Born on TikTok, quiet quitting has been all the rage recently. In our modern age of hyper-productivity focused on job and career success, the rejection of doing anything above and beyond has caught on. The topic has been a divisive one.
A writer for The Atlantic described quiet quitting as a phenomenon that “was, in previous decades, simply known as having a job.” Many, especially younger generations, see quiet quitting as a rejection of hustle culture, the same culture that created promotions in title and responsibility but not in compensation.
This group sees quiet quitting as an investment in personal life over private life. As NPR explains, this take on quiet quitting casts the move as simply an effort to have healthy boundaries with work and a true work-life balance.
On the other hand, others, like employers, conflate quiet quitting with laziness and a lack of motivation. However, what they likely don’t realize is their business’s role in creating an environment that people want to quietly quit.
Adequately valued and compensated workers are less likely to quietly quit. Workers who have opportunities to expand their skills and attain promotions are less likely to quietly quit. Satisfied and engaged workers are less likely to quietly quit.
Is quiet quitting happening at your organization?
Whatever your take on quiet quitting, 1 thing is irrefutable: Quiet quitting is taking place. Gallup estimates that it’s taking place across at least 50% of the U.S. workforce and possibly more.
Maybe you want to avoid or address quiet quitting at your company. Maybe you’re curious if your personal lack of motivation might actually be quiet quitting. (Executives are far from exempt from the ability to quietly quit.)
Whatever the motivation, you have to understand the phenomenon in order to address it. Here’s what you need to know about quiet quitting from the employee perspective.
Women have been saddled with a disproportionate amount of office work
As Kami Rieck writes in Bloomberg, “from keeping track of colleagues’ birthdays to ensuring the office coffee is stocked, many women are burdened with work that doesn’t advance their careers.” This is according to Celeste Headlee, the author of “Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing and Underliving.”
Not only does this extra work not advance their careers, it’s rarely even recognized or appreciated. Most people don’t even think about who restocks the office coffee supply until it runs out. This is one of the reasons that women experience burnout at higher rates than their male colleagues.
Women of color in particular are especially vulnerable to burnout. On top of that, they’re less likely to share their mental health issues or concerns at work. So, for their own well-being, they might choose to scale back — if they can.
As Rieck notes, Black employees often feel like they have to work harder than others. Women’s abilities at work are already often underestimated compared to men.
All of this means that even if women — especially women of color — want to quietly quit, it might not be an option for them. Headlee explains that “any time a person of color or a woman tries to establish healthy boundaries for themselves, they are much more likely to be seen as troublemakers.
What’s the takeaway? It’s this: There might be more people, chiefly women and women of color, who want to quietly quit but can’t. Just because you don’t see evidence of quiet quitting at your business doesn’t mean that the causes aren’t there.
Quiet quitting can shift responsibilities to (burned out) coworkers
There’s no avoiding that quiet quitting can be the right thing for someone to do. Especially if you’ve been overextending yourself without recognition or appreciation, why would you want to keep that up? There’s no denying, though, that quiet quitting has an impact on your employees’ co-workers.
Chances are, the extra work that was getting done isn’t unnecessary work. Sure, some of quiet quitting has to do with scaling back on social elements of work.
But some of quiet quitting means leaving additional responsibilities you’ve taken on in the dust. Someone will have to pick up the responsibilities that have been abandoned.
Quiet quitting can mean more work for the quiet quitter’s coworkers. And with that additional work can come the burnout that it brought for the last person.
This means that quiet quitting doesn’t just impact the person who is quietly quitting. It impacts the workers around them, too, chiefly those on their teams.
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Quiet quitting can be a natural response to a toxic workplace
Quiet quitting doesn’t happen in a vacuum. As the Harvard Business Review explains, quiet quitting is often about bad bosses, not bad employees. The authors of the HBR piece endeavored to uncover what the difference is between people who “view work as a day prison and others who feel that it gives them meaning and purpose.”
Their findings? “Our data indicates that quiet quitting is usually less about an employee’s willingness to work harder and more creatively,” they say. Instead, it’s “more about a manager’s ability to build a relationship with their employees where they are not counting the minutes until quitting time.”
If succeeding at your business means that your employees have to forsake their personal lives, it’s a toxic workplace. One way to deal with a toxic workplace is to withdraw from it as much as possible. Hence, quiet quitting.
Is the issue really that you hired the wrong, lazy people? Or is it that even the right people struggle to succeed in your company environment?
So, if you have a quiet quitting problem on your hands, think about it from the employee perspective rather than just the business perspective. Is the issue really that you hired the wrong, lazy people? Or is it that even the right people struggle to succeed in your company environment?
These questions can be hard ones to ask and hard ones to answer honestly. But they’re important questions to ask.
Employees can quietly quit in response to low-quality work
What do we mean by low-quality work? Let’s contrast it with high-quality work as outlined in the MIT Sloan Management Review.
In a recent article, Sharon K. Parker, a John Curtin Distinguished Professor at Curtin University and author of “How Well-Designed Work Makes Us Smarter” explains high-quality work. She says, “high-quality work… means having varied and meaningful tasks, clear goals, and a positive team climate. It means a job in which workers have some autonomy over their work.”
This includes, she says, “a say not just in how they carry out their tasks but also — as much as is feasible — influence over where and when they work,” too.
High-quality work is also work that comes with reasonable expectations and demands. When employees don’t have this kind of high-quality work, it makes sense that they’d like to leave as much of it behind as possible. No one wants to do busy work.
So, if you notice quiet quitting at your company, it might be time to investigate the type of work those employees are doing. If it’s not engaging, it shouldn’t be surprising that your employees aren’t engaged in it.
At the end of the day, quiet quitting is an employee-driven phenomenon. The triggers for it may come from elsewhere, but the decision to quietly quit belongs with the employee. That’s why it’s imperative to consider quiet quitting from the employee perspective.