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The meaning of Quiet Quitting

The quiet quitting debate provides us with an opportunity to talk about purpose and meaning. About well-being, work life balance, about the future of work, job-crafting and so much more. This is the first post in a series that will explore those subjects and Ericsson as a workplace from different individual perspectives.
The Meaning of Quiet Quitting

Lately there is a term that has become widely popularized - Quiet Quitting. Some say it is a new phenomenon in the aftermath of the pandemic. Others that it is not something new. 

In short, quiet quitting has been popularized recently with employees that are just at a job for the paycheck and aren't really emotionally or intellectually engaged. It's about doing the bare minimum, and not going “above and beyond”. 

However, some are not so convinced that the trend even exists. In the article, Quiet Quitting is a Fake Trend, in The Atlantic, the author states “What people are now calling ‘quiet quitting’ was, in previous decades, simply known as ‘having a job’.” 

People have been yearning for more meaning in their lives, and more life beyond the office, since the dawn of work. So perhaps what has changed is that there is a stronger yearning from a growing number of people, resulting in the conversation spilling out into public discourse with social media acting as a true catalyst and a higher number of people being reached. 

The phrase quiet quitting might sound a little cynical to some, as it may seem to imply that people don’t care about their work and have managed to quit their job in their mind, so they can focus on what truly matters in life. Whether it seems cynical or not, the truth is that the concept has caught on, so it is important to examine what it really means. There are certainly some important positive lessons embedded within the whole concept, such as: 

  • it is important to have balance in your life, 
  • overworking doesn’t lead to the best overall performance, and isn’t sustainable, and 
  • your worth doesn’t depend on your productivity at work 

In my opinion, the negative side of quiet quitting is the idea that going above and beyond isn't a good thing. And, on the other hand, the problem is that people may be expected to go above and beyond all the time in order to be considered good peers or employees. Consider how everything on LinkedIn is about how great and incredible people's professional accomplishments are and how it reinforces that notion. 

So maybe we shouldn’t see quiet quitting in terms of black and white, rather try and incorporate a more holistic view. We can try and think differently, realizing that at times it may be a good thing and can be nourishing for a meaningful life to step back or quiet quit. But perhaps we should only consider doing so from time to time, when it is really called for, and not chronically. 

This is an intro post and perspective 

This is the introduction to a series of posts where we would like to explore the concept of work, purpose in work and life and wellbeing, seen from different generations and individual perspectives. And with wellbeing we mean the wellbeing of individuals, the company, as well as the planet. 

The objective is to have a dialogue about whether quiet quitting is really an issue of concern or not, and how employers and employees could act or plan according to it. We are also trying to encourage and enable a dialogue between the different generations in the workplace and individual perspectives in relation to work.  

Quiet quitting is one of the most important conversations currently taking place in the workplace, one that touches on how people feel about things, how they approach their work and their lives outside of work, and how they respond to the efforts of leaders to inspire and motivate them.   

During this series we are interested to explore: 

  • What is quiet quitting? 
  • How is it affecting productivity in organization? 
  • Why is this subject being so widely discussed right now? 
  • What is its implication for leaders and the organizational culture and structure? 
  • How can companies mitigate against quiet quitting becoming problematic? 
  • How can we work with purpose and meaning and ensure a healthy balance between work and life? 
  • How does quiet quitting work in knowledge industries and what are the stakes for knowledge-based organizations? 
  • Is quiet quitting more predominant among certain generations? 

With that said, let’s get started with my own personal perspective. 

My perspective - it’s about meaning, and meaning is individual 

I have been working at Ericsson for 25 years now. I believe I have the best job on the planet, but I have not always had the eyes to see that. I have noticed how I have changed perspectives over the years in relation to work. For instance, still in my 30s I recall telling my manager that I would like to be the future CEO of the company. You can only imagine her reaction! 

With time I got older, and I had children. My first child was born with multiple handicaps, including blindness. And over the years, I learned that we can see work from three different perspectives: 

  1.  as a job (to earn a salary to be able to live a decent life) 
  1.  as a career (to gain power more money and influence) 
  1.  as a calling (purpose or meaning) 

I guess that when I was talking to my manager back then I was seeing work as a career. I’m happy that my personal growth changed that view and I now see it was a calling or purpose. Numerous scientific articles point out that by seeing things according to this perspective, people can enjoy a happier life and more wellbeing.  

Life is made of moments, with at least 8 hours a day being work.

Life is made of moments, with at least 8 hours a day being work. (Courtesy of Heraldo Sales-Cavalcante)

Then the question is, how do we find out our call or purpose? 

On purpose – something worth living for and dying for 

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why,” Zen proverb/anonymous 

Purpose is really something everybody likes to talk about nowadays and is considered important, both from an individual as well as from a company perspective. I have honestly struggled with the word purpose. I have sometimes had the feeling that it’s a bit pretentious. Maybe a better word is simply “meaning”? 

As mentioned, there have been amazing moments at Ericsson where I feel I have the absolute best job in the world. At the very start when I joined Ericsson in 1997, imagine just 15 percent of mankind had access to telephony. And imagine, 85 percent of mankind had never heard a dial tone! I recall how we celebrated every million new subscribers. There is a quote at Stanford’s Engineering School that goes “I am an engineer, I serve mankind by making dreams come true”. And that quote sticks out to me because that’s what we do at Ericsson. 

