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Filipino employers acknowledge 'quiet quitting'; share measures to keep employees happy

By NICK GARCIA Published Aug 30, 2022 4:39 pm Updated Aug 31, 2022 3:10 pm

Quiet quitting has made quite the buzz online in the past few days, resonating deeply with many members of the workforce here and abroad.

Some local employers caught wind of the phenomenon and acknowledged that even before the buzzword came about, there have already been long-standing problems in the Filipino workplace which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and other sociopolitical issues.

TJ Ramos-Guzman, vice president of management training firm Guthrie-Jensen Consultants in Makati, told PhilSTAR L!fe that going above and beyond work has been the norm during her salad days in a previous company. The 42-year manager said that despite the lack of additional pay, proper lunch breaks, or even a simple pat on the back, all was right with the world as employees were made to believe that if there’s no pain, there’s no gain.

“That used to be our battle scars and we're proud to wear that,” she said. Hearing the infamous soundbites “If you cannot adjust to our style, the door is open” and “We can find someone who'll replace you” were always something employees feared. 

Ramos-Guzman pointed out that the abusive practice of hustle and grinding is already behind the times, as the present generation is now more progressive.

“Now that I'm starting to become more exposed to more people, particularly the Gen Z and millennials, it dawned on me that companies now really have to practice empathy,” she said. “The traditional way doesn't work anymore.”

As the world continues to grapple with COVID-19, which has been bringing much stress and anxiety for upending daily routines and causing millions of deaths—on top of ever-increasing prices of goods, recurrent shortage in the market supply, not to mention the Philippines dealing with the anxiety brought about by the political climate and current events—mental health, aside from financial security, should be at the forefront nowadays.

A study by MindNation, a global mental health and well-being company with headquarters in Quezon City, found that 53% of 6,000 Filipino employees aged 26 to 55 are feeling stressed and anxious at work. They manifested a lack of focus and concentration, having less pleasure in doing things they normally enjoyed, having lower than usual self-confidence, sleeping problems, and feeling down and sad.

[C]ompanies now really have to practice empathy... The traditional way doesn't work anymore.

A high 80% of the respondents cited COVID-19 fears as the main reason behind their mental health issues, while 47% cited financial pressures.

For Michael Angelo Horfilla, a 28-year-old milk tea brand owner who served as a white-collar worker for three companies in the past few years, quiet quitting—which he said he did “lots of times”—happens when the salary isn’t commensurate with the workload.

Horfilla told PhilSTAR L!fe that he once worked as a researcher and then a producer for a media company for over four years, but eventually left to find a “more financially rewarding job.” He pursued a different career in a liquor company and stayed there for a year, then tried his stab at banking for two years.

“Ito iyong pakiramdam mo, kahit anong gawin mo—either you do more or just do the bare minimum,” he said. “Kahit di ka magtrabaho o magtrabaho ka nang sobra, same pa rin ang sasahurin mo,” noting that he once had a “toxic” habit of comparing himself to colleagues who, he said, are getting more recognition than him despite his efforts.

When he was asked to work from home amid the lockdowns, Horfilla said he started his own business Kahatea in July 2020. The rest is history, and Kahatea already has 22 branches nationwide to date.

As a full-time entrepreneur now, Horfilla said there’s a lot of pressure being “captain of the ship” instead of being a mere “passenger,” as there’s no longer a superior who has his back when things don’t go as planned.

“Before, sarili ko lang ang iniisip ko at ang work ko. Na kapag hindi ako nagtrabaho or nag-absent ako, okay lang,” he said. “Ngayon kasi, maraming umaasa sa akin.”

While acknowledging that employees’ sentiments are valid, especially since he was once in their shoes, a retrospective Horfilla said quiet quitting could do more harm than good because work, aside from being a source of income, should be an avenue that promotes self-growth. In his case, it was by starting his own business instead.

“For me, when you no longer look forward to doing your job… you better leave and pursue other things—something that excites you and brings out the best in you,” Horfilla said.

UK-based professional services network Deloitte found that millennials and Gen Z professionals are seeking more flexibility and purpose in their work, increased learning and development opportunities, and better mental health and wellness support. A 2021 survey from American analytics company Gallup also found that millennials and Gen Z professionals, above anything else, want employers that care about well-being, not only on the physical level but also in temrs of career, social, financial, and community levels.

Happy employees

Mel Panabi, business director of Makati-based media and creative agency Red Havas of the Havas Ortega Group, told PhilSTAR L!fe that in order to keep everybody motivated and happy and thus prevent quiet quitting, their company holds monthly “parties” so they won’t be encumbered with work.

