Quiet quitting is a term to describe the strategy of just doing the bare minimum needed to get by on your job. Whether it’s a real thing or a media thing remains to be seen, but a recent McKinsey study about current difficulties in hiring found that the three top reasons people leave their jobs are related to money, a lack of career development and advancement, and bad leaders. The top three reasons for staying were workplace flexibility, meaningfulness of their work, and support for their health and well-being. So if you’re the boss, here’s the clear success strategy: don’t do things to drive your people underground (or away). Do the right things in the right ways and make your organization a better place to work. Don’t be a jerk.
For people in the ranks, quiet quitting is a losing strategy. It leads to making things worse, not better. It leads to a self-image of passivity and low integrity. And it may lead to quiet firing, as noted in a recent SHRM article. The simple strategy described below will get you to a much better place. It’s a positive antidote to quiet quitting, and provides a way to achieve success even in bad situations.
As noted by Scott Adams (author and Dilbert creator) in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, it’s better to focus on building systems for success, not on specific goals, and it’s good to develop a broad and diverse skill stack. That book is currently being adapted for parents and teachers to help kids successfully navigate the real world. The systems-not-goals theme has been echoed by many others, including James Clear, in his recent best-seller Atomic Habits. What follows is a proven success strategy for people who work in organizations. It is a systems approach, not an exercise in goal-setting. While this is intended for those who are fortunate enough to be helping and coaching young people to be successful on the job, it’s also a reminder of what’s most important for anyone who works in organizations.
Our mission as consulting business psychologists is to help people make good career decisions, and to help leaders make good hiring decisions. As such, we get questions about what it takes to be a successful salesperson, engineer, manager, etc. in various client organizations and cultures. While there may be specific answers, depending on the particular company’s list of success competencies and its unique characteristics, there are three key fundamentals to achievement no matter who you are or where you work: be good at your job; show up; don’t be a jerk. These are the cornerstones of a long-term strategy for career success.
To be good at your job, you need to know how to do it well, or you need to quickly learn how to do it well. You don’t have to be the class valedictorian. However, you do need to be able to understand the technical requirements for success and you need to be able to solve new problems as they come your way. You also need to understand how your job fits into the overall mission of the organization, and how it relates to the jobs of other people. If you’re not among that lucky small percentage who learn quickly and easily, welcome to the world of normal people. This just means that you will need to do the work and put in the time and effort.
Showing up means exactly that. Be there. If you do what you say you will do and meet your commitments on time, people will begin to feel that they can count on you. Conscientiousness is a major predictor of success in anything, especially work in organizations. It will sometimes require sacrifice, and always requires hard work.
No matter how clever your solutions, and no matter how much effort you put into your work, you will not achieve greatest success unless you can communicate with other people. You don’t need to be a wildly social sales animal but you do need to develop decent relationships with other people. At the very least, don’t be difficult to work with. To ensure your chances for success, be likable.
Be good at your job, show up, and don’t be a jerk. These are the keys to success in any organization. No matter what your role, you need to be able to influence people. Otherwise, you will be even more at the mercy of forces beyond your control. You need credibility and good relationships for maximum impact and success in any organization. Credibility is a product of these foundational principles. Credibility is earned through building trust. Trust is earned by being good at your job and showing up, and showing people that you have their back.
If you’re not happy in your job, find a better one. Or adjust to your current reality. Or make it better. Or try something else that will teach you new things and add to your skill stack. Quiet quitting just prolongs your misery, erodes trust, and makes you think of yourself as a loser. Don’t do it. Find a positive path that will be more to your liking and help you be more productive. It doesn’t matter who you are or what obstacles you face. You always have the power to make things better. Use it.
Be there. Make things better. Be useful.