True Recognition: The Key to Combatting Quiet Quitting? | Kerry Consulting
    Career Advice

    True Recognition

    Agnes Yee

    The Key to Combatting Quiet Quitting?

    Recognition in the workplace. Is it a pat on the back for a job well done? A company-wide congratulatory email? Or maybe a round of drinks for the team after a particularly intense week? 

    You might argue that it is any one of those things. A moment reserved for hard workers, toasted and spotlighted for a job well done. 

    These moments of comradeship, of telling somebody “Nice job,” are certainly important. But I believe that true recognition – the type that really matters and is felt deeply – is shown differently. 

    A recent workplace phenomenon highlights why true recognition is so important. By now you have likely heard of the ‘quiet quitting’ trend. I would be surprised if it has escaped you thus far.  

    For those unaware: quiet quitting is an idea popularised through TikTok, whereby younger members of the workforce are sticking to the rigid bounds of their contracts and refusing to take on extra work. 

    It seems that every media outlet on the planet set writers to task to decipher why young employees are choosing to quiet quit. It is an interesting concept; an individual application of industrial action being promoted across social media. The core concept – working to what is written – is nothing new. TikTok just gave it a fresh coat of paint and wider reach. 

    Quiet quitting is often compared to work-to-rule. Under work-to-rule instructions, staff will refuse to take on overtime, reject demands that are out of the bounds of their written contract and ignore other customary expectations associated with their position. They will follow the rules of their position to the letter but will not go above-and-beyond. 

    These moments of comradeship, of telling somebody “Nice job,” are certainly important. But I believe that true recognition – the type that really matters and is felt deeply – is shown differently.” 

    Indeed, the two types of action – quiet quitting and work-to-rule – are cut from the same cloth. 

    The glaring difference, however, is that quiet quitting is an action taken by an individual instead of an organised union or group of employees. It is a configuration of work-to-rule that most often focuses on the quiet quitter’s own, specific situation, whereas a coordinated work-to-rule action is usually in support of a company or industry-wide protest.  

    I believe that, despite its name, quiet quitting is anything but a silent action. When an employee chooses to remain in their job and eschews quitting outright, they may be looking to send a message. They may believe that overtime expectations and working conditions are unfair, and they may also be rejecting the notion that going above-and-beyond is a prerequisite for a job well done.  

    Quiet quitting is a megaphone – one that employers are finding difficult to ignore as the trend continues to flare up. 

    What is the solution? Should quiet quitters be penalised for sticking like glue to the walls of their contract? The legal answer is no. The realistic answer is they might be. 

    Staff who continue to go the extra mile may profit from a quiet quitter’s protest. So perhaps you could argue that the conventional job description is dead, and that working beyond your remit is now a must to remain competitive. Amid the quiet quitting trend, it has become a hotly debated topic. 

    As a recruiter and people manager with extensive experience in talent retention, I consider there to be two distinct categories of quiet quitter: disruptive and intentional. There can be some elements of crossover between the categories (an intentional quiet quitter can be simultaneously disruptive, for example) but I believe that the wants of each category are different. 

    It is not fair to assume that every quiet quitter is staging a revolt. But we can guess that there are cases of quiet quitting where the sole intention is to hamper productivity. A lot of online commentary veers negative in this regard, and perhaps with some justification. Why waste your employer’s time? But more importantly, why waste your own? 

    I believe that if an employee falls into the category of a purely disruptive quiet quitter and takes instruction from their feelings of spite, they will be the most difficult to reengage. And many employers will question if they are worth reengaging with at all. After all, legitimate arguments are hard to hear when the attempt to communicate them is through indiscipline. 

    What is the solution? Should quiet quitters be penalised for sticking like glue to the walls of their contract? The legal answer is no. The realistic answer is they might be.” 

    The intentional quiet quitters are employees who may want to do more but choose not to.  They are the real protesters between the two categories, and I believe that they make up the vast majority of quiet quitters. Most of the time intentional quitters will have given “their all” to their jobs previously and made a conscious decision to cut back. 

    An intentional quitter wants to be heard and seeks recognition. They want to see and benefit from proper change, and, unlike disruptive quitters, they are more likely to want to reconnect with their jobs. 

    I do believe that a lot of intentional quiet quitters are justified in their actions and that employers have a responsibility to listen to their silence. This is where true recognition can work. If an employee does not feel validated nor heard, why would they want to give 150% to their job? 

    The goal of true recognition in the workplace is to appreciate, build and work with the motivation of employees. It is also not exclusive to the positive parts of an employee’s work. This is imperative and often missed out by management teams.  

    Acknowledging when somebody is struggling and working with them to figure out a meaningful solution is true recognition. But the fact is that quiet quitters will always exist even if you do address pain points. Regardless of an employer’s proactivity and awareness, some quiet quitters will never be incentivised to work outside the lines again. However, if employers address the problems that an intentional quiet quitter faces, they will have a better chance of realigning them. 

    Addressing these problems should involve open communication, collaboration, and the willingness to spend time fixing problems as well as celebrating milestones and congratulating those who perform.  

    Genuine well-rounded recognition, the type that may reduce the number of quiet quitters, involves sincerity, timeliness, compassion, consistency, and specificity. It involves listening to quiet quitters and producing mutually agreed solutions that meet the expectations of both employer and employee. 

    At this moment in time, quiet quitters are still highly visible. The trend has not died off. We can choose to lambast their choices, or use empathy and recognition, working to figure out the ways in which we can reengage them.  

    In the end many quiet quitters are experiencing human problems in the work that they do. They may be burned out, languishing and feel overburdened. If you meet their problems with human-oriented solutions, and a genuine recognition of the place that they are in, you might find that they approach their positions with renewed vigor. 

    As we approach the end of 2022, it is important to reflect on workplace trends. Quiet quitting was arguably the ‘loudest’ trend of the year. The term might lose popularity in 2023 but know that the action will continue next year and further beyond.  

    We must continue to recognise those who make the advertent choice to quiet quit. Many have valid points to make, and it is the responsibility of managers to listen and react appropriately and professionally. 

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