And if they haven’t actually quit their job, they probably haven’t stopped delivering equitable value. What they’ve probably chosen to quit is accepting that imbalance is an acceptable way to be in any relationship - including the one they spend a hell of a lot of waking hours engaged in (their employer).

Like most things in the company-employee relationship, there is no single silver bullet to resolution, for employers who feel they are experiencing undesirable shifting dynamics from their employees. However, there is a common starting point that those employers would be wise to visit.  Clear time, space and energy to engage in Active Listening (emphasis on Active). If there is anything I know from my experience interviewing, being an employee myself and leading many others it’s that genuinely going back to the human basics of trust, support and respectful communication will gain you a lot of loyalty, probably even greater discretionary productivity and deep confidence that when nothing needs to be kept quiet, no one wants to quit.