Op-ed: Quiet quitting or absent leaders? Either way, Ottawa may be more prone to it

Karen Brownrigg is the CEO of Ottawa-based iHR Advisory Services.

Have you heard all the rage about “quiet quitters”? Or maybe you’re more familiar with the term “retiring at work”?

In a nutshell, the quiet quitter and retire-at-work phenomena are about employees doing the minimum to meet the basic expectations of their jobs. You could argue that people are responding to excessive workloads in the only way they know how. You might say that they’re quietly “working to rule.”   

The remote work model is contributing to this. We’re seeing the impact more in Ottawa because we have a significant number of people employed by the federal government, and those employees are, for the most part, still working remotely.  

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Over the past three years, organizations have had to transform the way they deliver services. Employees have had to take on more work and, in some cases, more responsibility because of a talent shortage. During this transformation, ever so quietly, the vision, mission and values of organizations were changing. This is where the disconnect began, with the result that employees no longer felt passionate about their work.  

Employees were no longer able to see how their individual skills and abilities would help them make an impact in a way that would bring fulfilment. How could they feel passionate about their work if they weren’t inspired about where the organization is headed?

One of the root causes of this quiet quitter phenomenon is that employees are no longer able to articulate what their organization’s strategic objectives are. The fact is, most employees don’t know what is expected of them. Many were recruited into organizations and have yet to meet their colleagues in person. Often, they don’t know how their jobs interact with other jobs in the organization or even what roles others perform. 

So, what’s an employee to do if they’re simply doing exactly what’s being asked of them and not getting any constructive feedback? They quietly disengage, of course.  

Here’s another perspective. Some see the quiet quitter and retire-at-work phenomena as a realization that there’s more to life than just work, so they do the minimum and focus on other activities they’re more passionate about. 

Bottom line: If employees are not inspired at work, they will find other more interesting things to devote their time to.  

I’d be willing to guess that you know someone who is just putting in time in their day job and doing other things during work hours that are going unnoticed because that person’s leader isn’t engaged.     

The best leaders are those who take the time to engage in creative problem-solving with their employees on how their unique talents might drive the organization’s priorities forward.   

Working hard as leaders means you’re pushing folks slightly out of their comfort zone. They’ll gladly do that if they know that you’ll have their back when they make a mistake or two.  

Wouldn’t it be cool if employees were saying something to the effect of, “I was given this challenge at work that scared the heck out of me and is taking me out of my comfort zone. My boss has my back, so I’m all in. Why not, you only live once, right?”

People think this so-called quiet quitter phenomenon is something new. It’s not. People have been quietly quitting their absent leaders for decades.  

Should we focus on the quiet quitter, or turn our attention to the absent leader?

Karen Brownrigg is the CEO of Ottawa-based iHR Advisory Services.

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