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Quiet Quitting Makes a Lot of Noise

By Bruce Frassinelli

You may have heard of the term in recent months called “quiet quitting.’’ Having grown up in a hard scrabble coal-mining community in Eastern Pennsylvania, my work ethic was forged by my parents who operated a corner grocery store for more than 35 years.

Although my father never sat me down and lectured me on the importance of goal-setting, hard work and perseverance, he embodied these characteristics by his actions and the results they produced.

I have been described as a “go-getter” with an incredibly strong work ethic. I suppose this is one of the prime reasons why I resent the term “quiet quitting,’’ because it represents the antithesis of my approach to my professions — communications and education.

I was always motivated to climb the corporate ladder, starting as a reporter, promoted to several editor positions before becoming my newspaper’s editor in chief, then general manager, and, finally, promoted to publisher, the equivalent of a CEO, of The Palladium-Times.

During this 25-year journey, the idea of “quiet quitting’’ or something like it was utterly nonsensical. Maybe back in the day it was called “just getting by’’ or something like that. Today, the concept of “quiet quitting’’ is being applauded by some, although employers find it absolutely maddening.

Well, I guess I have kept you in suspense long enough, because I suppose many of you have never heard of “quiet quitting’’ and are wondering what it is all about.

In a nutshell, “quiet quitting’’ refers to those employees who are at a job just for the paycheck and are not really emotionally or intellectually challenged. It’s basically about doing the bare minimum and showing little to no interest in going above and beyond.

A Pew Research project found that the main reasons for quiet quitting were low pay, lack of opportunities for advancement, feeling disrespected at work, lack of flexible hours, poor benefits and childcare issues.

Of course, many of these complaints have been around for a long time, but now they have been lumped under this “quiet quitting’’ umbrella, and it has been catching on and spreading.

As you can imagine in this “do more with less’’ business atmosphere of today, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, impacts employees significantly. Employers, on the other hand, are, to say the least, no fans of “quiet quitting.’’

I checked with some business owners who have seen the proliferation of the “quiet quitting’’ movement, and I have spoken to employees who find themselves in what they described as dead-end jobs, and based on the comments from both sides, compiled this list of signs of “quiet quitting’’:

• Overworked

• Lack of effective communication and expectations between employee and employer

• Employee cynicism about just about everything

• Projects are neither finished on time nor does their quality meet expectations

• Employees seem unconcerned and disengaged

• Employers are micromanaging their employees and suffocating them in the process.

If you’re wondering whether employees who adopt “quiet quitting’ as their modus operandi can be fired, the bottom-line answer is “yes,’’ because employers in New York state still have wide latitude when it comes to dismissing employees with or without cause, especially when an employer feels that an employee is not pulling his or her weight or is a disruption or distraction to his or her colleagues.

There are many employees who see “quiet quitting’’ as a way to restore balance to their lives, especially those who work long hours that are squeezing free and family time out of their lives. These employees also believe that taking this step back will prevent burnout.

Employers warn that embracing “quiet quitting’ techniques could harm their career in the short term and the company for which they are working in the long run.

I wonder whether “quiet quitting’’ is just a flash-in-the-pan fad or something more consequential. One notable statistic that says it’s catching on is the fact that our country’s workforce is less productive than it was a year ago. In fact, productivity is down 4.1% year-over-year, which represents the biggest decline since the fed started keeping statistics on the number nearly 75 years ago.

Economists believe that there are numerous factors contributing to the sharp decline in productivity, most notably burnout, frustration and boredom.

While not overly concerned at the moment, economists warn that if the concept proliferates, it would have a profound effect on our nation’s well-being.

Employees are in a way gambling that this cutback in effort might work in their favor given the fact that employers are still scrambling to fill openings and that they will be more tolerant, but there are signs that the efforts to curtail inflation is also causing companies to lay off workers or institute a hiring freeze until the economy improves.

When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in 2020, nearly 20 million people were laid off in just weeks. It didn’t matter if they had a strong work ethic, good performance or loyalty to the company, but then things reversed, and layoffs and firings hit historic lows that sent employers scrambling to fill positions.

Employers were begging, borrowing or stealing employees wherever they could. Employees who remained on the job during this period where they were asked to do considerably more led to frustration and, in many cases, burnout, along with a new awareness of what some of their important considerations in life really are.