Quiet Quitting: A Generational Discussion
In the first edition of Interaction Associates Chat a group of IAers representing four generations in the workplace got together on a Teams chat to discuss Quiet Quitting, its impact on the workplace, and what leaders should know about addressing it. Below is the lightly edited transcript of that discussion.
Moderator: "Quiet Quitting" is all the rage in the workplace right now. For better or worse, it's the hot topic. To start this off, I want to hear from each of you, generally speaking (not generationally yet), why is this so big right now? Why is it a thing?
Nina Fojaco Reed (Gen X): Well, we love a good catch-phrase 😀
Jake Blocker (Millennial): Gen Z felt "coasting" was too boring.
Katy O'Connor (Gen Z): The idea itself is not new – the catchy phrase maybe. It is just like rebranding yoga pants as “flare leggings” same thing at its core just catchy enough to reach a new audience.
Nina: You will never catch Gen X in "flare Leggings"
Katy: I think a lot of it has to do with the values shift that came out of the covid pandemic and how many of us were spending our days during that time. New hobbies, free time, family time, travel, reigniting old passions. People were able to breathe and see that maybe life doesn’t have to move so fast… maybe we can just be happy with where we are at.
Jake: Agreed. I think the timing is key. A lot of buried issues came to light during the pandemic. We were locked away for a couple years missing out on experiences and at the same time were feeling overworked and overstressed. We are coming out of it wanting to live more. So, as they say, we want to work to live not live to work.
Barry Rosen (Boomer): I think the phrase focuses on office workers. We are coming out of two years of many people working from home, with greater freedom to determine work hours and process. Also, the world is going to hell in a hand-basket. Why work harder now to inherit raising oceans, burning forests, and poorer people clamoring for a piece.
Nina: Yes, exactly!
Katy: 1000% People are tired. They are under-appreciated and unfulfilled.
Barry: The aspiration really is to rise and shine and not rise and grind.
Jake: I agree, Barry. Remote work has a huge hand in this, in a good way. People felt like they had a little more say in their schedule and didn't feel their boss breathing down their neck (sometimes literally in the open office space). This opened up the world a bit more.
Nina: Even though we've been through a pandemic, we sort of have more choices now and feel more entitled to having a job that serves US vs the other way around.
In this digital age, with less in person interaction, it's easier for people to not connect their online interactions with actual humans on the receiving end - so working remotely has become more impersonal - People have become more siloed and disengaged.
Katy: We all realized that there is more to appreciate and take part in aside from trying to "climb the corporate ladder."
The Great Resignation created somewhat of a false sense of security in that – “the options are endless. If I am not happy, I will go somewhere else.”
Nina: I agree Katy, with so many more perceived options, people are more easily dissatisfied with what they are doing now.
Moderator: A slight shift in gears but along the same lines. Put your generation's hat on, what does this term mean to them (Good or bad).
Barry: My generation were children of WWII and Depression parents. We believed we could earn more, have more, love more, rebel more, than our parents because we were moving into the age of Aquarius, of possibility. We are now in an age of limitations. For people of next generations, I believe there is more practicality. "We can only have so much, therefore, I want to make a living income and get meaningful other things.
Jake: That's an interesting take, Barry. It speaks to my generation (millennials). We were raised and taught by Boomers who instilled us with the beliefs that we should be climbing the ladder, putting in 110%, and wanting more. We did that at the start of our careers. Now 10-15yrs into our careers, many of us have climbed and felt some sense of accomplishment, but not the one we expected. I still feel that my generation wants to enjoy their work and strive for success, but we're waking up to the fact that giving that extra effort is just burning us out. That accomplishment feeling is not worth the loss of a personal life, and blow to our mental health.
Nina: For Gen X, the label is strange. People have always been quiet quitting, but now there is a label for it.
Katy: In my parents and grandparents’ generations we saw them giving their whole life to the job and not really getting much in return. The idea of staying with one organization for 20+ years now is a little obsolete. We don’t want to die and feel like all we did was spend our life working – we also don’t want to get to retirement age and not have the energy or health to finally live out some of our dreams (travel, opening a side business, going back to school).
In terms of quiet quitting, Gen Z has a more balanced view of what role work is meant to play in our lives. Like Jake said earlier, we aren’t supposed to live to work, we’re supposed to work enough so that we can live.
Nina: For me it's more like push through and make it work. But I appreciate that Gen Z is working to live vs living to work.
