The Great Resignation of 2021 has been replaced by the Quiet Quitting of 2022. This is the idea that employees don’t go above and beyond their day-job. It might be a case of being firmer about the hours worked, or resisting some of the additional tasks that are given. For some professionals this will be hard to achieve, particularly given that the “great resignation” forced firms to increase salaries to eye-watering levels. This article explores what sits behind both phenomena and discusses why it is important to dig a little deeper and understand what we are talking about.
First, as a coaching-powered consultancy, we want to explain what coaching has to do with all of this. Coaching is on a spectrum with counselling and therapy. At the other end of the same spectrum is mentoring and consulting. I have heard part of the spectrum expressed as the three Ds: Desire, Distress and Damage. Where there is a desire for change, coaching is where you should go. Distress sits better with counselling and where damage is what is the most pressing need, then therapy is the most suitable.
Of course, there are shades of the Ds in all three disciplines, for example, someone who is distressed likely wants to change and there might well have been some underlying damage. Coaches, counsellors and therapists will be attuned to this and will consider when their approach is no longer the optimal one for the client. Some clients might have multiple lines of support.
Behavioural change theory underpins coaching and it has psychological roots. Coaches use many of the same tools as counsellors and therapists, so it is unsurprising that mental health and mental illness are often front of mind. Knowing the difference matters.
Mental health and mental illness: not the same thing
Mental health and well-being are often a focus for individuals and organisations. Firms have mental health first aiders. There is also heightened awareness of mental illness and an increased understanding of conditions such as depression or anxiety. Notwithstanding, mental health and illness are often confused in a way that physical health and physical illnesses are not. Someone might be unfit and eat too much sugar, however, whilst that might risk developing a physical illness, having poor physical health is not confused with illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, or a broken leg. These illnesses might be made worse by someone being overweight or having a bad diet, however, they are something different.
Mental health and mental illness can be seen in the same way. Corey Keyes set it out best when he coined the terms flourishing and languishing.
“The absence of mental illness does not imply the presence of mental health, and the absence of mental health does not imply the presence of a mental illness.”
In other words, they are different things.
How to flourish
Coaches work around the mental health continuum. Their aim is often to help coachees move to a state of flourishing. This is the Desired Change. They think about the different aspects needed to flourish and they work with coachees to examine which of the elements might be missing and work to shift the dial on those things. This could be at an individual, team, or organisational level.
Keyes set out different factors needed for positive mental health. The idea is that if you have one of the traits from the emotional wellbeing area and six of the eleven from the social and psychological areas then you are flourishing.
Take a look at the diagram below:
Where are you in terms of your mental health? Are there areas that need to be improved?
Behind the concept of quiet quitting is the idea that you are more than your job and that boundaries are important. It is about taking back control. It is about preventing burnout. There is a lot of overlap with the factors that have been identified as important for flourishing. People inherently know what isn’t working.
Why it’s important to know what we are talking about
The statistics are sobering. Legatics found that 92% of lawyers have suffered from burnout or stress as a direct result of their job. The Health & Safety Executive has identified the legal profession as the third most stressful, after midwifery and health. Outside of legal, the OECD found that in the UK less than 20% of individuals are flourishing. In Denmark, the country which tops the chart for Europe, only 33% hit this marker.
What are we talking about here? We are not talking about mental illness. We are talking about people who, whilst not suffering from illness, lack something positive. They are languishing. The benefits of flourishing spill over into society and into the organisations in which individuals work. They take less sick leave, they are at lower risk of developing illness (mental or physical), and they are more productive.
The reason it is important to know the difference between mental illness and mental health is that this isn’t about trying to stop something, it is about trying to produce a positive state. It is about action.
Awareness of the importance of mental health has led to individuals questioning their boundaries. Initially, after Covid, this was seen in resignations. Perhaps professionals felt that they couldn’t maintain their boundaries within the working environment. They chose to put their mental health first. As time has gone on, professionals are starting to look for ways to protect their boundaries, this has been dubbed quiet quitting. However, this isn’t about quitting. It is about taking positive action to improve something.
What comes next?
The advantage of writing about the future is that it hasn’t yet happened. Pessimists might think of something even worse than quiet quitting: acceptance that things won’t change maybe? However, a positive view of the future might see firms listening to their employees and starting to focus on what they can do to help their employees flourish.
What might this look like? It might mean moving to a coaching culture where individuals are empowered to explore what employees need to flourish and for the organisation to work with them to create the conditions needed. There are unlikely to be one-size fits all solutions. Individuals are just that, individuals, and perhaps the one solution that is needed is flexibility. This will require a change to the way that things are done. Covid showed us this is possible. Indeed it was opening up these new possibilities that have left employees empowered to demand change.