While the phrase “quiet quitting” might have been popularized recently, the behavior has been with us for a long time. For those of us who are Seinfeld fans, you’ll remember the many creative ways in which George Costanza would do either no work or the absolute bare minimum to avoid getting fired.
When we are considering operational work, quiet quitting is putting in the least effort to perform the standard responsibilities of one’s role such that required performance measurements are met.
But what does this look like for team members working on projects? While there are many ways in which this dysfunction could be expressed, common ones are:
- Refusing to take on any responsibilities outside of our role description
- Reluctance to help other team members when they need our assistance
- Participating in mandatory team events but not in social or discretionary ones
- Being unwilling to take on any activities which could result in the need to work overtime
A recent article in Harvard Business Review asserts what we’d expect. Such behavior is usually not a case of someone being a “slacker” but rather an outcome of poor management.
So what are someone of the things you might be doing which are encouraging your team members to quiet quit? Assuming you aren’t acting like a boss from Hell, here are some other things to watch out for:
- Are you recognizing your team members? This recognition doesn’t need to be monetary or formal, but without doing it authentically and regularly, their motivation might be ebbing.
- Is their workload manageable? Assuming they are not fully dedicated to your project, have they taken on more work than can be done reasonably? If so, you might want to meet with their functional managers to see if that can be addressed.
- Are they stuck with boring work? Being perpetually assigned the same responsibilities project after project could be a good reason for someone to check out, so you might want to ask them if they are feeling sufficiently challenged with the activities or whether there is something else on the project which they’d be interested in taking on.
- Do they feel safe? If there is a lower level of psychological safety within the team, team members are more likely to stick to just their assigned or selected work and avoid stretching beyond that.
It is also possible that the behavior might be the result of organizational issues or challenges with their functional manager. For example, if they feel that their work is worth more than they are being paid for and they lack the confidence or don’t have the ability to seek something different, that could result in disengagement and quiet quitting.
While it would be easy to pass the buck with such concerns, if you are able to get the team member to open up and share what’s bothering them, you can decide whether it is worth advocating on their behalf to get the issues resolved. Even if you are unsuccessful in doing so, the fact that you went to bat for them might be enough to get the team member to want to do a better job on your project.
Finally, if you perceive quiet quitting as a silent cry for help, you might discover what is causing the behavior and be able to prevent the team member from escalating to joining the Great Resignation.
(If you liked this article, why not pick up my book Easy in Theory, Difficult in Practice which contains 100 other lessons on project leadership? It’s available on Amazon.com and on Amazon.ca as well as a number of other online book stores)