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We used to call it “retiring in place” (RIP). Now, those who like to claim ownership of old ideas by attaching new names to them are calling it “Quiet Quitting.”

Back when I was in management and needed to recruit an employee for an open position, a prerequisite was drafting a position description – an eloquent soliloquy that listed the responsibilities the new employee would be responsible for and the skills they’d need to fulfill those responsibilities.

The final responsibility was always, “Other duties as assigned on a time-available basis.” The skills needed for it: flexibility, adaptability, and the ability to innovate.

HR generally asked me to remove this responsibility. I generally explained that it was the only responsibility that mattered.

HR and I didn’t always get along.

But neither HR, job applicants, or I once considered that including it would end up placing an unfair burden to a new hire. Quite the opposite – it was understood to be the most efficient and accurate way management had to understand what other roles employees could succeed in, which in turn translated to providing opportunities for promotions and the increased compensation that accompanied them.

Sometimes it even worked that way. But in all too many companies it devolved into a transparent stratagem for employers to get fifty hours of work for forty hours-worth of pay, with the promised benefit to employees somehow never turning up.

Understand, I’ve been writing about this and related subjects for 18 years, questioning whether “work ethic” has anything to do with ethics (it doesn’t – see “Work Ethic,” 9/13/2004 and “More Work Ethics,” 9/20/2004). All that’s happened since then is that employees have (1) caught on; and (2) acquired enough bargaining power with their employers, at least temporarily, that they can do something about it.

And so they are. Some are embracing the “gig economy.” Many are leaving jobs (and managers) they hate for pastures they hope are greener. Overlaying this are those who don’t leave but do work remotely as much as possible, in part to minimize contact with the managers they dislike, along with those who RIP or QQ.

As a manager in this new world of employer/employee relationships, your options are limited. Your protestations that employees who … QuietStay? … will find their efforts rewarded in the long term might be credible on an interpersonal level, depending on your reputation within the confines of the business that was.

But unless the whole business has earned credibility, any promises you make are bounded by your personal presence and won’t survive you should you move vertically, laterally, or beyond.

So as a manager, assess the aggregate mood of the employees in your organization and adjust accordingly, recognizing that like it or not, your relationship with employees is and will increasingly be more transactional than you’d prefer.

Bob’s last word: If you’re an employee considering the RIP/QQ alternative, think very hard about a downside that’s rarely mentioned. As I said in one of articles linked above, “If someone wants to work hard for an employer who doesn’t value the hard work and rewards other qualities, there are good reasons to do so, as several readers pointed out. For many people it’s a matter of self-respect. Even more important than that, slacking off is an easy and bad habit to get into, and hard to break once you have.”

Bob’s sales pitch: Want to give your group an entertaining and iconoclastic view of How Things Work? Sorry – Bill Nye isn’t available and if he was, you couldn’t afford him.

On the other hand, I am, and you probably can. So if you’d like a keynoter who can deliver the Keep-the-Joint-Running perspective on life, the universe, and everything, or at least on how IT and the rest of the business can and should fit together, let’s talk.

Now in CIO.com:What CIOs get wrong about optimization.” They ignore the principle that in order to optimize the whole you must sub-optimize the parts.

Comments (12)

  • “…like it or not, your relationship with employees is and will increasingly be more transactional than you’d prefer.”

    True, and thank you for an invitation to one of my favorite rants.

    I wish we could put the “person” back in our language when talking about people in the workplace. “Personnel” was the better term. The term “human resources” fosters a mindset in which people are just, well, resources. Kinda like raw materials used to manufacture goods.

    We don’t care about how financial resources or material resources feel. We just use them as needed to get to our outputs. When we use them up, we get more. When we no longer need them, we dispose of them without gratitude or compassion.

    When we approach “human resources” in this way, it’s a transactional framework, and people generally will respond accordingly.

  • I agree with everything you said – brought back some positive and negative memories of when I was working in HR in IT. One relevant difference between ‘today’ v past, might be the generally compressed timetable. More people were ok waiting a few years for promotions; now there are folks who think something is wrong if they’ve gone 6 months without some significant recognition/pay raise etc.

    PS at least ‘HR’ was a respectable shorthand. ‘Personnel Department’ unfortunately became PD.

  • Welcome back Bob. I have a theory on this new (old) idea of retiring in place and why it appears to be growing.