Although I experienced a lot of great moments, I honestly never felt I’d found my purpose. It was not until a week in 2019 that I could strongly identify what I came to believe was my purpose in life. I had worked hard for over six months as the driver for the Innovation and New Business Models area in MWC 2019.  

Our hero demo for the innovation area was a virtual Jenga game that exemplified how we will be able to communicate with all our senses in the future (for more information check Internet of Senses). 

Ericsson Research team that developed the Jenga game.

Ericsson Research team that developed the Jenga game. (Courtesy of Heraldo Sales-Cavalcante)

We had many visitors during the week, but one special visitor was a blind man that came to the demo station. Although he was blind, he was able, with some help, to play the virtual game. He described how important this was for him as in the future he would be able to use his hands when communicating. This incident touched me profoundly. I needed to make a big effort to not get emotional and cry, but as the father of a blind son I knew that his hands function as his eyes and what entirely new world of possibilities such technology opens for people with visual impairments. 

We live in a time of great uncertainty. Our planet is being threatened, and we face extinction. For too long we have accepted an unfair and unequal world. We should care more; it should make us angry that in such an advanced and mature society, we still have so many in need. 

But we have the ability to create an amazing future. We have the ability to preserve our planet, create incredible prosperity, and make breakthroughs in technology and medicine that will extend the length of life and profoundly change how we interact with the world and each other.  

My purpose is clear, and the work I do is for my children and the generations to come. I am fortunate to work in a company that can make dreams come true, leaving no one behind, and this is as true today as it was at the time of our founder, Lars Magnus Ericsson. 

I feel much more motivated than when I was in my 30s! I will definitely never quiet quit. 

Purpose and meaning are the opposite of busyness and wasting our lives 

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life”, Socrates 

Let’s now go back again to 2000’s, when I was aiming, or dreaming, to become our next CEO. I was working with a conference when we gathered the top 200 executives in the company, and we thought of bringing an inspirational speaker to talk about “work and life balance”. 

It was kind of “new” concept at that time. My manager and I got a tip about  a really good inspirational speaker. So, we went to one of his speeches to hear the messages and see how well it would resonate with us. It was an amazing speech.  

I did not spot it. My manager, however, could see in the audience that some people were drying out their tears. Older and wiser than me, she decided not to contract with him for this leadership conference. She could imagine in front of us the exact same effect. Executives, many of them at the end of the careers, being touched by that speech and how much of their lives they lost in favor of work. Not being able to attend a son’s football game. Missed opportunities to follow a hobby or passion outside work. The graduation party of a daughter. Ironically the conference was exactly the time of the year for those graduations, and it was not “ok” to prioritize those instead of the conference. 

Fast forward all those years, to now when I have just turned 60! I have had many periods in life when I was way too busy. There were times I worked endless hours without a sense of purpose and felt like I was a hamster running around on a wheel. 

All that changed when I had this special moment at MWC when I could see so clearly the potentials of technology to improve lives. And how blessed I am to work for a company that can make such a difference. 

I think we are witnessing a pivotal shift. Western consumption-based society was seen as the gold standard - but we are now seeing its limits. A new model is needed. I think, or rather hope, it will be one that blends spirituality (our inner life) with one that addresses the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced, climate change. 

What does quiet quitting mean when we have such overwhelming challenge?  

We see clearly in the world that there is a rise in mental health challenges, depression and drug addiction rates, while there is also less trust in institutions. So, I understand quiet quitting from the perspective of protecting yourself from burnout and setting boundaries. But I worry when I see people so busy and stressed with back-to-back meetings, feeling a sense of being trapped and seeing quiet quitting as a possible solution. I get particularly concerned if I see that in younger generations, as I know I felt the same when I was younger. 

This is such an important topic. Ultimately, it is about life and the future of work and meaning. And it is individual. This was just my view.  

To summarize, my personal view is that quiet quitting is not an option. As it is like quitting on life! To quiet quit means you also miss out on learning and growth. But I do believe we need to quit with our busyness. We need to quit with back-to-back meetings. We need to have a more refined way to think about what is truly important. Beyond job roles. We can and should live a life worth living, with impact for a better world. Today on the radio I heard someone say that we will be dead for much longer than we will be alive. Think about that! And how there is no time to waste. 

As mentioned above, I am more motivated now than I ever been. And I work even more than when I was in my 30s. In my view there is a difference between busyness and living a life well lived. Between managing to discern the truly important and not urgent. As Eisenhower once said, the important is never urgent, and the urgent is seldom important. It does worry me when I see people trapped on the hamster wheel. 

I think Ericsson gives us such a formidable playground for a life well lived, with purpose. With such amazing and positive impact for improving lives, redefining business, and pioneering a sustainable future, according to our vision. And it is an amazing company where we can discuss such personal and difficult topics, share perspectives, and help each other to grow.

We are Ericsson!

You will hear from many others and how it is to work at Ericsson. Stay tuned and join the conversations!

This blog is part of a series on Quiet Quitting

Why Gen X is quiet quitting in tech by Pascal Potvin

Why do people quiet quit? Let's look at the theory by Roman Zhohov

Leading in the Age of Quiet Quitting by Stephen Newman

Learn more about what it's like to work at Ericsson here.

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