“I want everyone who can hear me to raise your hand.” (*Awkward Pause*)
“Now, raise it a little higher.” (Another *Awkward Pause*)
“Now, ask yourself: Why didn’t you raise your hand that high the first time?”
As a first-generation college graduate, commencement ceremonies are an especially enjoyable time for my family and me. The ceremony symbolizes the completion of a long thought-out plan and celebrates one’s commitment to excellence in achieving a goal. Earlier this year, I came across the above clip of a high school commencement speech delivered by an inspiring young African-American valedictorian. The address was captivating, but it was the introduction and short exercise where the valedictorian instructed his classmates to “give it their all” when pursuing post-graduate employment that stunned the audience and left mouths agape. Having given a similar speech to a predominantly African-American high school class, I was especially proud, and could not help but share in the same youthful motivation that the speaker exuded in his eloquent address to the Class of 2022. Conversely, as an African-American employer and now partner at a law firm, I understood the dilemma that both the speaker and the new graduates would imminently encounter.
The valedictorian’s exercise highlighted a disconcerting trend and increasing disconnect between employers and employees in the new workforce: Quiet Quitting. Though polarizing from the perspective of employers and employees with varied experiences and backgrounds, the discussion calls for a far more nuanced conversation.
The Harvard Business Review (HBR) recently referred to the new Quiet Quitting trend as the decision to opt out of tasks beyond one’s assigned duties and/or becoming less psychologically invested in one’s work. “Quiet Quitters continue to fulfill their primary responsibilities, but they are less willing to engage in activities known as citizenship behaviors: no more staying late, showing up early, or attending non-mandatory meetings.” From the employer perspective, Quiet Quitters are those who are only willing to do the required minimum. This presents a serious challenge to modern work culture, where success is dependent upon employers and employees striking a balance between assigned responsibilities and compensation, while simultaneously incentivizing both parties to exceed required minimums for the mutual benefit of the employee and company. To cultivate a committed and balanced workforce, it is helpful to ask ourselves the question that the young valedictorian raised at the outset.
Why are today’s employees comfortable performing the bare minimum? And more importantly, how are workplaces adapting to promote engagement in the converse—Consciously Committing? HBR notes that in a healthy organization, the costs of going above and beyond are typically counterbalanced by benefits such as increased social capital, wellbeing, and career success. However, a recent New York Times survey shows that new employees are expressing increased distrust in their current employer’s ability to moderate their workload, respect personal boundaries and adequately reward their efforts in ways that are meaningful and reflect their unique set of values. Further complicating our inquiry, many women and minority group members opine that they have to perform “twice as good” as their counterparts to be accepted and have neither the “luxury” of Quietly Quitting nor the safe space to discuss incentives that reflect their specific needs. With fear of alienation at work or loss of opportunities for advancement constantly looming, discussions around meaningful incentives for these groups are often limited. These conversations include: (i) requesting maternity/paternity leave; (ii) taking advantage of programs that highlight historical gaps in access to information and resources and (iii) addressing and speaking out against microaggressions and bias in the workplace.
Post-pandemic, more than ever before, employees are struggling to define success and redefine their careers in ways that allow them to excel in their work while operating in a healthy framework that respects their autonomy and supports their development. New employees are more likely to view themselves as their own bosses and architects of their careers. They also place high value on reduced commute times, the ability to work remotely and greater autonomy over their schedules to pursue interests or engage in citizenship behaviors. Because the costs and benefits associated with going above and beyond are unique to each individual, extra care is required to efficiently balance these factors.
At Jayaram, we use a teams-based approach to provide staff with the support requisite to excel. The firm encourages production in ways that properly incentivize each employee based on their individual needs and goals. These benefits and incentives are not necessarily financial. They can come in the form of the ability to work remotely; wellness and mental health programs; personal development training; flexibility to work in areas of interest; greater autonomy over work product; public recognition and appreciation; and team support to prevent burnout. Opting to jettison the traditional “yearly performance review,” the firm implements a system of regular 1:1 meetings with an aim to (i) clearly define and redefine core employee job duties, (ii) communicate required standards of performance transparently and (iii) articulate citizenship behaviors that count toward bonus and other forms of compensation.
As a firm, we actively solicit this information and are committed to using the findings to invest in our employees in tangible ways that encourage participation. This approach is important for all employees, but it’s critical with respect to marginalized groups that have understandable anxieties regarding acceptance and value in the workforce. A culture of open and transparent dialogue with employees, constructive feedback and safe spaces for expressing diverse perspectives is central to Jayaram’s core values and ethos.
When properly incentivized and supported, employees can take a proactive role in their own happiness by Consciously Committing to their work in the face of higher performance expectations. As a hallmark of our firm’s services, Jayaram attorneys are committed to understanding the problems and goals of our clients to help provide the very best legal services and solutions. As a corollary, we encourage partners and associates to Consciously Commit to the firm and each other by viewing their relationship as one of mutual customers in a community held together by shared core values, rather than through an antiquated employer/employee lens. From this vantage, both sides have increased incentive to understand and better service the needs of their respective “customers”.
As we begin to see our employees and employers as clients, we can build the trust that is required to facilitate a healthy and successful work environment—one that properly aligns incentives and promotes engagement at reduced cost and increased benefits for both the employee and employer. Achieving this balance allows our firm to not only support employee efforts, but also promote excellence through shared experience and diversity of thought. It is our aim to cultivate employees who are motivated to “raise their hands the highest the first time” and use their voice to inspire and innovate.