The Causes of Silent Abandonment and How Employers Can Respond

QSmoking cessation is a viral phase used among young employees and spreading rapidly to all age groups. Quitting quietly is simply doing your job, as defined in your job description, and nothing more. Quiet quitters don’t actually quit, they just work the minimum number of hours each week and nothing more.

Although the phrase is a bit negative and doesn’t really reflect the employee’s view, it took an immediate hold and spread through the press like wildfire. A few weeks ago, investor and “Shark Tank” star Kevin O’Leary made headlines when he proclaimed that he would only hire people willing to work “25 hours a day, eight days a week”. If someone turns off their laptop and leaves work at 5 p.m., O’Leary added, that person “isn’t working for me.”

Employers are to blame, not employees

Employers are solely to blame for the silent resignations, as they always controlled the “work” narrative when this country was founded and continue to do so today. This narrative is filled with anti-employee/pro-employer rules, laws and employment contracts (think forced arbitration, NDAs for sex offenders, non-compete agreements for 50% of all workers, to wage theft due to inappropriate wage classifications for employees who are truly non-exempt arbitration agreements that keep company secrets out of public view).

The most notorious of all the old tales is the at-will rule, which protects against so much discrimination in employment.

Everyone seems to be looking for the tipping point of a whole new work culture in this country, hence all the press about remote work, surveillance and now silent shutdown. Are we already there? Sure, but power brokers want to stifle any momentum – flag consultants, naysayers, pundits, SHRM, Chamber of Commerce, etc.

If employers can kill inertia, just like they’re trying to do with remote work, then they win. Are the employees too weak and decentralized to stop them? Maybe not.

Think of Hong Kong protesters using umbrellas, masks and anonymously organized flash mobs on social media platforms, only to be suppressed by the violence and control of the Chinese communist dictatorship.

But we are not China. We are a democracy where workers have rights. But employers, state and federal general assemblies, and the courts want to downplay them in favor of employers. Money talks because businesses have money and need more. But employees have information and communication power in the age of the Internet.

Silent surrender is the new silent protest

Silent Shutdown is different. Quiet quitters are not going to reveal themselves and will stay below the surface to work the required hours and achieve the performance review rating of “meets expectations”.

Meanwhile, employers continue, like a metronome, to demand that “numbers” (i.e. employees) do their jobs, remain silent, offer undivided loyalty to their masters (boss/executive management), rinse and repeat.

A radical solution

The solution is transparency in all things employment: outlawing the free will rule, outlawing non-competition agreements (the Federal Trade Commission is currently reviewing this issue), instituting “just cause” termination in every employment and not just management positions, to create softer and softer jobs. Human resources departments prohibit forced arbitration for all employment claims not just gender discrimination, provide free mental health services, offer cash rewards for anonymous employee counseling reporting discrimination of any kind, offer longer vacations, offer equal pay to women, and so on.

Implementing any or all of the above solutions will create immediate employee confidence and foster fully engaged employees, compared to the extremely high level of disengagement across all worker age brackets nationwide.

Mark P. Carey is a managing partner and employment lawyer at Carey & Associates PC in Southport. An earlier version of this article originally appeared on the law firm’s blog.

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