Barry: I have consulted with managers in my generation. They either can't understand it or just roll there eyes. Our ethos -- choose a path and commit yourself. When you get a job, it's your responsibility to do the best you can, to go the extra mile. Doing things 'outside of work' didn't build the nation or pay for an education for the kids which, of course, was THE things to do -- raise a family, and create a chance for the kids to have more. But our generation failed in its commitment.
Nina: This week I saw someone with a full office set up on the beach - now that is a great work/live situation!
Katy: It’s about setting boundaries and maybe not such a negative thing. Quiet quitting could be reframed as contentment. Because it’s simply doing your job and nothing more… and what’s wrong with that? I think Gen Z is more keen to find fulfillment outside of the workplace. We want time to spend with friends/family, travel, volunteer, etc. The only difference between us and our prior generations is that we’re going to stand our ground more firmly on the issues that matter to us.
Nina: That's right, Gen X had no boundaries and we had to make difficult situations work. We pushed through at the expense of our work/ life balance. Now I'm focusing more on work/life integration which is much easier in the remote world.
Katy: Easier, and would you say more personally fulfilling Nina?
Nina: Yes, I would. I no longer feel the need to be glued to my desk and can take a call from somewhere beautiful.
Barry: I agree with you Katy about importance of setting boundaries. Boomers didn't accept boundaries of their parents. We rebelled. The middle class joined the anti-war movement, fought for equality of opportunity, etc. Our blind-spot was that we thought we could have it all!
Nina: It helps me bring more of myself into the job and feel more whole.
Moderator: Now, put your consultant hat on, what advice would you give to leaders as they think about dealing with (or not dealing with) Quiet Quitting?
Nina: It's important for leaders to engage remote workers so that they feel more part of the organization and if there are issues, that leaders encourage weekly group interactions - check in meetings etc. so that their employees feel more connected and that if there are issues, they have an avenue to get help with them or they will suffer in silence and frustration will grow.
- Listen to your employees! Is their workload too high? Do they feel unfulfilled? Are the bored?
- Talk about career growth and progression and their goals both PERSONAL and career motivated
- Be understanding & flexible
- Offer opportunities for employees to pursue interests outside of work and support them in that – pro bono volunteer time
Employees want to feel valued by a company, but they also want their company to provide them value aside from monetary.
Jake: Don't overreact with Quiet Quitters. Like we've been saying, people are setting boundaries, what's wrong with that?
Nina and Katy are spot on though. Regardless of if you think someone is “quiet quitting” or not, those are all CRUCIAL pieces of being an effective manager and engaging your employees.
Barry: First, I would reframe along the lines of Katy's comments. Healthful Boundaries: 1. A manager explains expectations and measures of success, and provides the tools and resources for performance. 2. Manager asks employee to check/confirm their understanding of the is/is not of the job and behavioral expectations. 3. They build and document agreements. 4. They monitor performance, exchange feedback, and celebrate accomplishment.
Jake: Yes, celebrate accomplishments! There's allllll kinds of data on this. Employees (regardless of age) want to feel that they are valued and not just a cog in the machine.
Nina: Trust and acknowledgement goes a very long way to helping employees feel empowered and in turn take ownership of their roles and place in the company.
Moderator: Loving all of this. I want to be respectful of everyone's time. So, to wrap up, any final thoughts?
Nina: Leaders in the post-pandemic working environment need to work harder to connect with their employees and find new ways to appreciate them and expand their thinking around how an employee can ownership and feel they are part of a community.
Katy: Develop your leaders - only 10% of people are natural leaders. By doing this you'll be able to build and maintain a supportive team. Organizations need to be more human centric in how they interact with and treat their employees.
Jake: Quiet quitting is nothing new. It’s popular now because more people are setting work/life boundaries. This is great!! We are being mindful of our mental health and avoiding burn out. I for one will celebrate this.
Barry: Regardless of the generation, we all thrive with clarity, positive anticipation, and useful feedback so that we can realize our basic needs for belonging, achievement, and growth.
Learn more about how leaders can engage their employees in our popular program Facilitative Leadership.
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Interaction Associates (IA) helps leaders and teams think more clearly, collaborate more effectively, and focus on what matters most to their customers, employees, and stakeholders. We provide our clients with practical methods for helping people work better together across functions, viewpoints, and geographies. Since IA introduced the concept and practice of group facilitation to the business world in 1969, hundreds of thousands of individuals have learned The Interaction Method™, a facilitated approach for building understanding and agreement so people can take informed, concerted action.