The Gurus Who Say They Can Make Quiet Quitting Disappear—for $15,000 a Day | Kanebridge News
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The Gurus Who Say They Can Make Quiet Quitting Disappear—for $15,000 a Day

Some have Ivy League degrees, others have no degrees, but these workplace consultants all say they’ve got an antidote to the viral trend of employee disengagement

By CALLUM BORCHERS
Fri, Oct 7, 2022 8:46amGrey Clock 4 min

His name is Dean Lindsay, though that’s not what he goes by on LinkedIn. “Quiet Quitting Keynote Speaker” is this search-savvy consultant’s new moniker, and he says it’s helping him get hired—at $10,000 to $15,000 a day—by companies sweating the latest buzzy term for employee disengagement.

Mr. Lindsay, who has been advising businesses about corporate culture for two decades, says quiet quitting is closely related to burnout, work-life balance, stress management and other phenomena that came before. His prescriptions are largely the same, too.

When he saw the viral TikTok phrase had quickly migrated from social media to the C-suite, compelling many bosses to think about how to stop workers from checking out, he didn’t hesitate to rebrand, swapping out his name on LinkedIn for something catchy and of-the-moment.

“I just jumped on it,” he says.

If you’re running a company now, chances are your inbox is full of messages from experts claiming they can goose morale, foster connection, boost buy-in and make various other jargon-studded dreams come true. The people who claim to know the most about quiet quitting are real go-getters, it turns out.

The extent of the problem these consultants aim to solve, and whether it’s new, is debatable. Many of them say that’s beside the point. Getting people to care more deeply about their jobs and colleagues may be a perpetual corporate mission, but it’s an important one, the argument goes. So what if it took a meme to intensify the sense of urgency?

Some, like Mr. Lindsay, run rousing workshops full of motivational mnemonics. (It’s all about the six P’s of progress, he says: pleasure, peace of mind, profit, prestige, pain avoidance and power.)

Less experienced consultants advertise youth as an advantage, saying they can get through to millennials and Gen Z.

Still others offer to set up employee-driven charitable campaigns, using company dollars, to make people feel better about where they work.

Rising Team, a Palo Alto, Calif., startup that sells camaraderie-building software designed to reduce quitting (quiet or otherwise), just closed a second venture-capital round, bringing total investments to $6 million.

For human-resources leaders, the pitches can seem endless.

Priti Patel, chief people officer at G2, a technology marketplace, says she gets daily emails about solving burnout and quiet quitting.

“I don’t even count anymore,” she says.

While some solicitations strike her as gimmicky, Ms. Patel says she doesn’t roll her eyes at all of them. She landed her current position last year after first working with the company as an independent “conscious leadership” coach, which she describes as helping managers deepen their emotional intelligence.

Her take on quiet quitting is that it’s simply the notion of having boundaries at work— hardly new. Nevertheless, establishing the boundaries is a real challenge for managers and direct reports alike, she says, and sometimes an outsider can help set expectations that work for everyone.

Karyn Twaronite, Ernst & Young’s global diversity, equity and inclusion officer, adds that HR consultants can lend valuable perspectives if they represent the views of young people or others who are missing or rare in the executive ranks. EY uses a mix of internal and external advisers, she says, and conducts quarterly “pulse” surveys, asking whether employees feel that they belong at the firm—which last month started splitting its consulting and auditing businesses—and are free to be themselves.

“These feel like softer things, but we know that they’re critical because if people don’t feel this way, then they could, in theory, quit,” she says. “If a consultant can help leaders listen to their employees or decipher the data, that’s really important.”

Data is a main selling point for Rising Team, the venture-funded startup that Facebook, Google and Yahoo veteran Jennifer Dulski launched in 2020. (She says her business idea predates the pandemic, but “the timing turned out to be perfect.”) Her young company starts by polling a client’s staff to measure the likelihood they’ll stay, and says in a few months it can deliver a meaningful increase in the share who plan to stick around.

Ms. Dulski, who teaches management at Stanford Graduate School of Business, aims to get co-workers to know and like each other—and without resorting to hackneyed exercises like trust falls. Rising Team’s “kits,” as she calls the software, lead groups of employees through virtual or in-person discussions every six weeks or so. A kit for a 10-person team costs $99 a month, and companies with many teams can get discounts for buying in bulk.

The idea is that workers who are invested in their colleagues are less likely to slack off or leave.

Money helps, too, though raises and bonuses aren’t the only ways to promote loyalty and engagement, says Tess Murphy, director of strategic partnerships at Kiva, a microfinance nonprofit. Her pitch to companies is that they can pump up employee enthusiasm by letting every worker direct a small sum—as little as $50—to a favourite cause.

Kiva has managed these corporate programs for eight years, but the tumult of the past two has prompted more workers to consider whether they and their employers are making a difference in the world, Ms. Murphy says. Businesses, in turn, are grasping for initiatives that can give their people a sense of purpose.

