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No More Hustle Culture – Now Executives Are ‘Quiet Quitting’ Too

Written by: Camilla Calberg, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

“Quiet quitting” was the Financial Times’ word of the year for 2022 — and as we head into 2023, the phenomenon is spreading to the C-suite, too. That might sound counterintuitive. We normally think of quiet quitting as something that younger employees try to get away with, and that more senior leaders try to clamp down on. “It’s perfectly appropriate that we expect our employees to give their all,” explains Elise Freedman, a top partner at consulting firm Korn Ferry.

Shot of a young businessman biting a pen while working on a computer in an office at night

The reality, though, is that in today’s economic climate, even senior executives are feeling drained and depleted. In many cases, just like their more junior counterparts, they’re responding to that pressure by shutting down, disconnecting from their work, and putting in the bare minimum of effort.


The trouble with quiet quitting


Just this past week, I met with a senior executive — we’ll call him Sven — whose company had been through a series of bruising layoffs. That didn’t sit well with Sven, who had always been a caring and nurturing leader, and who found deep personal fulfilment in helping others to achieve their potential.


With his company contracting and his team being dismantled around him, Sven suddenly felt disspirited and directionless. His drive evaporated. Normally brimming with energy and new ideas, he grew sullen and withdrawn: instead of taking charge, he started keeping his head down and hoping nobody would notice him. “Most days, I feel like I’m just waiting around to be fired,” Sven admitted to me.


This is where it gets tricky. Most top executives got to where they are because they have a burning drive to create something bigger than themselves. When they outgrow a role or a company, they take charge of the situation and either define a new role for themselves, or start looking for new challenges elsewhere.


Leaders who slip into the “quiet quitting” mindset, however, find their drive deserts them. Unmotivated and unhappy, they wind up stuck in neutral: unable to spark change at work, but also unable to proactively seek out a more fulfilling role for themselves.


Stop spiralling downward


To break out of that spiral, I explained to Sven, you have to realise that your job doesn’t define you unless you allow it to. If you’re stuck in the mud because of an unfulfilling work environment, you won’t get clean by rolling in the muck. You need to shake yourself clean, and take responsibility for creating a brighter future.


That usually means reconnecting with the things that made you a great leader in the first place. Sven, for instance, had always been proud of his ability to make connections and network with people — until quiet quitting robbed him of his confidence, and caused him to shrink inward.


To put things right, Sven needed to start putting himself out there again. If his current employer wasn’t letting him be his best self, he needed to start making the calls and taking the meetings that might lead to new opportunities. Find a way to take pride in yourself, I told him, and you’ll soon find your way back to a role you can be proud of.


Be the CEO of your own life


For today’s overworked and undervalued executives, quiet quitting is a natural defence mechanism. But for leaders like Sven, it’s also a dangerous trap — because it alienates us not just from our employer, but from our own best qualities.


Precisely because leaders aren’t supposed to fall prey to quiet quitting, executives who do often feel deeply guilty about their situation. That, in turn, makes them deeply risk-averse: they get so scared of being exposed and losing what they have (even though it’s so flawed!) that they wind up unwilling to take a chance and build something better for themselves.


To put things right, you have to start by reconnecting with your own sense of self-worth. The only person whose opinion really matters is your own, so figure out what you want from life, and take charge of making it happen. You know you deserve an amazing life — and it’s up to you to take charge and make it a reality. BEN ‒ can we add a comment about not waiting for five years until the company gets on the right course?


As executives, our focus is usually on leading others. But we’re also the CEOs of our own lives, and that’s the one role in which apathy and indifference is never, ever acceptable.


So if you feel yourself drifting into “quiet quitting,” don’t take it as a sign that your life as a successful leader is over. Take it as a sign that you need to step up and take charge of your life. If you can recapture your self-belief, and turn that self-belief into action, you’ll find you’ve already beaten “quiet quitting” — and that you’re well on the way to creating a better future for yourself.


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Camilla Calberg, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Camilla Calberg is a thought leader in leadership, elevated mindset and divine living. A toxic love relationship and an international career left her with learning challenges, Camilla created strategies to dramatically transform how life can become a better experience. Camilla has since dedicated her life to assisting others to create a life filled with happiness, love and freedom. She is the Founder and CEO of Calberg Coaching, the academy where business professionals learn how to become Tomorrow's Leaders today. Her mission: revolutionise leadership education.

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