Friday, January 20, 2023

Employee Choices II – Quiet Quitting

Another old thing with a still-new name, and perhaps new significance, is “quiet quitting.”  Though as with most new terms not everyone agrees with its precise meaning, it seems to boil down to doing a job’s minimum, without extra effort or extra hours, usually along with a sense of detachment.  As long as there have been jobs, there has been variation in how intensely they are worked, but now, with gaps as large as ever between official requirements and real or imagined expectations, it’s worthy of attention.

One management response gets that in “The quiet quitters are getting quiet fired:  The silent war playing out in offices” (Victoria Wells, Financial Post, October 25th).  The author calls quiet firing “passive-aggressive” and says it “subtly freezes out an employee by either avoiding one-on-one conversations, refusing to provide feedback, neglecting to share critical information needed to do a job, passing them over for a promotion or subjecting them to stingy raises – or no raise at all – while co-workers are awarded more.”  For employees, often in this category because they consider themselves underpaid, “the effect can be demoralizing… which is exactly the point,” as it can provoke them to resign when they are unwanted.  A fair, if not always the most optimal, response.

Two days later, we saw that “Quiet quitting gains steam across every major industry” (Jo Constanz, Benefit News).  In response to a Qualtrics International survey of 9,000 “US full-time or part-time employees,” one of the strongest effects was in “the finance and insurance sector,” which in the previous year “claimed the highest share of engaged employees.”  It is hard to tease out the effects of Covid and the subsequent worker’s market, but something is indeed happening.

Faster-paced employer actions are operating as well, exemplified as “Ford targets quiet quitters with new policy that could see underachievers lose their severance” (Christiaan Hetzsner,, published in Yahoo Finance October 31st).  There, “veteran white-collar workers… face a stark choice if their managers deem them an underperformer,” as some will have a choice of receiving “a buyout now” or risking “failing a performance improvement program,” whereupon they would “lose all claim to a competitive severance package.”  In other words, management wants them up or out.  In contrast to the Wells piece, the workers here have over seven years on the job with unknown problems, as opposed to those usually under 30.

Maybe a carrot would work instead of a stick – or so implied Marguerite Ward on December 12th in Business Insider’s “The solution to low productivity and quiet quitting is simpler than most managers realize:  It’s about making people feel that they matter.”  “A sense of meaning” or something similar has scored remarkably high in studies of what’s important to workers, and Ward gave three suggestions for management to achieve that:  “Dedicate time to checking in (with) your employees,” even by just saying the likes of “good morning” and “how are you?”; “Give positive feedback and be clear on areas for improvement,” the latter long hard for them to execute; and “Create a sense of connection among your team,” including expressing sincere gratitude.  A start, and could help in some cases.

More recently we had two contributions.  In “Managers must ‘solve this problem’ of quiet quitting, Davos leaders say,” in the January 17th MarketWatch, Weston Blasi reported on a panel discussion on “Quiet Quitting and the Meaning of Work” at the latest World Economic Forum meeting.  At this high-profile venue, speakers reached at least partial agreement that “leaders and managers at companies are to blame for the recent surge in quiet quitting “more than anyone else.””

How about another new term, this one related to what we’ve been talking about?  Well, “If You Aren’t Quiet Quitting, You May Have This Viral New Label,” (Veronika Bondarenko, The Street, also January 17th).  “Resenteeism” is “the state of slowly growing more and more frustrated with one’s work arrangement,” or can be having “any unaddressed work-related annoyance.”  It came to the fore with people unhappy they had to report to the office more than they would like.  Resenteeism can but does not always spawn quiet quitting, and, as with the others, does not describe anything new.

What can we do about quiet quitting?  The clearest solutions I can see are synchronizing official and unofficial expectations, praising workers more, zeroing in on the difference between production and hours worked, rediscovering constructive criticism, and implementing greater rewards for better or more voluminous labor.  If everyone gets the same raises, has the same job security, has the same privileges, and knows that work performance doesn’t actually drive promotions, that is a recipe for doing less.  People adapt to their environments.  As for extra hours beyond clearly short-term occasional problems, they show either a human resources problem or workers’ fully voluntary choices.  If companies said what they expected, that would come way down as well.  The choice is theirs – if they want it.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Employee Choices – I

With Covid-19 and the subsequent worker’s market, the set of reasonable worker actions has expanded in many ways.  This is the first of two posts showing how observers have identified and interpreted these possibilities. 

First is Kelsey Koberg’s May 10th Fox Business contention that “America experiencing a ‘great shift,” not a great resignation, argues economic expert.”  The pundit is “Milken Institute senior director Eugene Cornelius,” who maintained that such quitting was usually really a way of looking for better jobs instead of finishing employment, particularly “opportunities for advancement” and higher pay.  It makes sense, as the stronger a job market is, the less workers need to hold on to their positions while seeking others.

