Rhonda Scharf explains the trend of “quiet quitting” and discusses the alternative
Recently, people on social media have been posting about a new trend known as “quiet quitting.” Another term for it is “work-to-rule.” With quiet quitting, employees perform only the duties outlined in their job description, work only the hours required of them, and don’t go above and beyond.
Advocates say it’s about employees putting their health and well-being before their careers. Opponents say people who do it are lazy or selfish. Those people say employees who do the minimum required to keep their job are “slackers” or “retired-in-place.”
Why Is This Happening?
Because of burnout, job dissatisfaction, and feeling unappreciated, many people are looking to align their personal values with their job roles. These people say we need to change how we work and force businesses to adopt policies such as the right to disconnect (i.e., from email during off-hours), offer flexible hours and locations, and remove unreasonable demands placed on employees.
Too many people have held the belief that the harder your work (read: the more hours), the more you will be rewarded. During the pandemic, we learned this isn’t true. Life balance is often more important than the paycheque, the title, or the glory of having an “important” job. The slowdown taught us what is really important in our lives, and many people decided that their job caused too much stress, too much angst, and wasn’t worth it.
However, not everyone can retire or choose a different career path. Many of us are too far away from retirement to consider quitting as a viable option. Too many of us have expenses (such as a mortgage) that our grand jobs pay for, which means that taking a lower-paying job with less responsibility isn’t an option.
In August 2022, a TikTok video about quiet quitting by Zaid Khan (@zaidleppelin) went viral, amassing 3.5 million views in the first month. According to Khan, “You’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond.” (It’s interesting to note that in another TikTok he commented on an article in which the reporter said Khan was quiet quitting his job. Khan replied with a wink to the camera, “I never said I was quiet quitting my job.”) The trend and the word took off like wildfire.
Other typical social media posts say things like, “I think today I’ll quietly quit and see if anyone even notices.” It seems that people everywhere are deciding that they, too, want to collect the paycheque without the same commitment as before. Many people are quiet quitting at work.
Having boundaries has always been something that work-life balance experts recommend. That’s not quite the same thing as quietly quitting, however.
Having boundaries helps you protect your health and well-being. It doesn’t mean you don’t ever go above and beyond, occasionally work overtime, or care about the well-being of your coworkers, either. Boundaries mean that you know when you will and when you won’t.
I know many administrative professionals who do go above and beyond but also have very reasonable boundaries around things they will not do. That is healthy and recommended. I have boundaries and I honour them. I hope you do too.
Setting healthy boundaries doesn’t mean you need to participate in this new fad. You can still be a rock-star employee while at the same time respecting your health and well-being.
Here are some things you need to do to ensure your job doesn’t cross your personal boundaries:
1. Identify your priorities
What is important to you? Finding time to have a little self-reflection is required to set boundaries. You need to get clear on your needs and values because if you don’t know what is important to you, you can’t set good boundaries.
Perhaps being at home with your family for dinner every night is your priority. Maybe ensuring your weekends are work-free, being able to attend your granddaughter’s baseball game, or going to the gym after work is what is important to you. If you are always working overtime and missing the family dinner, you may become frustrated, which could lead to burnout. By identifying that dinner is important to you, you can find ways to have family dinners and get all your work responsibilities done.
I want to feel good about both my job and my priorities. I’m not willing to quit, either, so by identifying my priorities I can ensure I am making choices that don’t lead to burnout.
2. Communicate your priorities
Perhaps that means there are things at work that you need to say “no” to. Maybe you can ask for adjustments to your work situation/location/time instead of assuming your employer won’t be flexible.
While many employers do need to make changes to the employee expectations they have, we also have to accept some of that responsibility. We need to ask before we disengage.
If your priority is having an evening with your family, you may need to communicate that with your executive and let them know it means you won’t be responding to emails or texts after 5 p.m. If that is not acceptable, or if there are exceptions to the rule, you need to have a conversation about expectations.
If one day you answer emails at all hours of the day and night and the next day you stop doing that without ever having a conversation about it, you are not communicating your boundaries. You are quitting quietly. When you have a conversation about your boundaries, everyone understands (even if they don’t agree), and you can still be a star employee who is a team player.
3. Use technology to help you stay focused on your boundaries
By using your out-of-office response or status updates, you are communicating your boundaries to others. Most people will honour them.
I recently sent a message to an EA for whom I was delivering a workshop. It wasn’t urgent, just a progress update. She was on vacation, and I received her out-of-office message immediately.
About an hour later, I had a question for which I needed a non-urgent answer. My email started by saying, “I know you are on vacation, and I do not want you to respond right now. When you return to the office, responding to this message is low priority.”
I honoured her vacation and didn’t want her to think that just because I was emailing her, I expected an immediate response. It was convenient for me to send the email even though I knew she wouldn’t respond to it right away.
Technology can forward your calls, respond to emails with an auto-response, give information to others, and even allow you to set up exceptions to your rules. I have seen several out-of-office email responses that say, “Although the workday is over, I understand that there are times when emergencies happen. If this cannot wait until 8 a.m., please text me at 555-123-4567.”
Quietly quitting implies that you, the employee, are doing something inappropriate; that you are deliberately coming up short. Instead of adopting a negative attitude, create some work boundaries. Know what you are willing and happy to do and what you are not. Then it won’t be necessary to quietly quit because you’ll be working in a company that respects you and your boundaries. You’ll be happy to give more than expected because you will feel valued and respected. Everyone wins with boundaries, and everyone loses when we quietly quit.