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The Great Resignation and Quietly Quitting, OR The Great Reflection, Boundaries and Balance?

When we hear about the Great Resignation and Quietly Quitting, we seem to think of our people as disengaged, unhappy or no longer committed to their roles, but, what if this is exactly the balance that we’ve been needing to create in the workplace for a long time?

When I first started my career, I worked my contracted hours. I worked in retail and I was either working when the store was open, or my contracted hours. I didn’t have a laptop or mobile phone to allow me to work from home, I worked at work. And when I wasn’t at work, I wasn’t working.

As my career developed I started to work additional (unpaid) hours, staying for longer in the workplace, but even then, when I left the workplace, I was no longer working.

I changed sector, worked in growing organisations and only in 2011 was I issued a work laptop and phone. Between 2006 and 2011, although I’d asked for the tech to allow me to work from anywhere at anytime, it wasn’t granted. The CEO was set on the fact that you worked whilst in the office, and when you weren’t in the office, you weren’t working. I’d explained how helpful it might be to read papers in the evening, or clear my emails on a Sunday afternoon, and the answer was still no. 

Home life was for home life. 

This didn’t stop me being in the office early in the morning or staying until the caretaker kicked me out some evenings, but the CEO was set on the fact that unless you had a remote job, you had no need for tech that would mean you worked longer hours than necessary.

Then came 2011, an HRD role, all the tech, and I was quite literally working from anywhere, at anytime, and I still do, because I can. And, because now, not everything I do feels like work, it’s my own company, and I love what I do, I can work as flexibly as I want to and still have a balanced life away from my work.

One thing I know for sure, is that the way we’ve been working hasn’t been working for a long time. And at the start of lockdown I made it clear that the leaders who didn’t put their people first and listen to what their people wanted going forwards, would be the leaders who would struggle to retain and recruit talented people within their organisations. And the leaders who began to threaten their people and forcing them back into offices were the first to see the impact of the great resignation.

And this didn’t mean the leavers weren’t engaged, but they had realised that they could still do their jobs, in many cases more effectively than pre-COVID, and that they could do them without the commute, without the stress and without the pressure. For the first time ever in our careers we were shown that we could work a very different way – so why should we go back to the way things were?

Only after I left Corporate in 2014 did I see that I was able to create more balance, spending more time with my family AND grow a successful business. I didn’t need to hustle, to work 100 hours a week or sacrifice precious time with my sons, I could be, do and have it all.

When in 2019 I introduced the four-day week in The Chrysalis Crew, the hardest part of the transition was for all of us to realise that we had the permission to NOT work all the hours of every week. As a company we looked at everything we were doing and delivering, removed anything that wasn’t adding value to our customers and our business, and kept reviewing and stripping out anything that added no value to allow four-day working to be a success, and it’s still successful.

I’m still a fan of four-day work weeks, but if I were to look to implement something for the Crew again, it would be true flexible working, ensuring client needs were met, but fully flexible, because our lives and work lives don’t always fit neatly into a four day week, and the set hours during those days.

Quietly Quitting

‘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.’ 

This is quiet quitting, according to TikTokker @zkchillin, and it could be a rising trend.

What does quiet quitting look like in practice? It might be saying no to projects that aren’t part of your job description or you don’t fancy doing, leaving work on time or refusing to answer emails and Slack messages outside of your working hours. 

And why shouldn’t we want more balance in our lives when the last few years have shown us it’s possible?

Let’s think back to 2019, when we’d never even heard of COVID and when a lot of leaders were still refusing working from home and flexible working requests. You had your contracted hours for which you were paid your salary, but, it’s unlikely you were ONLY working your contracted hours.

You’d go in a bit earlier to get some things done before everyone else arrived, not take your lunchbreak and then work a bit later into the evening when everyone else started to go home. Not forgetting the emails you might just be checking on and replying to, the ‘quick’ email check on a weekend or whilst away on leave, and the ‘I know you’re on a day off today, but …’ calls and texts.

