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Quiet Quitting isn’t New – it’s Just a Re-Packaging of the “B Player” Narrative

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard about “Quiet Quitting”. It’s the (allegedly) new behavior employees are exhibiting wherein they perform their jobs, but nothing more. No working “above and beyond” or putting in discretionary effort.

But if you have worked in HR for a while, you know this is nothing new. Almost 20 years ago, Harvard Business Review published Let’s Hear It for B Players, by Thomas DeLong and Vineeta Vijayaraghavan. In the article, B Players are described as “placing a high premium on work-life balance, and they highly value the time they spend with family and friends”. Sound familiar?

The article goes on the make the case for the significant value of B Players and how organizations often overlook this steady, reliable group of employees stating, “B Players’ stability can be an organization’s saving grace” and they “inevitably end up being the backbone of the organization”.

Conversely, A Players, the always on, hard-driving, star employees, often move around frequently for the next best role, and tend to put themselves before their respective organization.

Admittedly, when I first started my career, I strived to be an A Player and I couldn’t understand why everyone didn’t feel the same way. Perhaps it was professional immaturity and/or lack of life experience. In fact, as the authors point out, “most leaders are highly motivated A Players and tend to undervalue B Players who have a different worldview”. But over the years as an HR leader, I have come to believe that building a team of A Players is not only impossible, it’s not desirable. Building a team that possesses diversity of thought, perspective, work style, etc., yields the best results.

So why has this conversation started again, after 20 years? I think there are a couple of factors. First, extended COVID related lockdowns had most people reflecting on their personal and professional lives. Re-evaluating where and how they wanted to spend their work time has created a massive shift in the traditional work arrangement. Second, I am not so sure we learned our lesson regarding B Players and their value. Maybe it is something about our “more, more, more” culture that tends to unfairly judge employees who are fine wanting “just enough”. Regardless of the reason, I believe it is important to continue the conversation.

In the end, I am not sure what’s worse – to be called a B Player or a Quiet Quitter? Maybe that’s the point. We need to move away from using pejorative names to describe employees who simply want to balance their work and personal lives. Employers who normalize and respect different asprational views will reap the rewards.


Shannon Clark Johnston


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