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The Real Costs of Quiet Quitting

It's going to sound like I'm being gross, but I'm not. I used to routinely engage in a practice I later called "poop naps". Hang with me.

I was just out of college and was working in the marketing department of a large financial institution. But I was also staying up late writing and recording music. This meant I would clock into my job with half a tank.

To make matters worse, I didn't love the job. I loved the people. I believed in the services we were offering. The work was a great opportunity—in line with my freshly-minted business degree. But my heart wasn't in it (more specifically, I didn't choose to put my heart into it).

So, in a desperate need for a break, I devised an almost foolproof way of napping on the job.

I would go into the bathroom, close myself into one of the stalls, sit down on the toilet, place my elbows on my knees, and cradle my head in my hands. Then, I would fall asleep. Sometimes for 30 minutes or more.

The brilliance of this plan was that anyone walking into the bathroom would see my feet and not ask questions. If I was in there for what seemed like an unreasonably long period of time, it was still the rare, brave soul who would dare cross the line of social propriety and ask "Everything OK in there, man?"

I would get some sleep. But my work wouldn't get my best.

I was quietly quitting.

What is Quiet Quitting?

I didn't make up the term "quiet quitting", but what it steals from the bottom line and your personal life is worth reinforcing.

I also believe what it might be telling you about your future is worth investigation.

The best definition I've come across is from an insightful Forbes article. Kevin Kruse defines it as "employees who exist in that state between 'actively engaged' and actively disengaged.'"

It's that strange "upside down" of being half-in and half-out. It's coasting. It's doing the bare minimum or, at best, "good enough". For some reason—maybe just the paycheck!—you can't bring yourself to resign, but you also aren't choosing to bring your best to the task at hand.

You've been there. You might be there now.

Yes, we justify it. We say "It's not my dream, but I'm still getting the job done until I figure out what I want to do next." You might even moralize it a little and say "This is what it looks like for me to have boundaries between my life and my work. Work isn't supposed to be my everything!"

This case was made recently on TikTok by Zaid Khan who narrates for millions of people over images of New York City, "I recently learned about...quiet quitting, where you're not outright quitting your job, but you're quitting the idea of going above and beyond...You're still performing your duties, but you're no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life. The reality is it's not — and your worth as a person is not defined by your labor."

Well then, you must quiet quit to avoid being another cog, a worker bee, an automaton!

On top of that, it's never been easier to pull it off. "With layoffs and firings at a record low... people have unprecedented job security," says Julia Pollak, chief economist ZipRecruiter.

But I would argue that quiet quitting in any area of life is a horrible strategy.

What Does Quiet Quitting Cost Me?

On an economic level, the costs are almost incalculable. If you are a leader in your organization and are "quietly quitting", you are almost certainly cultivating a culture of "good enough", boredom, resentment, and waste. But, even if you are giving your leadership all the passion you can muster, it's almost impossible to tell what progress is sacrificed if certain team members are showing up in this listless limbo.

The historic drop in productivity this year has been directly linked to the rate of inflation. Think about it. Wages are one of the main costs of doing business. If the output starts to diminish, then the cost-per-widget increases and that expense is passed on to the consumer.

In other words, if it costs more to get less, then costs will continue to climb.

But I'm not an economist.

I'm a people developer. I'm a vision creator. So, I don't measure costs merely in dollars (though that's a significant thermometer), I measure it in experiences, behavior, emotional health, and value-creation.

For instance, quiet quitting might seem like a bang-on plan to avoid burnout. But it creates the opposite effect. As our firm sees time and time again, this approach still creates an odd cocktail of overwhelm and boredom. Why? Because we're over-committed to things we don't care about and are out of integrity with what we've said we would do (ie, whatever promises you made to land the job, the values you said you aligned with in the company, etc)

When you participate with everything you've got, you get real-time data around where you create the most value in the world.

Quiet quitting costs you the R&D of full engagement. When you participate with everything you've got, you get real-time data around where you create the most value in the world. You risk, you try, you deliver and, inevitably, people respond. Consumers respond. Your kids respond. Your friends respond. You won't strike gold with every swing, but you radically increase the chances of finding where your interests meet up with your unique abilities to enhance the lives around you when bring your best.

Quiet quitting distorts your perspective of the world. This disengaged-engagement stems from a belief. And, as you reinforce that belief, your brain will invite other beliefs to come along. What started with a belief that "Work shouldn't be everything to me" metastasizes into "This job isn't worth my energy" and then "my coworkers are lemmings" and "my boss is a dictator" and even, tragically, "I suppose this is best I can hope for!"

As Arianna Huffington recently shared, quiet quitting “isn’t just about quitting on a job, it’s a step toward quitting on life.”

And life might be the biggest missed opportunity of all.

What Is Quiet Quitting Showing Me?

You want to live for what you can offer, not constantly hoarding.

You want to live with passion, not passivity.

I think, down deep, you want to live life to the fullest.

]You want to live with intensity (not stress, that's different).

But to live with intensity, you have to live with intention.

Intensity builds in our lives when we set out to do something, to stretch ourselves toward something, to endure discomfort to create change we want to see.

To live with intensity, you have to live with intention.

Your quiet quitting might be revealing a longing you have to live for more.

  • It could be discovering the "more" in your current role as Dad, barista, founder, student, trainer, coach, accountant, pastor, or Dad.

  • It could be "more" in another line of work if you'd dare create the change.

  • It could be "more" in the value of the other people around you—value that can only be noticed when you show up and get curious on-purpose.

The temptation to float, to coast, to phone it in is an alarm system that you're not experiencing all the beauty and power of your life. In that sense, quiet quitting is a gift.

Some Possible Next Steps

So, how do you move beyond "Quiet quitting", beyond "bare minimum", beyond "good enough" to something transcendent?

A few suggestions:

  1. Tell someone about how you're feeling. I would even suggest (and this might seem scary) telling your supervisor / manager / boss. Yes! I can't tell you how helpful it would've been if one of my staff had come to me before burnout and said "I'm not feeling it." What an incredible chance for the leader to step up and care—maybe even help you transition to something better!

  2. Ask for feedback. Ask a friend or team member who sees you in the space you're possibly "going through the motions" and ask them what they notice about it, what they desire for you / from you, and what value they see you bringing when you bring 100%.

  3. Request clearer goals. In our work, we sometime find that team members languish simply because they don't know what a "win" looks like. Take ownership of this gap and proactively uncover metrics that matter.

  4. Ask someone to hold you to a commitment. Make a new commitment that would happen if you fully engaged, then invite someone to root for you, check in, collaborate with you as you near the deadline. It will foster excitement, unity, and a greater sense of accomplishment.

  5. Get crystal clear and white hot about your vision in life. (we can help) It may be that you're not living in line with what you really want. But how would you know? Maybe it's time to sidebar with someone who doesn't have a vested interest in your current "normal" so you can dream without creating chaos and confusion.

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