By now you’ve heard about “quiet quitting,” the latest phenomenon in the ongoing give-and-take (push-and-shove?) between workers and their employers. The term describes a situation in which workers “quietly” quit over-working by stopping each day when they’ve reached the prescribed limit of their duties or work hours.
To say I have mixed feelings about this would be an understatement.
On the one hand, who could argue with the equity issue of conducting only the work you’re hired and paid for? Like most career counselors, I’ve been coaching clients for years in the fine art of upholding boundaries with over-reaching bosses.
And yet, really? Doesn’t it feel dishonest to let others think you’re working hard if you’re hardly working?
That might be hitting a little low on my part. An employee who can’t make the boss respect limits may feel compelled to try subterfuge. In workplaces with no union — that is, most workplaces — advocates rarely pop up to plead the worker’s case.
Even so, there’s an integrity issue here. To my mind, the act of drawing back instead of leaning in feels like announcing, “No, you can’t rely on me.”
Disregarding for the moment whether the employer’s requests are reasonable or over the top, it feels deceitful to leave the impression that you’re on it when you’re not. Whatever happened to respectful pushback? As in, “I’m already at 40 hours for the week with the projects I’m on, and two have critical deadlines. Are you OK with me starting the new one next week?”
If the boss answers no, start it this week, a reply of “I’ll skip the sales meeting so I can get a start on it” would signal that you’re holding the line on the 40 hours.
Am I in La-La Land when I expect the boss to “hear” this answer? Maybe, but if the result is going to be the same in the end, I’d rather see the worker start from a position of truth-telling before resorting to a game of workplace hide-and-seek.
Optimist that I am, I see the truthful response benefiting both the boss — who now understands the workload issue — and the worker, who is building the desired boundaries the old-fashioned way, brick by brick.
Perhaps my real objection to quiet quitting is that it feels passive-aggressive. Do you remember the staged-quitting trend from a decade ago? It was a social media meme to create a production — hiring a brass band in one viral example — and then livestream the “quit” so everyone could see the disgruntled worker taking a stand.
Well, I never thought I’d say this, but I can appreciate that approach for its directness. At least everyone in those scenarios was clear in their intent, even if the workers were being obnoxious about it.
I understand burnout, I understand the unfairness of being mistreated or un-heard at work. I just don’t think quiet quitting is the solution. If you’re at this stage in your job, consider these tips before giving in to the temptation to simply disappear when there’s work to be done:
Be honest with yourself. Not to blame the victim, but are you sure you’re the victim here? If you routinely do more than is needed, you may be creating the problem. Find out whether your extra effort is adding value or simply eating up your time and energy. At the very least, look for ways to engage in more visible work so the boss can better appreciate your extra effort.
Be clear with your goals. If the position has run its course, then forget about quiet quitting and just move on. If that’s not possible, figure out why and … just move on. With the job market still strong, you’re probably more mobile than you think.
Be courageous. Have you tried talking to your boss? Have you set actual (not “quiet”) boundaries with co-workers? The other side of passive-aggressiveness is conflict aversion. Being uncomfortable with conflict is natural; being deceitful to avoid it is unprofessional and possibly immature to boot. It takes courage to be direct with others, especially when there may be consequences. But it’s generally the better path.
In the end, you’ll have to decide if quiet quitting is right for you. But do consider this: If you’re so burned out that it feels like this is the only way to manage your job, it could be time for outside counseling. And if you’re so angry that this feels like retribution, it may be time to hire that brass band and just get this “quit” over with.
Amy Lindgren owns a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at [email protected]