When Zaiad Khan posted a TikTok video in July, he had no idea the conversations his words would spark. “You’re no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life. The reality is, it’s not, and your worth is not defined by your productive output,” Khan says in the video. With that, the concept Khan raised—”quiet quitting”—quickly went viral. Since it was posted, the video has nearly half a million views and kicked off a flurry of response videos, think pieces, and media coverage about the new trend.
As the chatter around quiet quitting increases, employers need to understand what quiet quitting means, what it doesn’t, and what they can do to best address employees engaging in quiet quitting.
What is quiet quitting?
As quiet quitting gains traction, varying definitions of the phenomenon are emerging. Some define it as doing the bare minimum at work, while others say it’s about setting healthy boundaries at work and standing up to employers who expect employees to go above and beyond without additional compensation. Regardless of the exact definition, the underlying meaning is clear: employees are pushing back against an all-consuming work culture and prioritizing their mental health and their life outside of work.
“Quiet quitting means that employees work within their job description rather than going above and beyond to impress their bosses,” says Caitlyn Parish, CEO and Founder of Cicinia. “It’s a rejection of the hustle culture, which promotes performing as much work as necessary to earn that perk or the new promotion, with little regard for mental health, work-life balance, or any remuneration for the extra labor.”
Misconceptions about quiet quitting
Despite the name, quiet quitting doesn’t actually mean that employees leave their jobs. “Workers are taking back their extra time and their mental space to allow for more than just work in their lives,” says TikTok user Clayton Ferris in a video posted in August. “But there’s a misconception…that quiet quitters are lazy and don’t have goals—that’s not true. When you quietly quit, you can still be a high achiever, but you don’t have to stress yourself out and give up all the other joys in life.”
Some believe quiet quitting essentially means quitting a job—and they go even further, suggesting “it’s a step towards quitting on life.” But proponents for quiet quitting argue that it’s the opposite. Employees still contribute and succeed at work, but they draw boundaries to protect themselves from burnout and unnecessary stress. “I see nothing wrong with an employee limiting themselves to work that falls within the confines of their job description, especially if the purpose is to avoid burnout,” confirms Drake Ballew, Founder and CEO of Practice Health. “What concerns me is the impulse to frame such a decision as somehow ‘quitting.’ If you are doing what is in your job description, you are doing your job—you haven’t really quit.” In fact, many call “quiet quitting” a misnomer, and what people are, in fact, advocating for work-life balance.
Identifying quiet quitting in the workplace
Many managers want a list of telltale signs that employees engage in quiet quitting. However, signs of quiet quitting are often subtle and rarely accompanied by the drops in performance and productivity that people may expect. While some employees might disengage from meetings or seem less enthusiastic, others will work to establish clear working hours or refuse projects that they don’t have time for, all while continuing to produce high-quality work. Since quiet quitting shows up in many ways, managers can use anonymized surveys or one-on-one meetings to determine employees who feel burnt out or unengaged in their work.
Employers need to learn how to support quiet quitting
While some might think employers should eliminate quiet quitting, learning to foster it might prove the wiser strategy. With proper support, quiet quitters can blossom into top performers—and that support starts with avoiding blaming employees. “The term ‘quiet quitting’ shifts the sole responsibility and accountability for employee engagement to the worker,” notes career coach Leigh Henderson in a recent Tiktok video. “Instead, let’s shift the accountability for employee engagement where it goes: on the employer. How can we expect employees to engage in work without inspiring them and giving them a sense of purpose, belonging, and dignity?” Here’s what employers can do to better support employees:
Understand the boundaries of employees’ workloads
Much of the push for quiet quitting centers around not taking on extra work outside an employee’s job description. If a company consistently requires employees to take on tasks that fall outside of what they hired them to do or asks them to work long hours to complete their work, then look for ways to ease the burden on employees.
“Employers should ask what additional support the company can provide to make employees' jobs easier,” says Michael Levitt, Chief Burnout Officer at Breakfast Leadership Network. “Offer a deep-dive review of employees’ workloads to see what can be deferred, delegated, or possibly deleted.” If employees feel consistently overburdened with work, hiring contractors or more full-time employees could help bring workloads down to reasonable levels.
Reducing employees’ workloads encourages more engagement, but other factors can also contribute to quiet quitting. Inflexible working hours, caregiving responsibilities at home, financial anxiety, and more can add to work stress that leads to burnout.
Employers can identify symptoms of burnout early by encouraging an open line of communication between employees, their managers, and the HR team. “Leaders should provide employees with opportunities to give feedback and be heard,” says Linda Shaffer, CPOO at Checkr. “Giving them the avenue to voice their concerns will help leaders to better understand the reasons behind why they may be feeling burnt out or undervalued.”
Beyond feedback, mental health and career resources can offer a lifeline for employees struggling with burnout. Providing free, confidential access to virtual therapists and career coaches can help employees identify and address symptoms of burnout that may affect how they show up at work. Digital family health benefits can also reduce burnout and encourage loyalty among working parents, giving them the resources they need to thrive at work—and at home.
“Confession: I have quiet quit a job before,” says Danielle Deavens, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Bold Xchange. “I got to the point where I didn't place much value in the overall ethos of the company, and I didn't believe in my manager's interest or ability to help me succeed in the role.” For employees that are overworked or burnt out, not believing in their manager or the company’s mission likely exacerbates their discontentment.
While it’s unrealistic to expect every employee to be deeply passionate about their work, employers can nonetheless help employees to find more meaning in their jobs. Solicit feedback on overall job satisfaction and equip managers with the tools to address any issues that may arise in this feedback. For example, managers can help employees transition to a different role in the company that may better fit their skills or interests. If a lateral move isn’t possible, then managers should work with employees to determine which parts of the job they most enjoy and help them find ways to spend more time on those tasks.
Professional development resources can also help increase employees’ engagement with their careers and the companies. “Leaders should create a work environment where employees feel supported,” says Schaffer. “Provide training and development opportunities, as well as flexible work arrangements. By showing employees that you are invested in their growth and development, it will help to build trust and respect between company leaders and employees and increase engagement.”
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