Ms. Murphy says companies wonder, “ ‘How do we get them connected and excited about the work that we’re doing?’ ”

Much of their consternation centres on young workers who fixate on what is, or isn’t, in their job descriptions and put in too few hours for some of their older colleagues’ tastes, she says.

Appealing to executives who are confounded by their greenest employees, Adam Owens left a steady human-resources job and started his own consulting operation this year. He bills himself as an unconventional alternative to competitors with Ivy League M.B.A.s and decades of experience. If you’re a Boomer or Gen Xer trying to figure out Gen Zers, he says, hire someone like him, a former philosophy major who dropped out of college in the aughts and built a career without the typical credentials.

Many young workers aren’t unmotivated, he adds, but they don’t necessarily measure success like their predecessors or do what they’re supposed to do in the eyes of others. He aims to help bosses understand what these employees really care about.

“Millennials are uniquely positioned to deal with this challenge,” Mr. Owens says. “We function as a bridge between the other generations.”

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Equities are often seen as expensive after promising start to 2023

By CAITLIN MCCABE
Mon, Jan 30, 2023 7 min

A new trading year kicked off just weeks ago. Already it bears little resemblance to the carnage of 2022.

After languishing throughout last year, growth stocks have zoomed higher. Tesla Inc. and Nvidia Corp., for example, have jumped more than 30%. The outlook for bonds is brightening after a historic rout. Even bitcoin has rallied, despite ongoing effects from the collapse of the crypto exchange FTX.

The rebound has been driven by renewed optimism about the global economic outlook. Investors have embraced signs that inflation has peaked in the U.S. and abroad. Many are hoping that next week the Federal Reserve will slow its pace of interest-rate increases yet again. China’s lifting of Covid-19 restrictions pleasantly surprised many traders who have welcomed the move as a sign that more growth is ahead.

Still, risks loom large. Many investors aren’t convinced that the rebound is sustainable. Some are worried about stretched stock valuations, or whether corporate earnings will face more pain down the road. Others are fretting that markets aren’t fully pricing in the possibility of a recession, or what might happen if the Fed continues to fight inflation longer than currently anticipated.

We asked five investors to share how they are positioning for that uncertainty and where they think markets could be headed next. Here is what they said:

‘Animal spirits’ could return

Cliff Asness, founder of AQR Capital Management, acknowledges that he wasn’t expecting the run in speculative stocks and digital currencies that has swept markets to kick off 2023.

Bitcoin prices have jumped around 40%. Some of the stocks that are the most heavily bet against on Wall Street are sitting on double-digit gains. Carvana Co. has soared nearly 64%, while MicroStrategy Inc. has surged more than 80%. Cathie Wood‘s ARK Innovation ETF has gained about 29%.

If the past few years have taught Mr. Asness anything, it is to be prepared for such run-ups to last much longer than expected. His lesson from the euphoria regarding risky trades in 2020 and 2021? Don’t count out the chance that the frenzy will return again, he said.

“It could be that there are still these crazy animal spirits out there,” Mr. Asness said.

Still, he said that hasn’t changed his conviction that cheaper stocks in the market, known as value stocks, are bound to keep soaring past their peers. There might be short spurts of outperformance for more-expensive slices of the market, as seen in January. But over the long term, he is sticking to his bet that value stocks will beat growth stocks. He is expecting a volatile, but profitable, stretch for the trade.

“I love the value trade,” Mr. Asness said. “We sing about it to our clients.”

—Gunjan Banerji

Keeping dollar’s moves in focus

For Richard Benson, co-chief investment officer of Millennium Global Investments Ltd., no single trade was more important last year than the blistering rise of the U.S. dollar.

Once a relatively placid area of markets following the 2008 financial crisis, currencies have found renewed focus from Wall Street and Main Street. Last year the dollar’s unrelenting rise dented multinational companies’ profits, exacerbated inflation for countries that import American goods and repeatedly surprised some traders who believed the greenback couldn’t keep rallying so fast.

The factors that spurred the dollar’s rise are now contributing to its fall. Ebbing inflation and expectations of slower interest-rate increases from the Fed have sent the dollar down 1.7% this year, as measured by the WSJ Dollar Index.

Mr. Benson is betting more pain for the dollar is ahead and sees the greenback weakening between 3% and 5% over the next three to six months.

“When the biggest central bank in the world is on the move, look at everything through their lens and don’t get distracted,” said Mr. Benson of the London-based currency fund manager, regarding the Fed.

This year Mr. Benson expects the dollar’s fall to ripple similarly far and wide across global economies and markets.

“I don’t see many people complaining about a weaker dollar” over the next few months, he said. “If the dollar is falling, that economic setup should also mean that tech stocks should do quite well.”

