Working with thousands of leaders and their organizations, Talentism is deeply familiar with the power dynamics of work. Quiet quitting is the latest in a long line of those power dynamics to spark a frenzy of attention, inspiring thousands of takes in one of three categories: here’s why it’s great!, here’s why it’s horrible!, or here’s how to fix it. Yet as this comes up again and again in our sessions and conversations, this is confusing our clients and network far too much for us to stay out of the conversation.
Quiet quitting is simply another name for an age-old industrial phenomenon. When someone was brought in to evaluate why some assembly lines were more productive than others, the finding was that some people just weren’t working as hard as others, bringing down the line’s productivity. Once again, we’re seeing humans in jobs who feel pushed to their breaking point in being underappreciated, overworked, and underpaid…and who can’t do much about it, other than to make a decision about how they apply their time at work. According to decades of Gallup polls, a lack of engagement at work in America isn’t new. It’s just been rebranded, again.
However, people are much more public about it with advent of social media, and quiet quitting is manifesting slightly differently now:
- Increasingly prevalent in financial services: The people who used to line up for jobs that treated them badly in exchange for a big payoff down the line, are now questioning whether getting on a wealth treadmill is how they want to spend their lives.
- Sooner rather than later in the startup realm: The people who dedicated their waking hours to startups are becoming disengaged, figuring out how to do the bare minimum to be neither rewarded nor punished.
- Generational gap: Generations that were willing to put up with long hours and few incentives, outside of a steady paycheck, are encountering workers who insist that’s far from good enough.
Management typically imagines itself to be in control and when it comes to hire, fire, and promote authority – they are. The outcome is that they can incentivize well on one hand, or make a big mess on the other. What’s getting interesting is that increasingly more people are realizing that workers can make things messy, too.
We talk about the importance of context all the time at Talentism. And context matters here, too. Because while the concept of quiet quitting isn’t new, social media is enabling millions of people to talk about this in an immediate way. If we’re seeing this type of behavior in places we never have before – elite financial institutions, unicorn startups – how does this play out?
Some organizations are turning to employee monitoring, with an almost immediate backlash as it erodes morale, team cohesion, and trust. Those organizations will suffer, as their best talent won’t stay for a management crisis that engages hypervigilance as response. In other cases, founders and CEOs are quiet quitting, too: after having assumed everyone was in it together, they’re seeing that this simply isn’t true.
At Talentism, we’re noticing that this is not an evolution, but a revolution. We’re excited about the leaders who are seeing these fundamental changes and willing to explore them. The idea that humans are rational, and that people will be motivated entirely by money and jobs – that model is entirely wrong for the current situation as people become less willing to suffer through bad management. That model can’t account for people who care about the values of a company, the purpose of a product, and the impact it has on the broader world. More and more people expect to be compensated fairly for work, to take an interest in the values and actions of the organization, to be treated with respect, to take a position on whether they are helping or hurting in the world. Some organizations will crumble. New organizations will flourish, aware that a new model is necessary.
Those of you who know us, won’t be surprised to hear that we feel optimistic. This moment is a time for companies that are talentist, rather than capitalist in nature. A leader’s job is to unleash their people’s potential. Those who can recognize that now, will win.