Is Quiet Quitting just Looser Ties? | Do Not Bring Your ‘Whole Self’ To Work | DEI Backlash
Quote of the Moment
I discovered this in my Twitter feed the other day, by a group I had not heard of. I am investigating, but it’s always nice when someone singles out something for sharing. Although today’s thoughts are about loosening ties…
Is Quiet Quitting just Looser Ties?
Paul Taylor has some smart things to say, starting with a quote from me:
Companies have been punched in the mouth, and whether they had or did not have a plan, it’s time for a new one. And not just a plan to deal with this or other viruses, but a completely reconsidered society.
Taylor tries to characterize where we are:
A report by Dr Deborah Pretty analyses data from 300 corporate crises from the last 40 years . It categorises crises into three sorts and examines their impact on shareholder value while identifying the drivers of recovery.
Black Swan events (unprecedented, unimagined e.g World War I)
Grey Swan events (conceivable but neglected e.g Covid-19)
White Swan events (reasonable frequency, inherently preventable e.g most of the things that have happened to your company in the past 12 months)
The report highlights that limited, ambiguous and uncomfortable data are easy to ignore. We neglect preparing for low-probability, high-severity events. They are on the horizon but we simply don’t think preparing for them is a priority.
When the timing of a looming threat is uncertain, it’s hard for business leaders to make an action plan to address it. Wharton marketing professor emeritus George Day and global management consultant Roger Dennis call it “the paradox of preparedness.”
They suggest four stages of awareness: learning from past experience, staying alert to anomalies, creating engaging experiences through simulations, and narrating credible stories about the future.
One of the problems at the moment is companies are (necessarily) operating in the moment with such intensity that they can’t see out of the building never mind look over the horizon.
It’s what Stowe Boyd has neatly titled The Fog of So-Much-Happening-All-at-Once.
Go and read the whole thing. It’s worth the time. Especially if you are in management.
Most importantly, Taylor is taking the right approach to what is happening in the workplace, stepping back and thinking about the big picture, instead of characterizing the emergence of ‘quiet quitting’ and the ‘great resignation’ as some sort of thumb wrestling between individuals and their bosses.
Instead, what if we considered that the pandemic sent shockwaves through society generally, and the second-order effects of a period of ‘total remote’ have emerged.
Experienced wanderers know that it is not the first echo — which often come in a series — that indicates the source of a loud noise, but the final echo. Maybe it is too soon to see what is happening as in any way final, but still, perhaps we are at least starting to see the contours of the new order of things.
This transformation of society is part of the polycrisis1 we are living in, including climate, economic, political, and public health crises all mutually interacting and reinforcing their effects. It's nearly impossible to demarcate where one begins and another ends.
So I’ll just offer this. Perhaps the inexactness is an integral aspect of ‘quiet quitting’, and that is an additional factor that leads to executive ire around its manifestation. Something like the anger that Occupy Wall Street engendered in mainstream media, business, and politics when it seemed that the Occupy movement had no center, no leaders, no agreed-on agenda. No throat to choke.
But what is becoming evident is that ‘quiet quitting’ is about a loosening of the connections between companies and those encompassed within the business, a relaxation of the strong ties between managers and the managed, a diminishing of the central, iconic performance of obeisance that workers have agreed to in the past, but now weakened to nothing more than a naked exchange of daily labor for the daily bread.
Studs Terkel once wrote of our yearning to make work more than that:
Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.
What if we have all looked behind the magician’s cape, and seen there is nothing there? Today’s financialized management has abandoned the social contract, closed the pension plan, moved manufacturing overseas, outsourced everything it could, and raised their pay to hundreds of times more than the average employee’s. There is no mystery left, and the charisma of self-centered leaders has worn thin. And we now have come to believe the promise of finding the meaning of life next to the cash in each Friday’s pay envelope was only a myth, based on how things might have been once upon a time, long before late-stage capitalism and the polycrisis, if it was ever so, at all?
Is it possible to reconsider businesses operating around looser ties? Without the striving and political instability inherent in ‘building strong culture’ and attempting to inculcate the ‘professional awe’ that drives people to work above and beyond the call of duty because they are supposed to have a calling to fulfill their role, or get hired in the first place? Instead, a new way of work where each tries to do their best, but without pretending co-workers are family, without the C-suite as demigods or royalty, and simply putting down our tools at the end of the day and turning to our commitments to community, friends, and true family?
Will a new generation of organizational forms arise where we can work and live without being conscripts, and instead be free?
Can we Occupy Work?
Do Not Bring Your ‘Whole Self’ To Work
I think Pamela Paul is hinting at this looser ties idea in Do Not Bring Your ‘Whole Self’ to Work, when she writes:
For the world outside the H.R. department, the phrase “bringing your whole self to work” is almost guaranteed to induce a vomit emoji. Rarely has a phrase of corporate jargon raised so much ire and rolled as many eyeballs with everyone I’ve talked to about the subject.
And yet. In recent years, the “whole self” movement has gained momentum in part because it dovetails with fortified corporate diversity, equity and inclusion (D.E.I.) programs. Both purport to make employees feel comfortable expressing aspects of their identity in the workplace, even when irrelevant to the work at hand.
Comfort sure sounds nice.