For those not ready to make a grand exit, a softer approach may work.
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“I recently learned about this term called ‘quiet quitting’ where you’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond,” says Zaiad Khan, a TikTok user with over 10,000 followers, in a soothing voice, juxtaposed with a video of the New York City subway. “You are still performing your duties, but you are no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentally that work has to be our life.”
Clayton Farris, a TikTok user with 48,000 followers, who posted about the trend days later, says in his own video: “I don’t stress and internally rip myself to shreds.”
The phrase went mainstream from there. “If Your Co-Workers Are ‘Quiet Quitting,’ Here’s What That Means,” read a headline in a Wall Street Journal article on Aug. 12. The Guardian went with: “Quiet Quitting: Why Doing the Bare Minimum at Work Has Gone Global.” The term was defined and redefined. For some, it was mentally checking out from work. For others, it became about not accepting additional work without additional pay.
Many people feel perplexed: Why do you need a term to describe something as ordinary as going to work and doing your job, even if it’s not well? Some people feel validated for never raising their hands at work, or judged because they actually like being overachievers.
Then there are those who are envious: They wish they could quietly quit, but believe they could never get away with it because of their race or gender. (There are also some professions that make it less easy. Who wants their doctor or child’s teacher to take the easy way out?)
Gabrielle Judge, 25, who works in customer success for a tech company and lives in Denver, sees people on social media talking about quietly quitting without any regard for how it affects others. “Some people are taking quiet quitting as in passive aggressively withdrawing, and that doesn’t win for everyone,” she said. “It isn’t always about you. You’re on a team, you’re in a department.”
Still, she supports communicating healthy boundaries, as long as it’s done responsibly. “I’m all about balance,” she said. “As long as our work is being done, and we don’t need each other, we can do whatever.”
Alex Bauer, 26, a material handler in a book warehouse in Appleton, Wis., said that her first thought “when I heard about quiet quitting was, ‘Oh God, that’s me. It’s been something I’ve been practicing, but I didn’t have a name for it up until now.”
Ms. Bauer started her job — she works eight-hour shifts five days a week — four months ago. She chose it because it wouldn’t require her to commit emotional energy. “To be given a list of so many things to do and tick them off one by one, it’s fulfilling,” she said. “I like the go-go-go, but I don’t have anxiety attacks. I am good at my job, but then I go home and don’t think about it.” She even has a side business: editing short stories, mostly in the fantasy genre.
In previous roles she worked in restaurants where she had to cook under pressure and manage kitchen staff who regularly called in sick. “You couldn’t check out of that kind of job. You had to keep going at a certain pace, or you will fall behind,” she said. “I got so burnt out, I got physically sick. I thought I had Covid because I couldn’t walk from the front to the back of the restaurant without seeing spots.”
She’s excited that the rest of the world has caught up to her way of thinking, rather than judging her desire to work a more simple job. “It’s validating,” she said. “It’s very refreshing to approach a job like I do, and it’s really nice to see there is a growing movement around something I do.”
Nikki Miles, 34, works as a human resource specialist for an entertainment company in Austin, Texas. “When I first read about quiet quitting I thought it was ridiculous,” she said.
Ms. Miles knows what it is like to work hard at her job. “I am a bit of a perfectionist,” she said. “I get these ideas, and I run with them.” She is especially interested in projects involving diversity, equity and inclusion, and she is helping her company develop better policies and programs.
But she has never understood people who make additional work for themselves, especially if it is outside their job description, just to look good or gain attention at work. “I am going to do my job, and do it well, and do things that actually interest me,” she said. “But besides that, I am already underpaid, so I am definitely not going to take on more.”
She’s confused by this trend that in her view simply consists of people putting their foot down … to do their job.
“It means that the expectation is for you to do more than the company actually compensates you for, and that will work out well for you,” she said. “That doesn’t make sense to me. You do the work you are compensated for, and if you want to go above and beyond, good for you, but that shouldn’t be a requirement.”
“This is the most worthless term,” she added.
Matt Spielman, a career coach in New York City and author of the book “Inflection Points: How to Work and Live With Purpose,” understands why some people may want to scale back at work. “If somebody really is burnt out or at the end of his or her rope or having personal issues, I think dialing the knob back from 10 to 7 or 6 or 5 makes sense,” he said.
He believes the urge is stronger with remote work. “With remote work it is far easier to feel less involved, less part of a team, and it’s easier for managers to break up with employees and vice versa,” he said. “There are fewer boundaries of when work starts and when work stops.”
But he worries about people engaging in quiet quitting as a means of getting revenge on a company. “Quiet quitting seems very passive aggressive,” he said. “If somebody is burnt out, there should be a candid conversation about that, and it should be both ways. Just saying, ‘I am going to do the absolute minimum because I am entitled to it or I have issues’ — it doesn’t really help anybody.”
Above all, Mr. Spielman believes that quiet quitting prevents people from finding jobs they love, which provide them with a sense of meaning and belonging.
“You work four, five, six, sometimes seven days a week,” he said. “There is no sadder thing to waste all this time in your life trying not to enjoy and be engaged and being excited in the work you are doing.”