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Quiet quitting in PR: It isn't new and it isn't so bad

Quiet quitting in PR: It isn't new and it isn't so bad

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The term "quiet quitting" has come under the spotlight in recent times and the issue of mental health and burnout has also become a topic of discussion. A Southeast Asia report by Robert Walters found that 86% of professionals in the region have rethought or relooked at their relationship to work in the past year. Mental and physical well-being were among the top factor that professionals reassessed. While this term might be making headlines these days, Nigel Gan (pictured right), Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur's director of marketing communications, said during MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's recent PR Asia 2022 conference that it's not a new phenomenon. 

The evolution of social media tends to bring such trends into the spotlight, which is what's happening with quiet quitting now, Gan said.

Gan added that quiet quitting may not necessarily be a bad thing because companies cannot expect every staff to go the extra mile.

"That's where you have stand-out performers who would go the extra mile," he said. Nonetheless, he said that the pandemic has changed the way people work and their focus. People saw the opportunity to work on passion projects while maintaining their full-time job. "That would be one of the reasons why people think some are quiet quitting but if you are doing your job, you're still doing what is necessary and I don't personally think it's a bad thing," he explained.

Similarly, Azmi Yakoop (pictured centre), FGV Holding's group chief strategic communications officer, said quiet quitting has been around for some time but it is more apparent now as a result of the pandemic. This is also especially so when staff don't see one another as much due to a hybrid working model, for example. "It is very hard for us to analyse and measure the performance based on what's actually being communicated over emails and based on what's actually being submitted as part of the KPIs," he said.

While the term "quiet quitting" has a negative connotation, Azmi is of the view that it is neither wrong nor right. Instead, it depends on the person and if this is the path he or she wants to take for the rest of his or her career journey. "Are you comfortable with just earning a salary or do you see your job as an opportunity for you to progress much further up on the corporate ladder?" he explained.

Nonetheless, Azmi said collaborations between departments is crucial from a communications perspective and teams are often expected to be working with different functions and units. While quiet quitting might be fine for jobs of other nature, he said quiet quitting is something that the PR and communications industry should try to avoid.

PR [professionals] are actually expected to go beyond their job scope and work cross-divisions, talking to different stakeholders to find information. So quiet quitting is something I wouldn't encourage.

It's not just the younger generations

A study by Axios and research firm The Generation Lab found that 82% of Millennial and Gen Z workers said doing the minimum required for their job appeals to them. Also, 52% of the 828 individuals surveyed cited money as the biggest motivating force on the job followed by skills and experience (20%) and purpose and mission (15%). With Millennials and Gen Z in the workforce now, Azmi said it is important for leaders to understand them, whether they like it or not. 

"Learn what makes them excited and passionate about doing things and know what they like. Establishing trust is important. Once they trust you, they will share more things beyond work," Azmi said. He added that this would be a good time for PR and communications leaders to have catch-up sessions with their younger employees after office hours to help them better understand their employees and build trust. "Hopefully with trust, issues such as quiet quitting can be addressed," he said. 

Similarly, Gan said it is important to have an open conversation with the team, know their strengths and what they are passionate about and build on that.

If your team sees that you are trying to work with them to build their careers, they will automatically be more engaged in the job.

Through those conversations, companies can also access if their team members are willing to improve themselves or be engaged. That said, Gan added that it would be unfair to say quiet quitting is more prevalent among the Gen Z. He said that he has had colleagues from the older generations who clock out at 5pm and do not wish to be disrupted after office hours. "They have the right to do that as well. If something is important, you should have spoken about it earlier," he added.

He also cited an example of a PR agency he worked with in Australia before joining Mandarin Oriental. The agency had requested Gan and the team to respond to their emails by 5pm Australian time. Back then, Gan was shocked because this would not fly in Malaysia. In retrospect, he said that professionals should also set boundaries as well. "If it's not a crisis nor is it really urgent, you don't need to have an agency respond according to your whims and fancies. It does not work that way anymore," Gan said. He added that when agencies set that standard collectively, the industry will follow suit as well.

Also weighing in on the conversation was Jesvin Kaur Randhawa (pictured left), SVP, stakeholder engagement and communications at PETRA Group who said it starts with the leadership. "We need to adapt to how our employees approach work and in order to gain more worker engagement, how do we as leaders then set different expectations for ourselves?" she added.

But what about times of crisis? Would there then be a need to restructure the team to prevent quiet quitting? To this, Azmi said crisis communication is a whole different ballgame compared to merely doing operational deliverables. He is a huge believer in teamwork and sees the need to appoint a primary person to manage the crisis followed by a secondary individual. "This is where I think people are really crucial in making sure you deliver for your communications department, especially during a crisis," he said.

Setting boundaries in an always-on industry

It is a known fact that the PR and communications industry is an always-on one since professionals have to be on alert for any news that might be damaging to the brand's reputation. Mandarin Oriental's Gan said companies need to adapt to the current work environment and be more flexible, especially since there are many opportunities in the workforce today compared to decades ago. "Companies need to stand out and be attractive. They need to acknowledge that one's personal life is as important as their jobs," he explained. 

Meanwhile, with employees concerned about work-life balance these days, Azmi said the PR and communications team can work closely with the HR departments on this.

"Always try to leverage the work-life balance policies in your organisations, especially when it comes to how you would balance your requirements or work. Hopefully, with this arrangement and a balanced approach, there will be less employees engaging in quiet quitting," he added.

Burnout is also a common theme among employees these days and when asked about the difference between quiet quitting and burnout, Azmi explained that the former is more positive because one is still doing his or her job even though it might be the bare minimum. On the other hand, burnout means the individual has given up and is no longer performing. 

So where does this leave the PR industry? Regardless of quiet quitting, PR and communications will always be there, Azmi said, adding that plenty of organisations now realise the importance that these teams bring when it comes to shaping the business direction. "PR is no longer a supporting function. In fact, I think our industry should be more result-oriented, more KPI-oriented. Things such as expecting your staff to come in on time or come back from lunch on time are no longer applicable," Azmi explained.

He added: "You accelerate your work and we will provide you with the proper leadership and development opportunities. All these should be result-oriented rather than adopting the conventional way of doing things," he said.

Related articles:
Struggling with quiet quitting? Here are 3 tips for PR professionals
Is the Great Resignation sweeping away Malaysian and Indonesian marketers?
Are marketers in Singapore joining the great resignation?
SG SMEs hardest hit by Great Resignation in APAC, ability to digitally transform hindered

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