May, 2008. I picked up and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, hired as the opening Training Manager for a Hilton Resort that was due to open that summer. This was a unique property in that it was located in the Pueblo of Pojoaque and would be the first resort/casino in Hilton’s history.
Because of the unique situation, I got free reign from the powers that be at Hilton to take their normal (snoozefest) New Hire Orientation and make it my own. Challenge accepted!
After months of prepping and planning and practicing, I set up the room for the first orientation. Right up front: a huge foam board with the words “Opportunity” “Possibility” and “Positivity!” written as large as possible.
My normally enthusiastic self was bubbling over with excitement for all the opportunities, possibilities, and efforts that were before us to create this culture from the ground up.
I truly believed we were part of something special and would find myself continually smacking the foam board throughout the orientation in an attempt to get the team as fired up as I was about the potential and possibilities!
I’d like to think I got through to them, as the normal arms-crossed, eye-rolling, look of dread that is the normal orientation body language opened up and people smiled, laughed, and got a glimmer of, hmm…dare I say hope in their eyes that maybe I CAN be part of something cool…
They would leave the training room, located in the bowls of the resort basement, with a skip in their step and head upstairs to the resort and the world of opportunity and potential and wonder I had promised them.
I would return to my office, which was actually a filing storage room where they plopped a desk, which is a story for another time. The storage closet also featured a toilet, for those filing emergencies? I proudly stated that my office was the only en suite office in the building! #positivity As it would turn out, being in the crapper would be a more accurate description.
I would fall into my chair with that post-orientation rush. Exhausted from giving it my all for six hours, yet exhilarated by the looks of hope and excitement on the new hire’s faces.
A few short weeks later, a trickle of employees started to head towards my closet-office. My desk was positioned directly in line with the door to the HR Office suite, so it was a straight shot to my desk.
I’d say, “Hey, what’s up?!” excited to hear the news of their first few weeks. However, as the trickle became a stream, the stories I heard were not so positive. Their managers didn’t listen, they didn’t care, there was no direction. In short: “It’s not like you said it was going to be, Erin.”
I would pull out the foam board and remind them to take ownership of what they could, to control what they could control, and to keep optimistic that we were just in the beginning stages of this great culture build.
The thing is, when you hear enough stories and see enough of what’s going on, you realize that there can never be enough empathy if the conditions really do stink. It was becoming obvious that they did.
One day, Judy, the HRD called me into her office. Conveniently, her office was located next to my closet-office. She could hear every word I said to everyone. She closed the door. She sat me down.
She said: “Erin, historically the Training Manager is under the Human Resources Department for organizational purposes. Realistically, you are not trained in HR. Therefore, you can no longer talk to employees. That will be left to Susan (the Employment Manager) and me.”
I stammared…”But wait? I tell them in NHO we have an open-door policy. I tell them that we are here for them. I am the only one in this building that meets every single person, as they have to attend orientation. They trust me! That’s why they come to me!”
“Not anymore. It’s an HR issue, and you’re not a part of HR. When they come in, send them to me or Susan. You can say ‘hello’, and that’s it. Pretty clear. You can go now.”
Conversation over. I shuffled down back to my closet. Sat at my desk. I was completely confused. It was like a gut punch combined with a vacuum sucking the wind out of my sails and then throwing me in the actual basement closet like Cinderella. That’s a lot of metaphors, I know, but there was a lot of feelings–yet a numbness that came over me at that moment. I felt completely lost and questioned everything I’d been doing.
Who knows how long later, I was still staring at my desk when an employee came into the office. “Hey, Erin!” Before I could get out a response, “She’s busy, how can I help?”
And so it continued.
I sat there, did nothing. Day after day.
I tried to close my door so people wouldn’t see me and was told I had to keep it open.
Manager friends would come to say hi, but they were deflected and deferred much to their confusion as well. “I’m just here to say ‘Hi.’” Judy: “She’s busy.”
I was monitored at lunch to make sure I was only sitting WITH managers as I might, I don’t know, positively corrupt the front-line employees if I sat with them.
I would give it my all for orientation–that was expected–and then I would slink back to my office feeling like I had just hyped up a big lie.
I got quiet all around.
I got unenthused.
I went through the motions.
I phoned it in.
Here’s the thing: I am ambitious. I am an incredibly hard worker. I am motivated by impacting people I am a team player. I am NOT a good phone-it-inner.
So I sat there, pretending to do what I had to do to get my paycheck, but those characteristics I listed above were buzzing inside me. They just don’t go away. They just make sitting there doing nothing all the more exhausting because you’re not living your values. Not tapping into your intrinsic motivation. Phoning it in is not that fun.
I realize now I have a new title to add to my resume: Quiet Quitter.
Perhaps you’ve heard of this newly named phenomenon “Quiet Quitting.” Leaders and managers are confused and appalled that their teams aren’t going above and beyond, not going the extra mile, not being team players.
Jack Zenger writes about Quiet Quitting in this HBR article and suggests leaders ask the question, “Is this a problem with my direct reports, or is this a problem with my leadership abilities?”
By all counts, an EXCELLENT question, and one that made me start cracking up when I thought about Judy.
She would never even THINK that she was the problem.
If someone asked her that question, she was so completely un-self-aware that she couldn’t answer the question accurately if she wanted to.
She didn’t care about anyone but herself.
She was ego-driven, not leadership driven.
The Quiet Quitting concept is ripe for finger-pointing and blame-game playing to the extreme, pitting boss vs employee and vice versa.
It’s also an opportunity to ask yourself that question above. Better yet, ask your team what they think of your leadership abilities and areas of opportunity.
However, if you’ve recruited a team of quiet quitters, most likely without your knowledge, then you probably aren’t going to hear anything near the truth. Instead, you’ll have a bunch of ambitious folks doing the minimum until they get vocal about their quitting.
As I did a year to the day I started at Hilton when I walked out the door and didn’t look back.