🤫 The silence is deafening....

Why we should be loud about the "quiet" trend.

My newsfeed is absolutely drowned in the “quiet” workplace trends. It’s ironically loud af and yet we are not addressing the core issue of why it’s happening at all.

The social contracts are broken, trust has eroded, and since employers aren’t listening, workers have stopped communicating. We’ve all gone quiet.

Let’s dive in.

📖 Quiet terms

Quiet Quitting: Employees doing the minimum required work, not going above and beyond their job description. It's not actually quitting, but rather disengaging from additional responsibilities or extra effort.

Quiet Vacationing: Taking time off without telling your company or manager. Employees go on holidays and log in just enough to create the illusion that they’re online full-time as usual.

Quiet Constraint: Employees intentionally limit their productivity or withhold ideas to avoid being given additional work without compensation.

Quiet Burnout: Experiencing work-related stress and exhaustion without openly expressing it or seeking help.

Quiet Firing: Employers gradually reducing an employee's responsibilities, excluding them from projects, or creating an unpleasant work environment to encourage them to leave voluntarily.

Quiet Hiring: Companies filling new roles or addressing skill gaps by reassigning existing employees instead of making external hires.

Quiet Promotion: Giving an employee additional responsibilities or a higher-level role without a formal title change or corresponding pay increase.

🤝 Broken social contracts

So what is the impetus of all this? The social contracts between employers and employees have been broken.

What’s the difference between a work contract and a social contract? The TLDR is that social contracts are implied rather than explicit.

Work Contracts

  1. Legally binding

  2. Written and formally agreed upon

  3. Specify concrete terms (e.g., salary, hours, job duties)

  4. Enforceable by law

  5. Usually have a fixed duration or terms for termination

  6. Cover basic employment rights and obligations

Social Contracts

  1. Informal and unwritten

  2. Based on mutual understanding and expectations

  3. Cover intangible aspects (e.g., respect, trust, loyalty)

  4. Not legally enforceable

  5. Evolve over time with the relationship

  6. Reflect company culture and values

Here’s an example.

  1. The Social Contract
    An employee works diligently, often putting in extra hours to meet project deadlines, with the expectation that this dedication will be recognized and rewarded with opportunities for career advancement or financial reward.

  2. The Breakdown
    The company consistently overlooks this employee for promotions, instead hiring external candidates for senior positions. Despite the employee's hard work and loyalty, they receive no additional responsibilities or opportunities to grow within the organization.

  3. The Result
    The employee’s expectations weren’t met as it relates to the implied company agreement - that they will recognize and reward dedication. The company didn’t hold up their end of the bargain

  4. The Consequences
    The employee feels undervalued and becomes disengaged. Trust in the company erodes. The employee starts quiet quitting. The company loses a dedicated worker and potentially faces reduced productivity and revenue.

🙅 Erosion of trust

At the end of the day, all of these things come down to a lack of psychological safety and an erosion of trust between employees and employers.

Why are we so uncertain and weary of each other in recent years? There are more than a few reasons.

  • Economic uncertainty. There have been global and frequent economic downturns and job market volatility.

  • Changing work dynamics. The push and pull between on-site, hybrid, and remote work models. See debunking myths about remote work.

  • Automation and AI adoption. Growing threat to job security and future-proofing of skills. See The Future of Jobs Report.

  • Generational differences. Expectations of the relationship between employers and employees are shifting - especially for GenZ. See What GenZ grads want.

  • Shady corporate practices. Increases in high-profile cases of corporate misconduct and unethical behavior. See corporate misconduct has passed the $3 trillion mark.

  • Prioritizing profitability. Companies have been prioritizing shareholder value over employee well-being.

  • Technology and surveillance. Companies are increasingly monitoring worker activity and collecting data. See mouse shuffling.

  • Lack of accountability. Poor management and unethical behavior has almost become socially acceptable.

  • Communication breakdowns. Disconnects between company values and actual practices. See the work culture disconnect.

  • Visibility and transparency. The era of full transparency is gone and companies are shifting to more of a need-to-know basis. See the transparency trap.

  • Public information sharing. There’s an increased availability in information online, not directly from the company, surrounding company reviews and salary transparency.

The Great Betrayal manifested due to the sheer volume and speed at which knowledge workers all saw behind the curtain. They still feel betrayed by the empty promises of traditional full-time employment.

🙉 Employers need to start listening

Where do we go from here? Employers need to start listening. Studies show that they don’t.

Even as it relates to remote working, there are several myths being actively debunked between employers’ concerns and workers’ desires. Research shows that remote work has beneficial effects on several critical employee outcomes like job satisfaction and commitment to their organization. Yet leaders continue to force return-to-office mandates at record rates and lose their best workers.

🤷 Where do we go from here?

For my C-Suite and leadership readers:

  1. How can you rebuild trust and improve communication channels to address employee concerns before they resort to "quiet" behaviors?

  2. In what ways can you align your company's practices with the social contract expectations of your workforce, particularly regarding recognition, advancement, and work-life balance?

  3. How might you adapt your leadership and management strategies to better accommodate generational differences and changing work dynamics?

For my indie and worker readers:

  1. How can you effectively communicate your expectations and concerns to your employer without resorting to "quiet" behaviors that may ultimately harm your career?

  2. What steps can you take to protect your well-being and maintain engagement at work, even if you feel the social contract has been broken?

  3. How might you reassess and negotiate your own social contract with your employer to better align with your career goals and values?

⭐️ Bonus Material

I talked about The Great Betrayal and workplace contracts in a recent podcast appearance. Check it out!