Let’s just for the sake of argument say you’re working for an extra two hours a day. That’s 10 hours a week. 520 hours a week. That’s well over an extra month of work that you’ve been doing, for free, each year. And I bet many of you would say you were working in excess of an extra two hours a day.

And all of these extra hours have been expected of you. Because if you are truly a committed and engaged employee, then of course you’ll give the company, and your role, your all – even if it means sacrificing your family time, wellbeing or personal life – because who needs all of that? Not engaged, loyal and committed employees apparently!

Let’s talk about the introverts!

Introverts are being labelled as the first and largest group to be quietly quitting. And as an introvert, I get it.

Workplaces have, for decades, been designed for extroverts. Open plan offices, large meetings, town halls, stand ups, the countless systems and alerts pinging in your face all day, and we’ve been working probably double the extra hours, because we’ve needed to in order to reflect, consider, find solutions and deliver our roles. We’ve been reading papers, responding to emails and writing strategies in our own time, because we need the right environment to do certain tasks. We’ve needed the time after a meeting to think about the right solutions and ask the right questions, and we’ve not had the time in the day to do that before.

And then came COVID, and introverts thrived, because the environments we created, for ourselves, in our homes, allowed us to thrive. And we’ve started to question why, if we can do double the work in half the time at work, should we be forced back into an office, to begin again to work into the evening and at weekends in order to be paid the same as those who don’t.

What about the projects?

Quietly Quitting talks about the extra projects that few people are now saying yes to. And we seem surprised!

How many times have your people taken on extra work, outside of their usual role, because ‘it’s a fantastic opportunity for you’ and been promised extra pay, extra team members, extra support and it’s not been forthcoming?

How much extra time, stress, energy and effort have these projects taken from your people for not the same personal return but added great benefits to your company?

And you now call them disengaged because they are setting boundaries?

Really?

The great resignation is probably no surprise. People weren’t jumping into new roles for a while because there was too much uncertainty. But having had time to reflect, they are now going into roles they love, with companies they love, and who promise them the balance they want to continue.

It’s not really quietly quitting, it’s setting boundaries and continuing with the balance that 2020 highlighted as possible, because your people have had their eyes opened to all of the times you took advantage of them but reaped the benefits.

If we were still in 2000, many of your people would ONLY be working their contracted hours, or doing a little extra when they could access the building.

It’s not 2000. It’s 2022. Just because we can be switched on all of the time, doesn’t mean we should be.

And it’s no surprise that all of this reflection, COVID, the call for equality, the gender pay gap app, racism, anti-racism, allyship, four-day working, flex working, hybrid working, remote working, parental leave, the economy, the war in Ukraine, rising fuel and energy prices, and people wanting a voice and realising that they have a choice, are taking their toll on senior leaders as we see Execs reaching burnout in record numbers.

Burnout numbers are rising for everyone. 

Burnout is chronic stress. 

Something has to change.

We can change the world of work and we can prevent burnout, and we can do so by understanding who we are at the core, setting boundaries and taking time for ourselves.

We have to realise the world has changed at a phenomenal rate in the last two years, and with that, so too has the world of work. Trying to take mindsets and behaviours back three years isn’t possible, because we’ve been through a HUGE shift. This doesn’t mean everyone is suddenly disengaged, lazy or disloyal. It means that people want a life, a life outside of work, and all of us have a responsibility to make that happen.

So the next time you see the great resignation and see quietly quitting as a negative, consider that this is the great reflection, to create boundaries and balance, and that this is what creates sustainable growth for the future and really allows us to change the world of work.

Kelly

Kelly Swingler is a Coach, Speaker and Author, at kellyswingler.com, passionate about changing the world of work and preventing burnout in the workplace.

 Kelly has worked in the People and Culture space for over 20 years and founded The Chrysalis Crew in 2014, a People and Change consultancy, before focusing on her own coaching practice in 2021.

Her latest book, Mind The Gap: A Story of burnout, breakthrough and beyond, shares her own experience of burnout and highlights what we can do to prevent burnout as leaders and as individuals. 

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