Quiet quitting – symptoms of a vicious cycle

People are fed up and desperate for a change – they only see one remaining viable option to protest perceived unfair treatment – “quiet quitting”. This act of rebellion clearly demonstrates there’s a challenge – but who is responsible, and what can be done?

It seems the two “sides” of the conflict are leaders / managers (or “the system”) vs everyone else. The problem of people treating each other poorly is age old and creates a self-fuelling cycle. Let’s take a step back for a second and observe the bigger picture and root causes.

The root of the problem – negative emotion

This challenge is not rooted action vs inaction – it’s rooted in emotion. People aren’t feeling positive about their experiences at work. There are many ways to describe these feelings – being disrespected, angry, frustrated, lack of visibility, being used, being taken for granted, unfair demands, overwork, and general lack of decency, empathy and fairness.

Psychologically speaking, emotions give rise to actions and behaviours. So to make desired changes to behaviour, we must change the emotions associated with it.

This is where working with a professional coach can help tremendously!

The fuel for the vicious cycle – domination and force

It is still common within our society and culture to use methods of domination and control to force compliance and submission. Domination uses threats, fear and anxiety to compel behavioural changes – it can work for a while, but creates growing tension which eventually boils over. This approach does not positively change emotions required for positive behavioural change.

Riane Eisler wrote extensively about the approach of domination and force in her book “The Chalice and the Blade”. Knowing this, we can see how a rebellion such as “quiet quitting” might be responded to – through swift and decisive use of suppressive actions (dominating the problem). It’s not hard to predict what impact such an approach will have on a population who are already feeling beaten down and negative.

The paradigm shift – choosing a different approach

Eisler also suggests in her book that a partnership approach is a powerful way to reconcile differences and create unifying solutions to challenges. As an alternative to domination – partnership has a clear advantage: it reduces the arousal of negative emotions. Remember that negative emotions fuelled the rebellious behaviour in the first place.

Partnership uses cooperation, mutual goals and striving for excellence and achievement to compel behavioural changes – positive reinforcement.

Partnership strategy implies that the two sides must work together empathetically to come to some mutual and respectful understanding and action plan. It’s about taking a problem that negatively affects both sides (dissatisfaction, resentment and burnout), and negotiating a plan to change the approach. It’s about everyone on all sides accepting some responsibility for the outcome. This requires making a conscious effort to maintain composure in the face of the existing negative emotions.

Organizations, leaders and executives must consciously engineer a partnership work environment to facilitate a shift in their employee’s emotional state (which is affected by culture). However, employees also play a role in changing the status quo.

The danger – writing the script that reinforces the dominating approach

There’s a self-defeating danger in rebellious acts such as “quiet quitting”. Think of it this way. What people are expressing through their inaction is the following sentiment: “You hurt me and made me feel bad, so in response I’m not going to help you more than the minimum you force me to”.

What this does is actually writes the script for the leaders, managers and “the system”. It confirms their existing belief that domination and force is exactly the correct way to respond. This is a self-reinforcing cycle where nobody really wins and conflict abounds.

It would serve leaders and managers well to understand the interplay between action and emotion, and it would serve everyone else well to understand the impacts of the way they decide to “fight back”.

Professional coaches are an important bridge between these seemingly competing priorities (those of the organization vs those of the individual). They help to align the priorities of both. Human behaviour is complex, but also fairly predictable. A good coach will facilitate discussion that opens up a mutual understanding so people are able to manage through their negative feelings, remain composed and take action consciously rather than automatically. This process should start from the top down, but involve everyone.

Contact me about professional coaching in your organization.

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