In the past year or so, people started writing about the phenomenon of quiet quitting. It isn’t new, but it somehow became trendy as more people are doing this. This isn’t something I care about as much. People often describe me as a workaholic which is pretty accurate, and I love it. But I totally get the problem that triggers quiet quitting and its root is in a lack of loyalty. A cursory reader might think I’m blaming the employee for lack of loyalty, I am. But loyalty is a two-way street and some employees are merely reflecting something that we’ve been conditioned to accept for the past few decades.
Back in the days when I formed my consulting company and later on Codename One, I read pretty much every business management book I could find. Back in 2014 I read a rare book in that genre where I cringed at every page. I don’t enjoy reading business management books. This isn’t a pleasant read. But here I literally cringed at so much of the sage advice from Mr. Horowitz. Notice I don’t say the advice is wrong or even that it’s bad. I don’t think he’s a bad person for giving it either. I think this advice produces its exact desired intention, fast growth at any cost.
The fuel for this fast growth is people. They get burned and cast aside like the fumes of a jet engine. The expectation is fast turnover, by the time the person is “burned out” we’ll replace them anyway with a fresh “expert” to fit the current stage of the company. This approach to building companies wildly over emphasizes transferable skills while under evaluating pretty much everything else.
Another book I read well before that was “built to last”, it has its own faults and problems but that’s a different story. One of the core ideas explored in the book was the idea of corporate values that are listed as a set of principles. They claim that great companies had codified their core values early on. This supposedly shaped their corporate DNA and helped them become great.
Back when I read it I always felt this was a load of BS. I don’t subscribe to such frivolous management drivel, but I’ve started rethinking that recently. I was always in the camp of interviewing people as a conversation and a process. Hiring “good people” is more about finding the right “fit” for the specific team. But how do we know we all share compatible values?
Even if we don’t, how do we align so at least “on the job” we can act consistently?
This came back to me recently. I think such values are indeed a crucial piece in shaping the right team. I know which value would be the first on my list when I form my next company: Loyalty.
Jobs often expect loyalty from us. I try to give it as much as reasonably possible. It doesn’t mean I don’t have open to other options on LinkedIn. It doesn’t mean I don’t demand a raise and imply I’ll walk when I think I deserve one. Those don’t imply disloyalty in any way. I won’t go to work for a direct competitor. I also wouldn’t want to work for a company that would pouch me as a direct competitor. This is the point I’m getting at.
Loyalty is given. Not asked. A company needs to declare loyalty as its value, not one it demands from the employees. E.g. when an employee makes a mistake. Even a big one. That employee shouldn’t be fired instantly. Hell, instant firings shouldn’t be a thing. A single manager or even the CEO shouldn’t have the right. Someone having a bad day shouldn’t impact their future livelihood.
A corporation should stand behind an employee who made a mistake. More than once. People need to feel secure in their jobs. When a corporation just blindly fires and hires they end up with jaded employees who don’t care. This affects the product and the company in a way that no corporate nonsense can wash away. The customers end up with an inferior service or product. A disposable employee or one that’s just stepping through, won’t bother.
Therefore, loyalty to employees should outweigh the loyalty to the customers. The customer doesn’t always come first. We need to tone that down. We can’t service the customer if our house isn’t in order. By backing our employees, these employees will give the customer better service and a better product.
I worked at very large corporations, in most cases I had managers that represented these values and I enjoyed working with them. It’s an uncommon experience compared to the typical corporate nonsense. But the thing about corporations is the constant restructuring, you can’t develop trust and good working conditions, without building that culture from the top-down. It’s also hard to plug this culture into a company that’s already too big.
I get why people “quiet quit”. Why show loyalty to a company that will fire you in an instant. Why go “above and beyond” when the company won’t do the same for you. I think most people just looked for a new job and would switch jobs. In normal times that’s the right thing to do. But in these times, starting a new job with economic uncertainty is a risk.
Quiet quitting becomes an easy way out. Treat the job like it treats you, instead of being unemployed and looking for a job. This seems like something you can just turn on or off. But unfortunately it’s a state of mind. Once you think this way, it would be hard to get back to a positive workspace attitude. If you don’t get that, then good places won’t want to hire you. Can you keep “quiet quitting” for the rest of your life?
I personally can’t. That’s obviously a privileged stance of an individual who can spend years “unemployed” with only a minor impact on my lifestyle. I understand that not everyone can afford that privilege, and I’m thankful for it. But if you find yourself in this situation, I urge you to remain out of your comfort zone and seek alternative employment ASAP.
If you’re a manager who has the sense that employees do that. I suggest throwing them a lifeline. While you can’t change corporate policy, you can use the one on ones (which hopefully you have) to communicate with the employee. Have an actual conversation and try to help. Don’t talk about work. Talk about helping that employee, financially, emotionally and be genuine. Don’t do it with the goal of getting an employee to perform. Don’t expect loyalty, give it. Repeatedly. It will come back to you. This will positively impact your future employment opportunities along the way.