From Quiet to Conscious Quitting: Should You Stay or Should You Go?

Marc-Peter Pijper
Written by Marc-Peter Pijper April 15, 2023

Are my twin 9-year-old daughters old enough for an iPhone? Their argument is that literally EVERYONE in their class already has one, but I take this claim with a grain of salt since it's a common tactic they use to persuade me to buy something for them. While it's true that they will eventually encounter the latest TikTok trends and challenges, often in innocent dance moves, I'd like to save them from the next 'firework stomping' challenge. Moreover, TikTok has also affected workplaces in recent times, with videos showcasing the "quiet quitting" trend, where dissatisfied employees do the bare minimum to avoid getting fired. What’s the source of this dissatisfaction?

"If the CEOs decide to work a little less, they are praised by the management team for a healthy work-life balance. If an employee does it, they accuse them of quiet quitting."
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The evolving phenomenon of quiet quitting

Discussions on employee engagement are not new. As early as 1970, the German-American economist Albert O. Hirschman defined the so-called Exit, Voice, Loyalty, Neglect (EVLN) model.

Although originally intended to describe citizens' responses to political developments, it can also be applied to employees within organizations:

  • Exit means you resign and seek salvation elsewhere.
  • Voice involves expressing your disapproval, and trying to bring about change.
  • Loyalty means resigning yourself to the daily grind, continuing to work, and hoping for better times.
  • Neglect means cutting back on your efforts, no longer doing your best, and putting less energy into your work.

And the latter category sounds suspiciously like the quiet quitting hype.

We are all familiar with Gallup's State of the Global Workplace survey. In 2022, it again showed 79% of employees worldwide were 'disengaged' or 'actively disengaged'. Since the seventies, numerous studies and surveys have been carried out with similar findings like old wine in new bottles.

The surprising inflation of quiet quitting

What is rather remarkable, though, is that the definition of quiet quitting is already subject to inflation.

First, it was about a group of employees who had given up all hope of an improvement in work conditions and whose last resort was to do just enough not to be fired. Now, I'm learning that you are also quiet quitting if you decide not to take on overtime or opt for a 4-day workweek.

The appealing videos on TikTok seem to make quiet quitting the cool thing to do, with employees as oppressed victims. Employers become antagonists who, by definition, try to burden employees by making unreasonable demands.

Although many quiet quitters are genuinely in a hopeless situation, where employers really need to step up and take action, I'm afraid that people who have solid jobs within solid companies will get swept up in this negative viral trend. All too ready to go into quiet quitting mode.

Before quitting quietly, employees should reflect first, using the time-honored EVLN model:

  • Exit: Consider if the situation is really that bad, and if it is, then hop on the Great Resignation Bandwagon.
  • Loyalty: Realize that it’s an illusion to think you can happily sit on a pink cloud all day, free to grow, develop, and simultaneously make the world a better place. Sometimes, a job is about getting less exciting tasks and lame stuff done, and the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
  • Voice: Come out and share that you want to improve your work-life balance, that you are very motivated and want to shine in your work, but not in the standard five days a week, but in four instead.

By the way, 10 years ago, I decided to switch to working four days a week. It was probably the best decision I ever made in my working life. I dare to argue that it made me more productive.

The quiet quitting revolution: Why employers need to take notice

On the other hand, the amount of attention given to quiet quitting is a clear indication to employers that something needs to change. Since the pandemic, employees have started to consider their work-private-life balance, and many now value their time with family and friends more than ever before.

If employers expect their employees to just return to the office without blinking an eye, to prove they’re impassioned about their job, then you’re asking for a counter-movement.

As an employer, it is essential to reflect on what quiet quitting means. As Simon Sinek, author of ‘Leaders Eat Last’ says in the Dare to Lead podcast: "If the CEOs decide to work a little less, they are praised by the management team for a healthy work-life balance. If an employee does it, they accuse them of quiet quitting."

The rise of conscious quitting

Some companies have been overtaken by this new reality. We are entering an era of conscious quitting, where employees prioritize jobs offering fulfillment and positive impact more than money and flexibility. So, while the causes of quiet quitting still need fixing, companies that ignore this shift risk being less attractive and successful.

Companies that do step up can unlock innovation and loyalty. They also accelerate growth to a more sustainable and responsible business. This requires greater ambition on values and impact, communicated effectively.

Above all, they empower their people, who are intrinsically motivated to improve their company's impact on the world.

Written by Marc-Peter Pijper
Marc-Peter Pijper
I work at Viisi. With our philosophy ‘People First, Customers Second, Shareholders Last’, we offer a workplace that enables everyone to work on the best version of themselves.
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