The idea that you should never lift a finger to do something outside your job description is growing in popularity, but it’s not hard to see how “quiet quitting” – or “acting your wage” – could hurt your long-term career advancement. Unfortunately, it can also feel like the best option for regaining a semblance of work-life balance when a boss regularly asks you to do more with less – when he or she doesn’t appreciate the value you bring to the organization.
A healthy employee-employer relationship eliminates the need for quiet quitting, but achieving one is easier said than done. Both employees and employers alike have a responsibility to get everyone on the same page.
Here’s how we can achieve that:
Be selective – When a manager’s request that an employee perform a task that might reasonably fall under “other duties as assigned” is met with a knee-jerk refusal, all parties ultimately lose. Those looking to impress their bosses and fast-track their careers should instead be strategic about the type of duties they agree to take on – and their managers should fully understand and relay why these tasks are important. Not all projects are equally valuable to the organization. As I’ve noted elsewhere, invisible labor or “office housework” – the thankless chores that usually get dumped on women – rarely net rewards, and can easily contribute to burnout. The key is for employees and their bosses to figure out together which new projects are worth extra time and effort, since good outcomes depend on identifying the ones that will both benefit the company and expand workers’ professional skill sets to help them rise through the ranks.
Focus on the desired outcome – Managers don’t typically make extra demands without having a reason, but many do a poor job explaining why a task is vital. Even if it seems obvious, employees should always confirm with supervisors what the desired outcome is when taking on a new project. And their bosses need to not only do their best to clearly communicate these parameters at the outset, but should also encourage their team members to ask probing questions until they fully understand what needs to be completed and what the timeline is, including the metrics that will be used to gauge success. That way, a worker won’t be operating under the assumption, for example, that a spreadsheet needs to be formulated in a way that takes three times longer than the boss had in mind. Cognitive science research clearly demonstrates that shared mental models are essential for teams to function well, so the onus is on the manager to ensure that everyone is working in collaboration towards the same goal. And when no one on the team is on the same page, it’s ultimately the boss who needs to make changes.
Be partners, not adversaries – When employees and employers subconsciously view each other as enemies, it’s much more difficult for all parties to get what they want. Higher-ups usually want deliverables by the established deadline and well under budget. Workers, on the other hand, are likely trying to maintain a healthy work-life balance, accelerate their career advancement, and feel a sense of pride in their jobs. When bosses and their team members put their heads together, though, it’s often possible to achieve all these end goals through some creative problem solving. In the instances where this is impossible, a collaborative starting point means that bosses are often more willing to go the extra mile to get their employees resources that will make their jobs easier. Even when dealing with employees who have been antagonistic in the past, bosses still need to adjust expectations based on changing circumstances. If there’s a paper shortage, then it might not be possible to print 10,000 hardcopies of a report next month. And if a worker’s aging parent slips and breaks a hip, you might need to enlist his or her colleagues to crunch numbers for the big client presentation. Life happens, and sometimes even the best-laid plans go awry. The good news is that those who show a bit of flexibility and resilience when facing potential setbacks are often able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Also, one nationally representative study found that active-empathetic listening by managers boosts employee work engagement.
Delegate (or drop) other responsibilities – At different times, organizations may prioritize certain initiatives or put them on the back burner, so supervisors and their teams have to be ready to change their focus too. When a new project becomes a priority, workers and their bosses should carefully think about if there are other tasks that are no longer valued to the same extent they once were. Perhaps some duties that have fallen in priority could be reassigned to others within the company – or even dropped completely. Frequent gut checks between bosses and their direct reports will ensure that time is being used wisely – that employees are accomplishing what needs to be done without burning themselves out on unnecessary work. While individual workers know more than anyone else does about what short- and long-term projects are on their plates, it’s the supervisor’s job to help them prioritize everything and let them know how frequently status updates are needed. A study that was conducted during the pandemic-induced transition to remote work found that managers who set clear expectations about communication practices enjoyed better employee performance.
Before assigning (or taking on) new job responsibilities, communication about expectations and desired outcomes is vital. This falls on both the employee and employer and extends to more than just the new task, it involves prioritizing everything else that is on one’s plate. Shared mental models for what needs to happen at work (built through frequent communication) eliminates extra work and will make everyone happier.