Originally published in the Globe & Mail August 29, 2022
Quiet quitting is the latest workplace-related alliteration that’s gaining momentum, especially among Gen Zs. It is not about quitting in the literal sense. In fact, quite the opposite, it’s about doing the bare minimum required, while remaining fully employed.
As the now viral TikTok video by a user named zaidleppelin suggests, by quietly quitting, “You’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond … your worth as a person is not defined by your labour.”
The notion is not new – “work to live, instead of live to work” is a philosophy that’s been embraced by cultures outside of North America forever. However, describing this as “quiet quitting” has negative, cynical connotations that can be harmful for workplace engagement and performance. It insinuates a fixed mindset, thinking of jobs as a discrete set of tasks, beyond which employees should be entitled to opt out.
The reality is, jobs are more nuanced and complex, requiring some give and take. Sometimes work requires an extra push to get to the finish line. And employees can only feel good about those instances if they are allowed adequate recovery (for example, “fire drills” can’t become the norm). As organizations have not necessarily operated with employee well-being in mind over the past few decades – expecting them to do more with less, leading to more encroachment on personal time and pervasive burnout – this type of quiet revolt could have been predicted. But there must be a happy middle ground where employees are motivated to do their best work and are fairly treated and paid for it.
What can employees do as an alternative to quiet quitting?
- Look before you leap: Before jumping on the bandwagon, think about what’s causing you to quietly quit. Are you resentful that you aren’t getting enough pay or recognition? Have you been given an unfair workload without adequate resources? Do you not see the point or context for the work your leader has asked you to do?
- Have open conversations: Once you’ve identified your “why,” take steps to proactively address it. It’s better, both for you and for the organization, to pitch a solution (which may include more resources, more context, or help in prioritizing), than to marinate in mounting resentment. Even in cases where you are not granted everything you ask for, you at least will have done your part in attempting to solve the problem, bringing transparency to managers who may not fully appreciate the full weight or implications of their asks.
- Reframe: Instead of quietly quitting, consider joyfully joining. As Arianna Huffington suggests, “rather than go through the motions in a job you’ve effectively quit on, why not find one that inspires you, engages you and brings you joy? We have, after all, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to redefine how we work and live. Let’s not settle on quiet quitting.” Take the power back into your own hands – choose work that aligns with your skills and/or purpose. Going “above and beyond” doesn’t necessarily mean extra hours. When we are engaged and in our best-fit roles, we can work smarter, more efficiently and feel good about the impact we are making.
- Set boundaries: Know what your non-negotiables are and openly communicate them. Remember, your team and leader(s) are not mind readers, so if you continue to allow your non-negotiables to be sacrificed, they will assume you are okay with it. It’s important, however, to also be aware that jobs are a give and take and we need to flex sometimes if we expect flexibility.
- Quit (for real): Instead of taking a passive-aggressive approach, if none of the above are suitable solutions, take your talent elsewhere. Life is too short to be in a job where you are resentful and not operating at your best.
If quiet quitting is a new form of “presenteeism” (where employees are physically at work but mentally elsewhere), there is cause for concern: we can’t afford to have organizations led and operated by disengaged zombie-like workers. However, if it is a rallying cry for better prioritization, fair pay for fair work and career and time management, then it is long overdue, but perhaps deserves a reframe. Whether you are for or against it, the fact that this provocative term has struck a chord with so many is something organizations need to pay attention to, as they continue to manage a fed-up, burned-out work force.