    I have found that the most engaged employees are those that live by the “do other stuff as needed” part of their job description. They enjoy getting involved and learning in and out of their specific niche. That in turn opens doors for them and frankly gets them noticed. All of this if they have a strong leader that encourages this.

    Since COVID and work from home, those opportunities have dried up. As you note, it is all transactional and by nature that keeps people more in their silo. Leaders start to tap the “reliable” people and spend less time looking at other talent in the organization – partly because they get less exposure to them.

    In my mind, companies need to overhaul their onboarding processes to make sure new talent is noticed and recognized. Leaders need to create opportunities. Overall I see younger talent wanting to grow faster, they are no longer willing to wait 10 years for a promotion.

  • Hi Bob,

    I can’t speak for other managers or organizations but the “other related duties” clause has helped me and my staff at the same time. To be transparent, I am a CFO with a State agency and our civil service constraints are different than standard corporate. When you have a job duties/description that tightly limits what the employee is allowed to do, it limits the employee’s job experience and limits my ability to find out what the person can do. I firmly believe in helping any of my staff advance. With the “other” clause, I’ve been able to expose the staff person to other possibilities outside of their narrowly defined purview. This year I’ve had several staff that were applying for advancements and/or promotions outside of our agency. I was able to offer them promotions in other areas within fiscal which allowed them to advance and find something more challenging while allowing me to retain their knowledge and experience that they could pass on to the next person in their former position. A true win-win.

  • My understanding is, rather than doing the least amount to avoid being fired, they meet or exceed their KPIs.

    What they are saying “No, thank you.” to is vague, unmeasurable assignments in hopes of upspoken rewards.

    Add to this the employee who does not receive a raise because “it is not in the budget.” But the new hire comes in at a noticeably higher rate.

    I suspect QQ has more to do with declining Happy Hour with the boss that coasting.

    My best definition of QQ: Only wearing fifteen pieces of flair.

  • When I was about 5th or 6th grader, during the summer break my parents would put a 3 X 5 card on the dining room table every morning with a short list of things to accomplish. It did not matter when I did it as long as it was done by the time they arrived home. Usually I would do the things on the list first thing after breakfast before my neighborhood friends were awake and ready to play. My parents at first would inspect my work, but after awhile they did not need to. I got satisfaction from doing a job well.

    As an employee, I work for me and my family – it happens that I am employed by an employer. Having done some side work and since my spouse owned a business;
    I appreciate the benefits of a steady income, health insurance, vacation time, whatever retirement accounts are available, and a decent place to work. I work to my satisfaction – which usually meets or exceeds my employer’s expectations.

    I get that people can feel taken advantage of and when I was a young adult – there were things about work that bothered me much more than they do now that I am an old adult (60). Many IT people can also get the impression they are the smartest people in the company because they understand technology and how to apply it, yada yada, whatever. I have met many great coworkers who excelled in doing their jobs, but needed help with technology. Working together as a team, they can get their jobs done and I can enjoy helping them when necessary.

    HR is HR. I have had numerous yearly evaluations that were done because they had to be. Written job descriptions should probably be as brief as possible, but descriptive enough that you know you are working in IT and not Accounting or Engineering. And as you point out, the catchall “Other duties as assigned on a time-available basis” is practical. Job responsibilities can change as technology and businesses evolve.

  • I think we should not confuse working within limits with slacking off. Slacking off (long lunch hours, long breaks, slow work pace) is one thing, and it is a bad habit. Working within limits (arriving on time, departing on time, working at reasonable pace) says that work does not take over a person’s entire life, and is a good habit.

    • No argument, but a small quibble: “Reasonable pace” is in the eye of the beholder. I suspect that for many QQ-ers, their pace is reasonable, while for many of their managers that same pace is overly relaxed.

  • A worthwhile read by Michael Woudenberg:

    “To add one last nail in the coffin of this concept, Quiet Quitters are actually the ones I look for to staff my teams. They are the ones smart enough to jump off the corporate merry-go round and that’s the sort of mindset that will actually solve the wicked problems we are facing. Given the choice of an all-star team, I’d rather pass them over because they are often only all-stars according to an entire corporate culture that I find incentivizes the wrong behaviors.”


    • I confess I don’t find Woudenberg’s logic persuasive. He passes up all stars because they aren’t really all stars. That’s more than a bit circular.

      Worse, he expresses concern that conforming to the corporate culture consists of doing the wrong things. But that assumes the corporate culture is wrong, which as assumptions go is quite a stretch.

      But that’s just me, and I might be doing too much reading in as well.

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