This summer, “quiet quitting” took the internet by storm. The phrase, which was popularized as a TikTok trend, quickly reached the broader internet.
Everyone seemed to have an opinion about the efficacy of people opting to perform their professional responsibilities without the often-unstated extras, such as staying late to impress the boss, monitoring email 24/7 or performing additional tasks to “be a team player.” But some say that quiet quitting isn’t new. As Derek Thompson succinctly explained in the Atlantic, “What people are now calling ‘quiet quitting’ was, in previous decades, simply known as ‘having a job.’”
However, the discussion’s popularity revealed a fault line in today’s workplace and requires leaders to reassess the ways they support and empower their teams, as well as recognize that their people are critical to the success of their organizations.
Here are three ways leaders can begin that process now.
Employee burnout is alarmingly high today. Research by McKinsey found that 28% of U.S. workers experience feelings of burnout “somethings, often or always,” and 32% “experience moderate distress.”
In other words, people need a break.
That’s why leaders should expect and enable people to use paid time off. What’s more, leaders need to model this priority by using their own PTO benefits to support their own well-being and be an example to their group.
While it’s becoming more common—and business-friendly—to offer unlimited PTO, these policies might actually prevent people from taking time off, as many may worry about making a bad impression, keeping up with colleagues or otherwise managing their workload. “In some firms with UPTO, workers end up taking less holiday – not more – because of peer pressure and perceived expectations around ‘acceptable’ amounts of holiday,” BBC reported.
Instead of counting on unlimited PTO policies to help employees recharge and refresh, I recommend giving every employee a reasonable amount of PTO and differentiating this time from sick, vacation and holiday leave. Expect people to take this time, and create an environment that says: “We want you to take time off. We want you to take care of yourself. We want you to rest and rejuvenate.”
I believe the recent pandemic made a mockery of work-life balance. Pandemic-era work norms added 48.5 minutes to the average work day, while remote and hybrid work arrangements literally broke down the barriers between personal and professional pursuits.
When it comes to professional output, quality and quantity are inversely related. A 2019 Stanford University study (via CNBC) found that productivity meaningfully declines when people work more than 50 hours a week, and productivity falls so significantly after 55 hours that the extra time is “pointless.”
Meanwhile, the study found that people working 70 hours a week are as productive as people working 55 hours a week. This underscores the drastically diminished return on investment when we conflate quantity and quality.
Instead, leaders should more closely monitor employee outcomes while giving less attention to performative work tasks such as hours worked, messages sent or hours active on the company’s messaging platform.
In 2015, writer John Herrman coined the phrase “larping your job” to describe “work-like non-work” that takes up much of our time on the job, giving the impression of productivity without the result. Today, this concept is more relevant than ever before. We all lose when performative engagement supplants true productivity, which requires less time but produces better outcomes.
As leaders, we need to adjust our expectations accordingly.
By enabling people to take time off work and focus on the quality of work rather than the quantity of time spent at work, teams can see new efficiency gains. For many companies, other factors—from the emergence of artificial intelligence to the expanded implementation of remote or hybrid work—could further accelerate productivity and efficiency.
Rather than leveraging these new efficiencies to add more items to people’s to-do lists, leaders should invest in self-care to further empower their people to thrive sustainably for the long term. There are many ways companies and leaders can invest in self-care, including:
• Create workspaces where people can learn, grow and thrive.
• Provide resources to help people achieve optimal physical well-being.
• Normalize mental health through implicit and explicit standards.
• Encourage efficiency without adding new productivity requirements.
• Empower people to participate in activities that help them feel inspired.
Undoubtedly, these practices will look different for every company, but the commitment to investing in self-care should be universal. This will help support people and companies for the long haul.
From my perspective, whether quiet quitting is a real trend or a fleeting alliteration is still unclear. However, the term and the conversation surrounding it reflect something true about work and workers. People are tired, burned out and looking for explanations.
As a leader, you have an obligation and responsibility to help your people thrive and succeed. This is a prerequisite for professional success.
This process starts with you. You have to take time off to care for your own well-being while demonstrating the importance of using PTO. You have to avoid the temptation to embrace an always-on work life and tell your team with your actions that personal time away from work is just as important as whatever message could be sent on Sunday afternoon. You must invest in self-care because you need to be of sound mind and soul to thrive today, tomorrow and in the future.
The quiet quitting conversation revealed that this is a pivotal moment for teams. It’s a reminder to invest in yourself and your people and ensure that you are all positioned to do your best work in every facet of your lives.
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