Dealing with ‘quiet quitting’ as a financial advisor

By Todd Humber | September 12, 2022 | Last updated on September 12, 2022
3 min read
Portrait of a muslim businesswoman working at her office

Quiet quitting may sound like a foreign concept to high-performing financial advisors. The term, amplified by TikTok users, describes workers no longer willing to go above and beyond for their paycheques.

“You’re still performing your duties, but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life,” is how TikTok user Zaik K. described it.

Andrew Caldwell, manager of the human resources advice line with Peninsula Canada, said professionals who are paid primarily on performance, either through commissions or bonuses, are probably at low risk of succumbing to quiet quitting, he said.

“Those people are driven and, if they’re not making money, they’re going to be moving on anyways,” he said.

Quiet quitting could pop up, however, in support roles and salaried positions, and can be addressed in tactful ways. If you see an employee who is not performing to their usual level, it’s worth a conversation, he said.

Caldwell recommended being prepared with facts, not just opinions. Dig out any metrics you can to back up your perception. There are plenty of reasons performance could be declining, including issues in their personal lives or financial pressures at home, he said.

“If you can’t have that conversation, you’re not really going to truly understand why that person’s dropping off the radar,” he said.

That conversation is a must-do, said Catalina Rodriguez, an employment lawyer and workplace investigator at Forte Law in Vancouver.

“The employer is not allowed to be wilfully blind to what’s happening right in front of them,” she said. “If you see someone that’s now struggling, you have to sit down with them and say ‘What’s going on? How are you doing?’ And try to dig deeper — the conversation has to be meaningful.”

Someone who is quiet quitting might be going through a mental health issue, which is a disability and a protected ground under provincial and federal employment legislation.

“Disabilities could be permanent or could be temporary,” Rodriguez said. If a worker is struggling, the employer has a duty to find out why before considering termination.

But having quiet quitters — as opposed to low performers — on your team isn’t reason for panic, Caldwell said. While it seems counterintuitive, having a team of high performers who are going above and beyond has drawbacks.

“Like, great. You guys are managing yourself — this is awesome,” he said. “But then, if I’ve got nowhere for them to go, I’m going to see a lot of turnover because they’re looking for that next job, they’re looking for that next move.”

Caldwell is fine with a worker who comes in, does the job and goes home, because they’ll be back the next day to do the same.

“The quality is there, the work is there. Maybe they’re not going above and beyond, but they don’t need to,” he said.

There are so many new terms with “quiet” in front of them now — including quiet firing, which involves micromanaging and trying to push low performers out the door, said Caldwell. It all boils down to people readjusting to post-pandemic life.

“It’s up to managers to get a really good understanding of their team and adjust their style to the individual and be consistent with it,” said Caldwell. “I think quiet quitters are not necessarily a bad thing, but if your entire company is quiet quitters, there’s a concern. You’ll want to look at management at that point.”

A truly bad employee

Establishing just cause to fire a quiet quitter and avoid paying severance is theoretically possible, but a long road, Rodriguez said. “As an employer, you [have to prove] you have managed that person’s performance carefully over a significant period.”

That means setting clear expectations and giving the worker a realistic chance to improve. If they don’t, provide plenty of warnings and documentation.

“Courts will only agree with an employer that they had just cause to terminate someone based on performance if the employer can show that they gave people a fair opportunity to live up to the standards, that they have communicated those standards clearly and that the failure to meet those standards was a lack of will,” she said.

Todd Humber

Todd Humber is an award-winning journalist who has reported on workplace, HR, employment, legal and occupational safety issues for more than 20 years.