Quiet Quitting, WordPress And The Great Reset

Group of people blowing bubble gum bubbles while staring at the camera.

When I was younger (like a lot younger) I had a summer job working as a long-distance operator. I would spend my nights (and some days) helping people get connected to countries around the world. One day I walked out and didn’t go back. I ghosted my employer. 

Looking back on that experience now, it was foolish, immature and disrespectful to everyone I was working with. I did it to do it. I didn’t have to. I could have been better and definitely knew better but for some reason, I walked out.

This is loud quitting I guess? Or is it just quitting? It definitely wasn’t quiet…

The virtual water cooler is lit up right now over the concept of “Quiet Quitting” but the idea of trying to find the balance between work and life is not new. In fact, it’s not even new for those of us who identify as millennials. This has been the story of our professional lives and it’s a continuation, or progression perhaps, of our recent push for “flexibility” at work.

Quiet Quitting Hustle Culture

If you’re new to the conversation around Quiet Quitting, in a nutshell, it’s renouncing “hustle culture” and the practice or idea of going above and beyond at work.

It’s partly our (millennials) fault though. We sold employers on the idea that we would be happy at work if they just gave us purpose. In fact, we were willing to earn less if we were motivated by the purpose attached to our work. We blurred the line between corporate benefit and public benefit so that we could move beyond the transactional nature of work our parents got stuck in.

As a result of our push for flexibility, purpose and the proliferation of bringing our own devices to work, I believe, we created an environment where the distinction between work time and everything-else-time disappeared. During the 2010s, we gave our lives to work, hoping and expecting that it would pay off for us eventually. 

man using a table saw to cut wood

Then COVID happened and we were all confronted with the life choices we’d made, how far we’d really come and the consequences. We had fully bought into the scrappy tech startup mentality that required extreme passion and extreme commitment but as those scrappy tech startups grew, there wasn’t really any respite. 

Those early tech hustlers became tech managers and how they got to where they were, became the work standard for everyone else. Then COVID happened and for six to a million weeks, the whole world stopped. We made sourdough bread, took up knitting, went for walks and didn’t see anyone from work. 

We discovered time. You’re welcome world. 

That wasn’t all we discovered. With all the time we normally had to read work emails on trains into the office, we were finally able to pause and reflect on where we were and where we were going. We aren’t as far along as we thought we’d be, we don’t have the freedom financially or otherwise, we thought we’d have and we aren’t as passionate about the ‘mission’ we were working for as we said we were.

But, do you want to know what the big revelation really was? Work was happy to let us keep going. They sent us comfy chairs, standing desks and new laptops and congratulated themselves that they were embracing change and all it cost them was a chair and a Zoom subscription.

We still aren’t getting compensated for our loyalty, we still aren’t getting opportunities for professional development and advancement opportunities are still few and far between. For two years, we’ve been sitting in our comfy chairs and processing. Those of us who figured it out early, actually quit and moved on, it even got a name; The Great Resignation.

The rest of us are starting to figure out how to get back to some kind of balance. Someone said Quiet Quitting and here we are. 

a woman sitting on a couch looking through a camera

The Toxicity Of The Quiet Quitting Label

Okay, let’s pause, take a deep breath, and let the pessimism and rage subside for a bit. After all, we’re just as much to blame for this as work is. We set ourselves up for this eventuality and here we are. 

One of the things I and some of my colleagues at StellarWP have been reflecting on as we chat about this is how careful we need to be with labels. Labels are dangerous and easily hijacked. We know this all too well in the world of WordPress. I mean, we’ve recently been ‘discussing’ the label Free Rider

If we aren’t careful, we will create a new way for managers and leaders to employee-shame. It’s not a stretch to imagine a people leader talking to their colleagues about someone on their team who seems to be distant as having become a ‘Quiet Quitter’ because they aren’t showing up to the optional Zoom happy hour at 5pm on a Friday.

By doing this, we switch off from our responsibility to our direct reports and feed the issue rather than trying to resolve it. Instead of hiding behind a catch-all label, we’re better served by identifying and discussing the root issues around Quiet Quitting. I would caution anyone from using the label to describe their approach to work or the people who work with them. No one wins.

