What If Your Leader Has Quietly Quit?

December 1, 2022 Britney Cole

The phrase quiet quitting has spread through the workplace like an ambiguous cold—no one really knows how it picked up so much momentum in recent vernacular. However, Gallup reports that half of the U.S. workforce has quietly quit. In other words, they’ve become disengaged from their job and are doing the least amount of work possible.

This was entirely predictable, according to Adria Horn, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve and an Army veteran who served five tours of duty overseas between 2003 and 2010.

In a recent article by McKinsey, Horn stated that the pandemic has caused feelings she has seen regularly in troops returning from combat: disengagement, anxiety, depression, and a search for meaning. In other words, quiet quitting is to be expected. We all have been through a significant crisis. 

Clues That Your Leader Has Quietly Quit

If employees are feeling disengaged and looking for answers, what about leaders? They are faring even worse. In fact, 66% of leaders have quietly quit. If your leader has quietly quit, you may notice behaviors such as:

  • They miss or cancel your regular one-on-one meetings without giving a reason or rescheduling.
  • They haven’t given you clarity on what’s coming next in your career or job.
  • Their goals seem unaligned with yours—and they don't seem interested in addressing it.
  • They are not setting you up for success.

What can you do if you see these types of behavior from your leader?  Here are some strategies:

What If Your Leader Won’t Meet with You?

One-on-one meetings are your time to share what's important to you and to get from your leader what you need to be successful.

Since these meetings are so important, you can take initiative. Asking for a meeting is good; scheduling one is better. View your leader’s calendar and schedule a meeting instead of waiting for them to schedule one with you. You own the agenda. Don’t feel shy or unsure about asking for what you need. It’s your leader’s job to help you.

Also, keep in mind that your leader may be overwhelmed with their own projects and deadlines. Or maybe they think you don’t need a one-on-one meeting and they don’t want to bother you.

 What If Your Leader Isn’t Prepared for Career Development Conversations?

Let’s say you have a quarterly conversation about career development. It’s a collaborative discussion where you talk about progress on goals and alignment. These meetings are important because they are about your career growth.

What should you do if your manager is unprepared, unhelpful, or even unwilling to go on this journey with you? 

Don’t assume negative intent. Many managers who want to help people with their careers may not have the position power to give out new titles or raises or even know how to navigate the organization. They may not want to lead people on if they cannot commit to any movement, whether upward or lateral. 

Do share your desire to discuss your career aspirations. Make it clear you have no expectations about how your manager may help or guide you. Tell them you just want to talk through potential options about how you might build expertise, experience, and a path forward—even if that path isn’t with this leader.

What If Your Manager Won’t Let You Leave?

Another indicator of a manager who is not completely engaged is when they are unwilling to give you opportunities outside the team. They know you are a high performer; you are reliable, competent, and trustworthy. You feel held back or stuck.

It's time to be candid and let your manager know you're carrying a significant load. They may not be aware of what you're feeling. Perhaps they have no pipeline of talent or even are fearful that you might be looking to compete with them. 

Tell them what you want out of your future and let them know you need some help. Even better, provide a plan describing what that help might look like. Consider providing direction on what you’d like to be doing more or less of. Start advocating for the job you really want.

What if Your Manager Isn’t Answering Your Emails?

We're great storytellers. If a manager isn't answering our emails, we tell ourselves it probably means they are too busy for us, they are looking for a job, they are dealing with a personal crisis, or something worse. But what if we approached the situation with curiosity instead of judgment?

If your manager is a trustworthy person, ask them if everything is okay. Offer help. If it's part of a pattern that is worsening, it might be time to ask yourself what are you willing to tolerate. But that comes with a big caveat: First communicate what you need.

We don't know what may be going on in someone else's life. The best solution in any of these situations is to speak up and say what you need.

“I need to have a career conversation.”

“I need to see what my future looks like.”

“I need to share with you my plan for this project.”

Being proactive is key—because if you go to another organization and don’t advocate for yourself, the same problems will follow you.

About the Author

Britney Cole

Britney Cole is Head of the Blanchard Innovation Lab at The Ken Blanchard Companies®. With more than 15 years’ experience in organization development, performance improvement, and corporate training across all roles, Britney brings a pragmatic and diverse perspective to the way people prefer to learn on the job.

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