How to Find Happiness at Work Without Quiet Quitting


  • Unhappy work situations are the underlying cause of the quiet quitting trend.
  • Before quitting or quiet quitting, it’s best to try a more proactive approach first.
  • A simple acronym contains all the steps needed for successfully influencing upward.

While the workplace buzz phrase of 2021 was “the Great Resignation,” this year’s seems to be “quiet quitting,” or the phenomenon where disaffected employees choose to put in only the minimal amount of effort necessary to hold onto their jobs and no more than that. Just to make clear right up front, this isn’t going to be an article about quiet quitting per se nor on whether or not unhappy employees are within their rights to quietly quit. Instead, we’ll focus on the real, underlying issue at hand when people talk about quiet quitting: unhappy employees.

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For the sake of illustration, let’s just say that you’re one of them. Broadly speaking, in that situation, you have four options: (1) do nothing, (2) quit, (3) quiet quit, or (4) do something to improve the situation. Each choice comes with a set of consequences.

Doing nothing will result in your continuing to be miserable. Quitting would require looking for a new job, though in some cases that may indeed be the best thing to do. As for quiet quitting, one of its problems is that it can cause a backlash, which we’re already seeing in the form of another new trend, “quiet firing,” or managers using equally passive-aggressive tactics to try and get certain employees to just all-out quit. None of these options are particularly appealing. So let’s talk about the fourth option: doing something about it. If and when possible, this is generally the best course of action.

Space: The Final Frontier Before Quitting

As acknowledged, sometimes quitting (real quitting, not quiet quitting) may, in fact, be a desirable course of action, but only after you’ve made a real attempt—perhaps even multiple attempts—at improving your situation. In most work situations, improving your situation inevitably means, sooner or later, communicating with people who have more power and influence

effective ways and ineffective ways to do it.

Since I’m a fan of mantras and acronyms for mnemonic purposes, here’s an acronym to help you remember five steps for effectively working with management to improve your work situation: S-P-A-C-E or SPACE. It stands for Sincerity, Perspective, Assessment, Collaboration, and Execution. Think of it as taking the time and “space” to deliberate before acting.

Sincerity: Your Intention Must Be Genuine

The first step is simply making the conscious decision that you are going to commit to proactively make the situation better. Some might argue this isn’t a necessary step, but there are a couple of reasons why it is. The first is that most people don’t think and reflect before acting. Their actions arise out of a combination of habit and emotion—in other words, they say and do whatever they feel like in response to external stimuli.

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The problem with this is that neither habit nor emotion is reliable, and both feed into each other. Reacting negatively to events is a habit for many people, and without the sincere intention to break such habits, there’s nothing to interrupt that automatic pathway.

Interrupting habitual pathways is quite doable but it does take conscious effort. Even if you’re someone who doesn’t habitually react negatively to things, we all have our buttons and you never know when someone just might push yours in a bad way at the wrong time. Being sincere with the conscious intent to communicate effectively before doing anything else maximizes the chances of staying in control and working towards a positive solution even if the other side reacts negatively.

Perspective: Why You Need It

By “perspective,” what I mean is to mentally put yourself in your boss’s shoes. Now, I realize that this suggestion might be triggering for some people. “Why should I do that?” you might say. “They should be the ones putting themselves in my shoes!”

Well, yes, but here’s the rub. Whereas you might have one boss, most bosses have more than just one subordinate. No matter how good a leader someone is, there’s something called the “multiple constituency problem,” which, for a boss, means there is absolutely no way to make everyone happy all of the time, and sometimes you might be the one who is left feeling unhappy.

tion may be more the result of a challenging situation in which your boss tried their best to do right by everyone. This understanding prevents you from “otherizing” your boss and facilitates a cooperative approach to problem-solving rather than an antagonistic one.

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Assessment: Gauging The Best Approach

Even in a collaborative problem-solving situation, there is still a range of possible tactics that may work better with certain people than others. That’s what the assessment stage is for. For example, is your boss the blunt and plain-spoken type? Or are they more the indirect, tactful type? Gauging this is crucial because you want to be able to harmonize with your superior’s style of communication.

Are they data driven? Have the numbers ready. Are they verbal thinkers? Consider expressing your needs in writing. Are they highly visual thinkers? Perhaps graphs and charts can be part of your approach. If you are not sure what your boss’s preferred communication style is, perhaps you have not made enough of an effort to find out, or worse yet, it never occurred to you that maybe you should have.

Collaboration: Working With, Not Against

Up to this point, much of the work has been mental. Now, you’ll actually be interacting with your higher-up(s) to improve your situation. Fortunately, if you’ve gone through the first three steps above, the way forward should be pretty clear. If your boss is the blunt type, you can just say outright that you’re having a problem with something but that you’d like to work together to come up with a solution. Your boss will likely appreciate your being forthright instead of beating around the bush, or worse, taking the passive-aggressive approach and quiet quitting. They will also likely appreciate your cooperative attitude.

If, on the other hand, you’re flummoxed by the assessment stage and uncertain what your boss’s preferred communication style is (maybe you haven’t been at the company long enough, for example), you can merge the collaboration stage with the assessment stage. You can just ask them what they think is the best way to solve the problem. Set a time to talk and then say something along the lines of, “I have a problem and would like to work with you to solve it, but I’m not sure what would be the best way. I would love to hear your thoughts.”

Again, the honesty about wanting to solve a problem but not knowing the best way to do so, combined with the cooperative attitude, will more than likely make management receptive. If it doesn’t, then that’s the kind of situation where you might want to genuinely consider whether a change in jobs is what’s really needed.

Execution: From Doing To Sustaining

The previous stage, collaboration, might be seen by some as the last step of this process. It’s not. Once you’ve worked with management to solve a problem in a proactive and collaborative way, a good faith effort must be made to give the collaborative solution a chance to work. Improving relationships is challenging and the process is typically neither immediate nor linear. Execution is a reminder to keep at it until you’ve either succeeded in improving the situation or you’re back to the point where you have to decide whether you want to remain at your organization.

Commit the SPACE acronym to memory and write it down somewhere you can easily see it. Anytime you have a problem that involves other people (which is most problems), think through the entire process.

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