A quietly content phenomenon?

Don’t confuse someone who remains satisfied with their job as a ‘quiet quitter’
Mason Donovan

At the beginning of the year, there was a buzz around the “Great Resignation,” which prophesized that there would be a tidal wave of resignations across all industries. Although there was a record number of resignations, 4.2 million, in June 2022, the vast majority stayed put.

Why haven’t more resigned? The pundits and futurists needed an explanation for the tsunami that did not materialize, so the idea of “quiet quitting” was created. Quiet quitting has loosely been defined as someone that has given up on the job but still drew a paycheck. A quiet quitter would effectively do the bare minimum, or less if left unchecked, to stay employed.

First, let’s be clear: Only work that could be done by computer and a phone granted the luxury of pajama office wear, a quiet quitter’s attire of choice. It is also the type of work one can realistically quietly quit. Janitors, dentists and grocery clerks missed out on this opportunity and thus are not referenced in the quiet quitter phenomenon. How does a cashier quietly quit? For that matter, how does a manager determine if an employee is quietly quitting?

If someone puts in their honest eight hours a day but does not answer emails during family time, is that the same as quiet quitting? Or perhaps they don’t apply for a promotion or seek out extra assignments to be in line for more responsibility; does that mean they are doing the bare minimum? One’s definition of quiet quitting may be another’s definition of being quietly content with their job.

For the longest time, corporate America has had trouble accepting content employees as an asset. Corporations love “happy” employees and put lots of money into perks to help them become happy, but the narrative around content employees is very different. There is an entire negative lexicon devoted to these employees, such as coasting, waning out or biding their time. In the eyes of corporate management, being content is often synonymous with giving up, so it is easy to see how one can easily confuse quiet quitting with being quietly content.

The pandemic broke the corporate gerbil wheel. The default for so many workers meant you worked harder and harder to earn more money and attain a higher position. It was the mantra for any career.

In the beginning, when office work was transitioning to work-from-home, there was no such thing as “work-life” because work became your life as your bedroom became your office, your kitchen the conference room and your cat the annoying colleague that had no awareness of personal space.

After a year, though, a good portion of remote workers figured it out. Gone were the hours of commuting every day. A recent study found we collectively reclaimed 60 million hours by working from home. Also diminished were the petty office politics or the continual impromptu meetings. Many found they actually got more done in a few hours than they could in an entire day in the office.

And productivity per employee soared during the work-from-home transition. The International Labor Organization reported a record high increase in output per employee hour of 4.9 percent in 2020.

Eventually, working from home delivered a contentment with the status quo that many workers had never experienced. Remote workers saved money, time and general frustration.

So imagine being able to perform your job well and within work hours while also having a life. It may mean you do not seek out higher positions because they come with more responsibilities and greater time-travel demand. If you were able to lower your expenses by moving to the suburbs, eliminating your commute or owning only one Zoom shirt, then perhaps some realized they were willing to give up additional income for a life more worth living.

Management and pundits should not confuse being quietly content with someone that has given up on their employment. Content employees do their jobs, complain less and don’t add to your turnover pains. They are the ones you can actually count on being there to finish out a multi-year project. Let’s pivot this conversation to all of those who have remained and are quietly content and how we can foster and retain this corporate asset.

Mason Donovan is a co-founder of The Dagoba Group, a Salisbury-based diversity and inclusion engagement firm, and author of “The Golden Apple: Redefining Work-Life Balance for a Diverse Workforce.”

Categories: Workplace Advice