LM Extras Oct 19, 2022

Quiet Quitting

It’s an old concept that’s getting lots of attention. Here are some fresh takes on how to keep employees engaged. 

Headlines about quiet quitting are inescapable. In a year where many legal organizations have seen staff turnover, the idea of employees silently biding their time while staring at their laptops is a harrowing thought. 

Paula Tsurutani

A recent Gallup poll reported that more U.S. employees are actively disengaged from their jobs — 18% in 2022, an increase from 13% in 2019. And with only 32% of employees saying they are “engaged,” Gallup believes that these so-called quiet quitters may make up more than 50% of U.S. workers. For law firms concerned with client service, confidentiality and productivity, the Gallup results are a signal to find new ways to revitalize employee relations and management practices.

The concept of quiet quitting is nothing new. It’s just undergone a name rebrand. “Quiet quitting is a new term but an old concept,” says Terri Moore-Natal, Firm Manager at Holzer Patel Drennan and member of the Mile High Chapter. “Anyone who has spent any time in the workforce has known a co-worker or two who does the bare minimum to get by. They have no intention to quit.”

It helps to understand the psychology of quiet quitters. Some are workers who decide to quit the rat race, scale down and find a more balanced work/life ratio. Others are workers (staff and attorneys alike) who basically phone it in, stop working at precisely 5 p.m. and somehow manage to skate by.

The challenge is to find creative ways to manage these disengaged workers, maintain positive office morale and address the core issues that will bring more job satisfaction for everyone.

Keep in mind that “quiet quitting will impact organizations differently depending on the size of the firm and how performance is measured,” says Corinne Heggie, Partner at Heggie Wochner Law Firm. In smaller firms and law departments, the impact of the quiet quitter becomes much more apparent. “There are fewer places to hide. Quiet quitters may be less apt to pitch in to help others complete tasks that are outside their job descriptions,” says Heggie. Such shaky teamwork can potentially lower morale in a small office.

“Anyone who has spent any time in the workforce has known a co-worker or two who does the bare minimum to get by. They have no intention to quit.”

Meanwhile, quiet quitters may have an easier time functioning in a larger law firm because it’s easier “for a quiet quitter to exist and perhaps thrive, especially if he or she is producing satisfactory work product,” notes Heggie.  

In any case, consistent communication is key. “Open up the lines of communication and proactively address what the team needs,” says Moore-Natal. “We have monthly all-firm meetings, and I also hold monthly meetings with our attorneys and support teams.”

Doing this is a way to keep an eye on workload distribution, prepare for upcoming client deadlines and anticipate areas that need extra resources or staffing. It’s also an opportunity that invites open discussion where everyone can participate, says Moore-Natal. These meetings often reveal new or inside information about projects or deadlines, thereby avoiding surprises and eleventh-hour mayhem. And, more importantly, they demonstrate the firm’s commitment to honest feedback and positive conflict resolution — an essential strategy to avert quiet quitters.  

This is a chance for law firm management to seek out the root causes that are impacting job satisfaction. Often the changes are doable. A more focused attention on metrics also can help prevent or identify quiet quitters and provide more clarity about job performance expectations.

“When expectations are defined, then the case, deal or initiative can be completed and measured,” says Heggie.

Although workplace attitudes have changed for the better, Heggie, a Past-President of the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois, notes there is an extra burden for female attorneys who self-identify as quiet quitters, or are perceived as less engaged.

“Colleagues may have preconceived opinions that women with children or who are primary caregivers for children or aging parents are less invested in their careers,” says Heggie. Managers or team leaders can make a concerted effort to invite conversations about alternative work situations that “may include job sharing, secondments or even asking to try a new case or handle a new file in a different area of the law.”  

A willingness to develop an environment that welcomes open, two-way conversations and collaborative solutions can help motivate workers and deflate quiet quitting. “Remind workers of the various resources and benefits (physical and mental health) that are available,” says Moore-Natal. “Regardless of the workload level, I continue to advocate for taking breaks, taking time off and adhering to a schedule that makes sense.” 

For more on quiet quitting, hybrid work and office dynamics, check out the latest Legal Management Talk episode, featuring Cynthia Thomas of PLMC & Associates.