Add "quiet quitting" to the long list of things you learned on social media. This summer, people started posting about their commitment to "acting their wage" at work, rejecting the notion of going above and beyond. The "quit" part is a misnomer, and while the cute and catchy alliterative term is new, the concept shares DNA with previous generations' idea of "phoning it in." But there are many reasons quiet quitting is taking center stage now—and there are risks and other strategies to consider.
Why people are quiet quitting
In passive protest
"You may decide to quiet quit if your job has expanded to include doing the tasks of 2 or 3 jobs, if you're picking up the duties of people who've left and haven't been replaced, or if you're being asked to do things that are beyond the scope of your job," says Vicki Salemi, a career expert and former corporate recruiter in New York City. This, she says, "is like telling your job to talk to the hand."
Part of the motivation may be that you feel you're not being paid or promoted in recognition of all the tasks you're expected to complete. Another motivator for some: staying mentally well. The World Health Organization added burnout—marked partly by exhaustion and negativity—to its International Classification of Diseases.1 And that was in 2019—before the COVID-19 pandemic blurred lines between work and home.
Training a colleague—or worse, your new manager—for a role you were hoping to fill might be incentive enough to start looking for a new job. That could pay off financially. A big sticking point in today's worker-friendly job market, Salemi says, is "new employees getting paid more than loyal, longer-term workers." If your job search is time-consuming, quiet quitting could look like letting some of your work to-do list slide. As you look for a new job, Salemi recommends taking the current situation as "an opportunity for introspection: Why do you think you got passed over? What could you do to change that?"
To reclaim their time
Not every job is about climbing the ladder. For some, quiet quitting could mean not raising your hand to take on more duties. Clear boundaries can allow for more time, flexibility, and emotional bandwidth for everything else in life, such as caring for kids or an aging parent. "You can give yourself permission to lean out when you need to," says Meredith Stoddard, vice president of life events at Fidelity. "We know that 53 million Americans have caregiving responsibilities, and those caring for children require 61 hours a week on average, and those caring for adults require 28 hours a week on average" she says, citing a 2021 Fidelity Caregivers Study.2
The risks of quiet quitting
Though the above reasons may be valid, if you suddenly dial back your work performance, people may notice. In the long term, it can affect whether colleagues recommend you or endorse your skills for jobs at other companies. In the short term, Salemi points out, you may have trouble finding someone to cover for you when you're out of office if you often bow out of helping. If you're quiet quitting in response to being overworked or overwhelmed, you may not be giving your manager a chance to offer solutions, or even to realize how much is on your plate. "You may think your manager is unsupportive, but Fidelity surveys have found that people are usually pleasantly surprised when they share what they're going through," Stoddard says.
Lastly, if a supervisor perceives your bare minimum as unsatisfactory performance, you could get fired. Salemi acknowledges that low unemployment and an ongoing labor shortage may give workers some job security, "but if hiring slows down, employers will be back in the driver's seat" and may be more inclined to terminate quiet-quitting weak links.
Before you quiet quit...
Try taking an active and vocal role in improving your work situation with any of these 5 options:
1. Talk to your boss
It's possible your manager isn't fully aware of everything you're doing. Stoddard recommends writing out a complete list. From there, you can ask your supervisor to help you identify priorities, as well as projects you can back-burner.
If you're given tasks that you feel are outside your role, see if your company keeps a copy of the job description for your position. Refer to it as a starting point when you talk to your boss, and "aim to be quantifiable. ‘I was hired to do sales, but I'm doing marketing now. What percentage of my time should I spend on that, and what percent should I be doing calls?'" Salemi says.
If your team has been understaffed and you're overwhelmed by covering for the open head counts, Salemi recommends asking your boss if she thinks that will be permanent or short term, and if you could hire a temp or an intern to help carry the workload.
2. Revisit your compensation
While you're talking to your boss, if you feel like you're underpaid or have been overlooked for promotions or bigger opportunities, bring it up. Ask if there are specific requirements or paths you need to follow in order to get to the next level.
3. Pick your battles
On any given day, there are only so many tasks you can complete, emails you can respond to, and debates with stubborn coworkers you can have. "Give yourself permission to drop things that don't give your job value," Stoddard says. "I chose to go to grad school, which adds value to me as an employee. But I had to make a concession with my time, so I am probably never going to be on top of all my emails. With my inbox, good enough is OK."
4. Set boundaries
"You can work hard, make a difference, and not look up and realize you haven't seen your kids in 2 weeks; you haven't taken time for yourself, your body, and your nutrition," Stoddard says. If you have wall-to-wall video meetings while working from home, she recommends aiming to go outside and off-camera for one of them each day when possible.
Salemi suggests safeguarding your lunch hour and taking time to yourself—going for a walk, or, at the very least, eating somewhere other than in front of a screen. Stop reading and responding to messages after hours, and remove work apps from your phone so it's not as easy to check during your off time. "When you set these behaviors for yourself, your coworkers, clients, and vendors will pick up on them," she says. "If you're a manager, set the example, and don't look at email on vacation. And you could even praise people for not looking when they go away."
5. Quit out loud
"While it is possible to find balance if you put in the effort in most work situations, there are some jobs out there that will take all they can get out of you and not give enough back in return," Stoddard says. "If you realize that's the situation you're in, it's OK to decide that the job just isn't worth that much of your time and energy and ultimately move on." Before you leave for another opportunity, be sure to tie up these loose ends.