I’ve also seen an uptick in the label “Quiet Firing” as well. This label seeks to identify the many ways in which organizations and people leaders ‘phone it in’ when it comes to how they support their teams. They are two sides to the same coin and speak to a growing desire amongst every level of a company to get better at how we work. 

What If We Assumed Positive Intent?

The challenge with the term Quiet Quitting (and also Quiet Firing) is that it is inherently negative. It paints everything as a reaction to injustice and while we cannot dismiss the very real issues at the heart of the conversation, we can (and I think we should) reframe the discussion to one around ownership and balance. 

Let’s start with ownership. You may have noticed a few times in this article I’ve tried to acknowledge that it takes two to tango. We cannot put all the blame on one side and expect change. Whether we are individual contributors or team leaders, we need to take ownership of our role in how we work.

We need to own what our colleagues and leaders get from us in terms of attention and intention. Regardless of your position on the team, you control your energy, presence and engagement with your areas of responsibility. 

A man about to paint on a blank canvas hanging on a wall

If you’re a people leader, it means investing in your team. It’s being intentional about their professional development, looking for opportunities to provide (and receive) helpful and constructive feedback, being proactive at recognition and creating an environment that is safe for people to be their authentic selves.

From my perspective, as someone who has experienced “Quiet Firing”, there is no reason why any organization should tolerate this behaviour from a people leader. It is traumatic and costly to the individuals and the organization. As people leaders, we have an extra duty of care toward our direct reports and we should treat that duty of care with the respect and attention it deserves.

If you’re an individual contributor, ownership means that you communicate and engage with your team. It’s connecting meaningfully with your team lead, asking for help when you need it and ‘being present’ in meetings. We cannot expect our team leaders to read our minds and fix all the problems if we never talk to them or engage meaningfully with them.

Next is balance. We can and should be moving away from a world where receiving compensation is an excuse for tolerating unhealthy conditions. That premise perpetuates the view that more compensation is the way to resolve more pain.

If you’re a people leader, balance means empowering your team to say no. People leaders are notoriously optimistic about how much work can be accomplished. The further away from the actual work we get, the harder it is for us to provide realistic estimates. Giving your team permission to say no means giving them an opportunity to find their balance.

If you’re an individual contributor, it’s being honest with yourself and your team about what you can realistically accomplish. The more we can communicate how much we can handle, the less pressure we face to go above and beyond from a leader who just “doesn’t get it”. 

Quiet Quitting WordPress

I wonder how much of the conversation going on right now about the “Free Rider Problem” is rooted in the disengagement from WordPress that people and organizations feel. Have people and organizations “Quiet Quit” WordPress? 

Quiet Quitting as a concept is ultimately about disillusionment and disengagement. For a long time the ‘cult of contribution’ has existed in WordPress yet an individual’s ability to contribute has become increasingly difficult over time. 

The volume is getting increasingly loud around the need for greater contributions (especially from those who enjoy a lot of profit from WordPress) but it’s not being accompanied by the kind of compensation that contributors expect in return. There’s no shared ownership or balance between contributors and project leadership and I hypothesize that this is probably one of the reasons why so many people have Quiet Quit WordPress.

Perhaps it’s time to be okay with giving permission to people who want to do things other than official things? For example, perhaps we can be okay with people just showing up to the official WordCamp schedule and give them the freedom to do whatever they want during the off hours. Or even better, embracing that people might want to do other things and make it easier and acceptable to do those things too.

a vw van on top of a hill overlooking the sunset

The Great Reset

Work is changing. I mean, that’s always true but perhaps the rate of change is accelerating thanks to the pandemic. We’ve all been forced to pause our lives, re-evaluate our priorities and make choices about what we want our post-pandemic world to look like. This is our Great Reset. 

I’ve been writing about work, life and culture for a little while now before this whole Quiet Quitting thing blew up and I cannot help but think that what I’m writing about and how I’m feeling about work is shared more broadly than perhaps even I realized. 

We all want to enjoy our work but we also want to enjoy our lives outside of work. As people leaders, perhaps this whole conversation on quiet quitting is an opportunity for us to do a great reset on how we approach leading our teams, leading ourselves and how we contribute to the culture of our organization.