From Tik Tok to The New York Times, the term quiet quitting has taken the internet by storm. Some employees have realized that it’s just a term for something they’ve been doing for years, while others have had a lightbulb moment and now have a playbook for scaling back at work. Certain employers are outraged while others consider it a warning that all is not well with their workplace culture.
The idea isn’t new, despite TikToker Zaiad Khan’s viral video that has millions of views, hundreds of thousands of likes, and helped popularize the phrase. Unions in contract negotiations have historically imposed “work to rule” initiatives, in which members refuse various accommodations that employers ask for, such as declining overtime. A “slowdown” occurs when employees work more slowly or less effectively to show that they are not happy with their pay, working conditions, or workplace experience and has taken place in a number of workplaces from car manufacturing plants to airlines.
Still, its viral spike this year has it making headlines. So what is quiet quitting, why is everyone up in arms about it, and can it actually be beneficial for your mental health?
Quiet quitting doesn't actually involve quitting. It’s more a response to hustle culture, overachievement, and burnout. What people are “quitting” is going above and beyond, doing additional work without being compensated for it, and only completing tasks that fulfill their job requirements and nothing more.
Proponents would probably say yes: quiet quitting is just setting healthy boundaries and resisting a capitalist culture that pushes them beyond burnout. But everyone seems to have a slightly different definition, depending on their feelings about how hard folks should work and how engaged they should be in their jobs.
Wondering if you're burned out? This quiz might help.
If you look around at the current state of the world, you might have a guess as to why folks feel like quietly quitting works for them.
Fewer than one in four U.S. employees feel strongly that their organization cares about their wellbeing—the lowest percentage in nearly a decade. Whether employees are stressed because of work, or their stress is carrying over into work, one thing is clear: The world's employees are feeling even more stressed than they did in 2020 (the previous all-time high).
People want to be fairly compensated for not only their work, but additional time and energy they give to work, especially as the cost of living continues to rise and the COVID-19 pandemic wears on.
It's the responsibility of employers to create a safe, supportive, and equitable workplace, but many employees don't feel like they experience this. Quiet quitting is a way for some people to feel like they have a sense of control over their situation.
This is where things get tricky. Quiet quitting looks different for different people. Whether you're for or against quiet quitting, there are few things most people can agree it includes:
Some people might read this list and think that this is just doing your job. Others might think that they've been doing this for a long time and thought of it as coasting or flying under the radar. Still, others might see this list and think I can do that?
Rather than simply turning in a resignation letter, quiet quitting can let you stay employed at your job but do the bare minimum, scale back, or otherwise avoid overachieving.
So there are two main camps: pro-quiet quitting (even if the phase is problematic) and anti-quiet quitting.
Predictably, many on the employer-side of things aren’t thrilled about the idea. The concept has sparked a flood of commentary from business leaders, career coaches, and other professionals lamenting what the shift away from hustle culture means for Americans’ commitment to their jobs. Fancy folks from Arianna Huffington to Kevin O’Leary from “Shark Tank” are up in arms at the thought of not giving your job your all—which makes sense, as their fortunes and success depend on the hard work of the folks below them.
But there are clearly many proponents. Millions of people are finding value in the idea of not giving 110%, especially when they see no reward for that hard work.
But then there are pro-quiet quitting folks who are still critical of the idea, specifically why the word quitting is being used to refer to people who are both employed and doing their job. They see it as a way of demonizing workers who aren't doing free labor.
Others have pointed out that only people with certain types of societal privilege are able to coast, because their race, gender presentation, etc. means that others see them as generally competent no matter their work ethic or output, whereas others have to go above and beyond to be considered competent.
The majority of the controversy lies in the fact that there is no clear definition of what quiet quitting actually is. Phoning it in completely? Setting healthy boundaries? Giving up? Having work-life balance? No one knows. Your way of quiet quitting, if you choose to do so, is whichever level works best for you.
This goes back to the idea that there’s no clear definition of quiet quitting—and won’t ever be. If we consider quiet quitting to be simply creating healthy boundaries at work instead of going above and beyond on the fast track to burnout, quiet quitting should be the norm, while slacking off would be considered doing less than your job description.
Quiet quitting can help your mental health if it means that your mental health is struggling and taking the actions that fall under the category of quiet quitting have a positive impact.
In recent years, many of us have re-evaluated our work, our lives, our values, our communities, our families, and how we spend our time. If you've done some of this self-evaluation and have realized that work is taking from your life more than it's giving, it could be time to reconsider your relationship to your work.
If by quiet quitting you mean setting better boundaries, creating a better work-life balance, and advocating for what you need to do your job so that it doesn't overwhelm you, then it might have a positive impact on your mental health.
Likewise, if you're in a situation in which you're not fulfilled by your job or it’s having a negative impact on your mental health and yet your circumstances dictate that you can't just walk away, coasting, flying under the radar, and scaling way back until you can make your next move might make sense for you (even if it would make your employer shudder).
For some people, putting more effort into work assigns more value to that work. If we quietly quit, we might not feel as engaged in our work. But job satisfaction and engagement are highly linked to mental health.
Some folks also think that they should spend their many working hours a week doing something that they enjoy rather than something they can simply tolerate. We spend the majority of our waking hours at work, thinking about work, or commuting to work. It makes sense that folks might want to find work that they enjoy and give it their best effort to feel a sense of purpose in their days.
Regardless, healthy boundaries and practicing workplace self-care are important.
As with most things, there's no one-size-fits-all solution for everyone. If you're wondering whether everyone should quietly quit, that might not be the case. Work can be stressful, so it's not surprising that for some folks, it's the right path. But there's also nothing wrong with wanting to go above and beyond at work.
Even if you have goals and love your job, it's still important to set healthy boundaries. Just because you love your work, doesn't mean you should neglect other areas of your life. You can still set boundaries without necessarily quietly quitting.
If you're struggling to set boundaries at work and don't know how exactly that looks for you, a therapist can help.
If you're considering quietly quitting or you realize that that's what you've been doing for a while, you might be wondering when it's time to simply...really quit your job instead.
A lot can go into a decision to leave your job and it's not necessarily one that should be taken lightly. But if your job is having a truly negative impact on your mental health, and the negatives far outweigh the positives, it might be time to walk.
If you're wondering whether or not it's time to quit your job, it might be time to work with a therapist or career coach who can help you figure out what's going on, how you can navigate the sensitive situation, and your best next steps.
A therapist or career coach can help you manage the stress you're feeling at work, figure out where it's coming from, develop some coping mechanisms to help you prevent burnout. If you're quietly quitting or thinking about doing it, they can also help you figure out the best boundaries to put in place for yourself. And if it's time to eventually leave, they can help you figure out a strategy to have those conversations with a level head.
You deserve to be in a workplace environment that supports your mental health. Whether you're quietly quitting and consider that healthy boundary-setting, or you're unhappy at work and looking for your next adventure, your mental health is what matters most.
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Caitlin is an organizational change strategist, advisor, writer, and the founder of Commcoterie, a change management communication consultancy. She helps leaders and the consultants who work with them communicate change for long-lasting impact. Caitlin is a frequent speaker, workshop facilitator, panelist, and podcast guest on topics such as organizational change, internal communication strategy, DEIBA, leadership and learning, management and coaching, women in the workplace, mental health and wellness at work, and company culture. Find out more, including how to work with her, at www.commcoterie.com.