A related interpretation came from Brock Dumas, in the same publication on June 8th, when he asked “Why are there still so many Americans quitting their jobs?.”  He cited a career strategist, Julie Bauke, saying that “the changes companies are seeing now are multilayered but largely inevitable” – these differences included younger workers replacing retiring baby boomers, many correctly or otherwise considering themselves underpaid departing, and “a mismatch between people and their skills and what they want to do, with the work that needs to be done.”  Bauke recommended “a novel concept called actually talk to your people and ask them what they want” – she would have done well also to advocate the similarly non-revolutionary idea of paying them more. 

Another look at people leaving the workforce and reappearing was “Many who lost jobs during the pandemic would return for the right pay and position, CNBC survey finds” (Steve Liesman, CNBC, June 8th).  This study showed that an amazing 94% of those who “became unemployed during the Covid pandemic… say they would consider” that, which would help in “returning the labor force participation rate to where it was before the pandemic.”  The most common factors respondents considered regarding coming back to work were flexible hours and salary, with retirement benefits unsurprisingly lowest.

Successful candidates are doing well with another thing becoming more common, as we see “Americans leveraging multiple job offers” (Paul Davidson, USA Today, published in the Times Herald-Record, July 17th).  Those getting more than one acceptance are more able “to negotiate for higher pay and benefits… forcing employers to snap them up quickly or lose out to rivals.”  Companies must more than before heed the rule of making good offers to people they would not like to see working for competitors.  Top reasons for rejecting offers, per a survey Davidson cited, were low salary and an “inconvenient location” (27% apiece), “a job description that didn’t match the actual requirements” (11%), “a desire for remote work” (10%), and “an inflexible schedule” (8%).  Some basic things here, but in such matters they bear emphasis.

Indeed, per Trey Williams in the July 26th Fortune, “Bosses are oblivious to why employees are really quitting.  Here’s what they need to know.”  A high-ranking industry figure who wrote a report on attrition conveyed that workers were most likely to leave because of “not feeling valued by their organization, not feeling valued by their manager, and not feeling a sense of belonging at work,” completely different from employers’ perceptions of “compensation, work-life balance, and burnout.”  The human side is maybe more critical now than ever, and the old truism that people quit bosses instead of companies has strengthened if anything. 

Next week, we jump to October and later, and look at quiet quitting, side hustles, and control over work lives. 

Friday, January 6, 2023

Yet Another Strong Jobs Report – AJSN Reports Latent Demand Down 200,000 to 15.6 Million

Once again, the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary delivered.

We exceeded the matching 200,000 published predictions of net new nonfarm positions by 23,000.  Seasonally adjusted and unadjusted unemployment each fell 0.2%, to reach 3.5% and 3.3% – both are still range-bound, with the former marking its tenth straight month between 3.5% and 3.7%, but at the bottom.  There were 5.7 million unemployed workers, down 300,000.

Three other results were also favorable.  The count of those jobless for 27 weeks or more shed 100,000 to 1.1 million.  The two measures showing how common it was for Americans to be working or officially unemployed, the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio, each rose a substantial 0.2% and are now at 62.3% and 60.1%.  Among numbers tracked here, the only exceptions were the number of those working part-time for economic reasons, or keeping short-hours positions while so far unsuccessfully seeking full-time ones, which gained 200,000 to 3.9 million, and average private nonfarm payroll wages, which increased only the amount of a downward November adjustment and are again reported as $32.82.

The American Job Shortage Number or AJSN, the statistic showing how many openings in addition to those out there now could be quickly filled if all knew they would be trivially easy to get, lost 220,000 to reach the following:

This metric still improved, despite a Census Bureau national population adjustment which added about 700,000 people which, not coordinated with the BLS numbers above, served to increase the non-civilian et al. count, as those are Americans about whom we have no other employment-status information.  More than offsetting that were, especially, the number unemployed, removing 154,000 from the AJSN, and a smaller count of those wanting to work but not looking for it for a year or more, taking away 131,000.  The share of the AJSN from those officially jobless was 30.9%, down from November’s 31.5%. 

Compared with a year before, the AJSN dropped 759,000, with the numbers shrinking most the officially unemployed, taking 551,000 off the statistic, and those not looking for a year or more improving its contribution by 283,000.

On the Covid front, while the endemic worsened sharply, with, per the New York Times, the 7-day daily average of new cases up 64% to 64,450 from November 16th to December 15th-16th, the same for people hospitalized 45% more at 40,380, and deaths up 12% to 373, these figures are still too low to imply that workers should be avoiding their jobs. 

Overall, where are we now?  Still nowhere near a recession.  Charts published today show that we are adding fewer new positions than for most of the past two-plus years, but they do not include a horizontal line showing how many we needed to cover population increases, which would run through and near the bottom of the monthly histogram bars.  We’re pushing the bottom of the unemployment-share range, hardly a bad place to be camping out.  Wage increases have sputtered, but inflation is dropping.  And none of this has been reversed during the months of higher interest rates.  The good times are rolling, and the turtle once again took a solid step ahead.