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When words matter: Calling quiet quitting what it really is

Quiet quitting: the newest, trendy catch-phrase among business leaders that describes the current trend of apathy (the result of low employee engagement) within our organizations. Let’s be clear and call it what it really is…sabotage. Yes, SABOTAGE (to deliberately destroy, damage, or obstruct for an advantage). Be it active or passive it is damaging your business, your other employees, your customers, you, your ability to meet strategic goals, and ultimately your bottom line. We’re not doing anyone any favors by sugar-coating the reality of what it is and what it is not: words matter.

Research by Cuddy, Fiske, and Glick (2013) indicated a strong correlation between passive and active harm and leader-warmth and/or competence. In the absence of warmth and/or competence among leaders to employees, it is highly likely that humans will engage in harm to the organization. Here is a visual graph from their work-

I can’t wait to fail, said no one ever, at least not new hires. I tell employers this on a regular basis. Your new hire was most likely very eager to join your organization, perform to the top of their capabilities, and excel. But somewhere along the way, frustration, anxiety, depression, anger set in; and, employees don’t need to leave the organization, to leave the organization.

Yes, of course there will be the occasional bad actor who needles their way into your business. But should every employee get the blame or the boot for situations and events that are often out of their control? I’ve spent 30 years doing this work in organizations and probably have 10x the stories to tell about passive and active sabotage, lets unpack them a bit:

Passive harm or sabotage often looks like:

· A few more minutes added to a break or lunchtime every day

· Doing some quick on-line shopping or banking

· Grabbing a box of paper clips to take to the home office

Each of these is slight and often goes unnoticed. However, fortunes are often made on pennies not thousands, so yes hundreds of missing boxes of paperclips will have an impact on your bottom line. Employees often justify these actions by words and thoughts like, “I was treated shitty last week, so I deserve it”

Active harm or sabotage looks like:

· Intentionally breaking things. Yes, seen it, and conducted the investigation.

· Obfuscates important information about a project, product, etc. I’ve experienced this on multiple occasions. It happens most frequently when employees do not believe they are taken seriously or feel heard

· Delays in processing work, products, inventory to intentionally stall a process. This is typically done to force overtime thereby increasing compensation.

These more active events are frequently justified as, “my boss is a complete jerk who knows nothing about what I do, they deserves everything they get." I have heard employees make these statements of frustration and it completely supports the work of Cuddy, et al. The worst part of active harm at this extent is that it impacts more than your office supply budget line. It impacts other employees, customers, and your overall reputation.

It is important to remember however that some in dominus use of company resources is generally seen as acceptable. A copy here, a copy there, our employees do have lives to live after all. But one or two copies of an important document is quite a bit different than copying an entire book to pass around the office. At the end of my corporate career, I practically had a brief case full of paper and binder clips, which in full transparency, I did not return. So, when looking at the big picture overall, I do believe that it’s important to consider sometimes work and life coexist. That said, there is an epidemic of quiet quitting in our organizations that is having an much larger impact.

Why are we seeing so much passive and active sabotage within our organizations? People are frustrated, hurt, aggravated, and its human nature to want to have some control over our destiny. Employees don’t have to leave the organization to leave the organization. Please don’t rush to judgment or discipline. Employees are responding to the culture that’s been created through leadership actions or inactions. What’s quiet quitting costing your organization?

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