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Quiet quitting, a trend that became popularized over TikTok and burst into the mainstream this year, describes when employees do the work required in their job description during the normal workday, but reject the expectation to go above and beyond.Tanaonte/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

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An-Lap Vo-Dignard noticed an interesting phenomenon when his team used to sign on a new client or take on additional business from an existing one – advisors were thrilled, but their assistants weren’t quite as pleased.

“Our investment advisors and associates have key performance indicators, so it was good for them and they were happy, but the assistant was never happy to open a new account,” recalls Mr. Vo-Dignard, senior wealth manager and portfolio manager at Vo-Dignard Provost Wealth Management Group with National Bank Financial Wealth Management in Montreal. “It was just creating more work for them. And what was in it for them?”

So, the team instituted small bonuses for everyone, including assistants, when an advisor got new business.

“It’s just a gesture to say we understand [the additional workload] and we care,” he adds.

It’s one of the initiatives that Mr. Vo-Dignard and his partner have introduced over the years – including regular free lunches, in-office yoga sessions, team bonding and a strong emphasis on work-life balance – to show their employees they’re appreciated as integral parts of the 15-person team.

Mr. Vo-Dignard says he believes these measures also helped keep his team engaged and staved off quiet quitting.

Quiet quitting, a trend that became popularized over TikTok and burst into the mainstream this year, describes when employees do the work required in their job description during the normal workday but reject the expectation to go above and beyond.

A Gallup Inc. survey from September showed roughly half of the U.S. workforce is “quiet quitting.” In contrast, a recent Robert Half Canada survey found just 5 per cent of Canadian workers are doing the bare minimum, and 59 per cent of participants were going above and beyond their job requirements. Eighty-five per cent said they were putting in the same or more effort compared with two years ago.

Regardless of how common quiet quitting actually is, Johnathan Nightingale, co-founder and partner of management and leadership training firm Raw Signal Group in Toronto, says many bosses misunderstand it. He points out the trend originated on TikTok as a way to describe employees who are setting firm and reasonable boundaries around their work and opting out of hustle culture.

“The people who are talking about it are workers saying, ‘I’ll show up and do the job I’m paid to do but [I reject] the expectation that going above and beyond is the only way to advance,’” he says, noting that it’s since morphed to describe workplace behaviours such as presenteeism, or working while ill, and employees loafing while working from home.

“That’s a much easier group to be angry with and I understand why people moved the definition that way, but the core complaint for people who originally made a lot of noise was [that] the … idea of going above and beyond is worth interrogating.”

Symptoms that can lead to ‘quiet quitting’

While quiet quitting employees are still performing their job duties satisfactorily, Mr. Nightingale says that feeling of disengagement is often a symptom of employees dealing with a lack of clarity about expectations for their role, as well as amorphous boundaries between work and personal time that has emerged as a consequence of the pandemic.

“If an organization has not supported boundaries, then workers are setting them for themselves,” he says.

He adds that quiet quitting is also often a byproduct of an unsupportive relationship between managers and employees.

As such, advisors need to develop “communicative and healthy” relationships that involve giving employees a clear process for sharing concerns, transparency around compensation and bonuses, and more feedback on performance outside of the annual performance review.

Patricia Giesbrecht and Kim Poulin, team productivity and hiring coaches for financial advisors at The Personal Coach, say while they’ve seen a few examples of quiet quitting, it isn’t very common. Nevertheless, they believe some aspects of advisors’ work can create the conditions for it.

Ms. Poulin points out that many advisors, as small business owners, may not actually create job descriptions when hiring a new team member or updating an employee’s role – something that can produce confusion about roles or an ever-expanding to-do list for employees. While she notes the industry often requires some flexibility in tasks as compliance obligations change, clear expectations are key.

Ms. Giesbrecht also pointed to the ever-expanding role of the assistant in an advisor’s practice, calling them the jack of all trades and master of none.

“Assistants are expected to do everything and anything, [sometimes] including being licensed,” and they face ever-changing compliance rules, she says.

Both highlight the value of sharing the firm’s business plan and vision with all team members, including assistants, so everyone feels in the loop and invested in the team’s success.

Setting boundaries and being flexible

Mr. Nightingale says it’s incumbent on managers to adjust workloads proactively and emphasize boundaries, particularly given the financial services sector’s tendency toward “burnout hours.”

Mr. Vo-Dignard says his team has drawn firm boundaries around work and personal time, particularly for assistants. Multiple assistants share front-desk duties over the course of the week to give everyone the option to work from home some days, and he says he’s been clear that “we’re not in investment banking, we’re not going to tell assistants to come in at 7 a.m. and work until 7:30 p.m.” to finish processing accounts and paperwork. “That’s not realistic.”

Jason Heath, managing director at Objective Financial Partners Inc. in Markham, Ont., says he has given all of his employees the flexibility to structure their workdays in whichever way works best for them.

Mr. Heath says he started his business almost 11 years ago so he could maintain the work-life balance he wanted as a father of young children, and wanted employees to have the same options.

“To maintain quality employees, everyone’s going to need to be more flexible,” he adds.

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