Mr. Benson said he expects the dollar’s fall to brighten the outlook for some emerging- market assets, and he is betting on China’s offshore yuan as the country’s economy reopens. He sees the euro strengthening versus the dollar if the eurozone’s economy continues to fare better than expected.

—Caitlin McCabe

Stocks still appear overvalued

Even after the S&P 500 fell 15% from its record high reached in January 2022, U.S. stocks still look expensive, said Rupal Bhansali, chief investment officer of Ariel Investments, who oversees $6.7 billion in assets.

Of course, the market doesn’t appear as frothy as it did for much of 2020 and 2021, but she said she expects a steeper correction in prices ahead.

The broad stock-market gauge recently traded at 17.9 times its projected earnings over the next 12 months, according to FactSet. That is below the high of around 24 hit in late 2020, but above the historical average over the past 20 years of 15.7, FactSet data show.

“The old habit was buy the dip,” Ms. Bhansali said. “The new habit should be sell the rip.”

One reason Ms. Bhansali said the selloff might not be over yet? The market is still underestimating the Fed.

Investors repeatedly mispriced how fast the Fed would move in 2022, wrongly expecting the central bank to ease up on its rate increases. They were caught off guard by Fed Chair Jerome Powell‘s aggressive messages on interest rates. It stoked steep selloffs in the stock market, leading to the most turbulent year since the 2008 financial crisis. Now investors are making the same mistake again, Ms. Bhansali said.

Current stock valuations don’t reflect the big shift coming in central-bank policy, which she thinks will have to be more aggressive than many expect. Though broader measures of inflation have been falling, some slices, such as services inflation, have proved stickier. Ms. Bhansali is positioning for such areas as healthcare, which she thinks would be more insulated from a recession than the rest of the market, to outperform.

“The Fed is determined to win the war since they lost the battle,” Ms. Bhansali said.

—Gunjan Banerji

A better year for bonds seen

Gone are the days when tumbling bond yields left investors with few alternatives to stocks. Finally, bonds are back, according to Niall O’Sullivan of Neuberger Berman, an investment manager overseeing about $427 billion in client assets at the end of 2022.

After a turbulent year for the fixed-income market in 2022, bonds have kicked off the new year on a more promising note. The Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond Index—composed largely of U.S. Treasurys, highly rated corporate bonds and mortgage-backed securities—climbed 3% so far this year on a total return basis through Thursday’s close. That is the index’s best start to a year since it began in 1989, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

Mr. O’Sullivan, the chief investment officer of multi asset strategies for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Neuberger Berman, said the single biggest conversation he is currently having with clients is how to increase fixed-income exposure.

“Strategically, the facts have changed. When you look at fixed income as an asset class…they’re now all providing yield, and possibly even more importantly, actual cash coupons of a meaningful size,” he said. “That is a very different world to the one we’ve been in for quite a long time.”

Mr. O’Sullivan said it is important to reconsider how much of an advantage stocks now hold over bonds, given what he believes are looming risks for the stock market. He predicts that inflation will be harder to wrangle than investors currently anticipate and that the Fed will hold its peak interest rate steady for longer than is currently expected. Even more worrying, he said, it will be harder for companies to continue passing on price increases to consumers, which means earnings could see bigger hits in the future.

“That is why we are wary on the equity side,” he said.

Among the products that Mr. O’Sullivan said he favours in the fixed-income space are higher-quality and shorter-term bonds. Still, he added, it is important for investors to find portfolio diversity outside bonds this year. For that, he said he views commodities as attractive, specifically metals such as copper, which could continue to benefit from China’s reopening.

—Caitlin McCabe

 

Find the fear, and find the value

Ramona Persaud, a portfolio manager at Fidelity Investments, said she can still identify bargains in a pricey market by looking in less-sanguine places. Find the fear, and find the value, she said.

“When fear really rises, you can buy some very well-run businesses,” she said.

Take Taiwan’s semiconductor companies. Concern over global trade and tensions with China have weighed on the shares of chip makers based on the island. But those fears have led many investors to overlook the competitive advantages those companies hold over rivals, she said.

“That is a good setup,” said Ms. Persaud, who considers herself a conservative value investor and manages more than $20 billion across several U.S. and Canadian funds.

The S&P 500 is trading above fair value, she said, which means “there just isn’t widespread opportunity,” and investors might be underestimating some of the risks that lie in waiting.

“That tells me the market is optimistic,” said Ms. Persaud. “That would be OK if the risks were not exogenous.”

Those challenges, whether rising interest rates and Fed policy or Russia’s war in Ukraine and concern over energy-security concerns in Europe, are complicated, and in many cases, interrelated.

It isn’t all bad news, she said. China ended its zero-Covid restrictions. A milder winter in Europe has blunted the effects of the war in Ukraine on energy prices and helped the continent sidestep recession, and inflation is slowing.

“These are reasons the market is so happy,” she said.

—Justin Baer

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