Panabi, 50, also said they also have an instituted mental health program called Mind You, a service where anybody can book consultations with psychologists. They also offer constant training opportunities through Havas University.

For me, when you no longer look forward to doing your job… you better leave and pursue other things—something that excites you and brings out the best in you.

“One of the reasons for quiet quitting is that people don't feel that they're being fulfilled in their career paths,” Panabi said.

He also prefers calling people in the office “teammates” instead of employees, noting they have a “very open-door policy” in which everyone can talk to the executives like an equal.

“You have to be there not only as a leader but a shoulder to cry on,” he said. “I always tell my teammates they can talk to me any time. No judgments.”

Rapport, trust and confidence

For Steve Domingo, president and chief executive officer of startup tech firm We Manage IT in Makati, employers must learn to build rapport with their employees and get to know them beyond the confines of the office.

Domingo, 38, told PhilSTAR L!fe that doing little things for the employees—though they aren't stipulated in the contract—speaks volumes, like covering the drinks or reception during their wedding, buying cakes for birthday celebrants, or giving presents on Christmas.

“Get to know them personally, pero di naman iyong mangingialam ka na sa buhay nila,” he said. “Let them know na pwede kang lapitan. Di iyong, 'Uy, andiyan na president natin.' Tapos nanginginig na sila.”

You have to be there not only as a leader but a shoulder to cry on. I always tell my teammates they can talk to me any time. No judgments.

Like Panabi, Domingo said he views his colleagues as co-equals, and he prefers that they call him Steve instead of “sir” or “boss.”

Domingo said they also incentivize those who perform well, particularly by increasing their salaries. In fact, they don’t have a strict eight-hour shift because all that matters at the end of the day, he noted, is getting the job done—even if it’s just two or three hours.

“You may also get them involved in the business, so they'll become confident and they can give their own inputs to the client,” he said.

With reports of employers who keep monitoring employees, especially those who are working from home, Domingo urged them to give their full trust and confidence. He noted that in the first place, employers hired employees because of what they saw on their résumés and heard during the job interviews.

“If there's one thing that helps, it's the younger generation being at liberty and being given the freedom to navigate their work, make their own diskarte, and deliver the results,” Ramos-Guzman also said. “Don't make them feel that you're breathing down their necks.”

Communication, compromise

Ramos-Guzman also urged organizations to exercise more leniency especially during this time. She cited organizations that allow employees to choose their work hours, and whether they prefer the "work from home" or hybrid setup.

There’s also the case of a single mom, Ramos-Guzman said, who requested to work from home for good as her kids are going back to school. Instead of outright granting the single mom her request, the company asked her to report to the office just monthly, but she would be held to a higher standard in terms of deliverables and updates. In the end, she’s “happy” with the arrangement.

Get to know them personally...Let them know na pwede kang lapitan. Di iyong, 'Uy, andiyan na president natin.' Tapos nanginginig na sila.

There’s also an employee already reporting in-person, Ramos-Guzman noted, who asked to work from home again for a week because her pet is going to give birth.

At the end of the day, there are no hard and fast rules in preventing quiet quitting—and, by extension, making the workplace conducive and not so daunting—but Ramos-Guzman emphasized that it’s a two-way street. As the classic Filpino expression goes, lahat ay nadadaan sa mabuting usapan.

“If the company can't make it work, then at least find something in the middle,” she said.

She encouraged employees to step out of their comfort zone and tell their immediate superiors what's going on, instead of keeping things to themselves or ranting to their peers until they just “explode.”

“The tendency for people now is to go down the path of least resistance. It only worsens the feeling. And nothing happens,” Ramos-Guzman said.

For Panabi, instead of resorting to quiet quitting, employees must take concrete action by approaching their superiors and sharing their thoughts.

“You could be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. They could help tremendously,” he said. “If at the end you're still feeling the same thing, then it could be time to look for your happiness elsewhere.”

In any case, Panabi noted that leaders should bear in mind that they’re the ones working for the staff, not the other way around.

If there's one thing that helps, it's the younger generation being at liberty and being given the freedom to navigate their work, make their own diskarte, and deliver the results.

Horfilla, while he said he raises eyebrows at work and exhibits strictness at times, he reminded leaders—especially business owners—to stay true to their commitment of being of service to their employees, as they’re the lifeblood of the organization.

“Umalis man sila eventually,” he said, “habambuhay nilang dadalhin iyon na minsan in their lives, there was a leader who fought for them.”

Ramos-Guzman also emphasized that it’s high time for leaders to go down their ivory towers and take the quiet quitting phenomenon seriously.

“If an employee says, 'I'm just going to do what's expected of me and that's it,' then it means the leader should take the initiative to have conversation with the team,” she said.

“Don't just look at employees as a number.”