The Real Deal About Quiet Quitting in the Workplace

By Dr. Wanita Mercer




We've been hearing a lot about quiet quitting in the news lately, and perhaps you are wondering what it is all about. Well, I am here to tell you the real deal about "not so quiet" quitting behaviors in the workplace.


What Is Quiet Quitting?


Quiet quitting is when an employee performs within the minimum expectations for their job or within the parameters established in their job description. In other words, it is when an employee does their job…and nothing more. However, it is referred to as “quiet or quietly quitting” because it denotes that the employee used to do a lot more than the minimum requirements.


Why Is This Happening?


These last few years, we have been inundated with heartbreaking headlines regarding #metoo in the workplace, workplace shootings/violence, the Great Resignation, remote work battles, ultimatums from CEOs, burned out essential workers, massive teacher shortages, and non-livable wages. Employees are tired and have been for a while now. Sadly, many employers have passed much of the burden to change or respond to these issues onto the overwhelmed and underpaid employees. Whereas Gen Z seems to think they are doing something new or revelatory in the workplace, people have always found a way to survive in toxic work environments, and “quiet quitting” is just one of them.


Is It Really Quiet Quitting or Something Else?


It seems that from one article or news broadcast to another one, there are different perceptions or interpretations as to what quiet quitting is.

I agree there are different ways to interpret quiet quitting and it depends on which side of the table you are sitting on.


From the employee’s perspective, the “quiet quitters” are establishing healthy boundaries and reclaiming their personal time; they are balancing the pay scale whereby they no longer do unpaid work; and they are finding a work-life (or as I like to call it work-personal life) balance.


From the employer’s perspective, the “quiet quitters” are only doing the minimum, they are not willing to go over and beyond their assigned duties, and they are not team players. Many employers believe employees should understand the unspoken expectation of doing more without getting compensated for it. You know, “that’s the job.”


I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. There is a need for both parties to be honest about some unfair expectations and unreasonable responses. Nonetheless, this trend is rising from the fact that most employees and employers fail to talk and work through workplace inequities and differences together as both play a role in this issue.


Is Quiet Quitting the Best Way to Manage Work Imbalance?


Although I understand why many employees resort to quiet quitting, I do not recommend this approach to managing your work life. The smarter approach to “quiet quitting” is to first start the way you want to finish. Too often employees start jobs wanting to go over and beyond to make a good showing of their commitment and skills. They want to convince their employers that they made the right choice in hiring them.


Also, because newbies are often still acclimating to the organizational culture, they are seen by senior team members as those who will blindly take on additional duties and/or work extra hours in the name of “sharing their load” or being a “good team player.” This is where the problem begins. This “gung ho” behavior is what employers grow to expect from employees because that is what employees have conditioned them to expect. However, if you start jobs with clear boundaries and then grow from there, there is a greater chance of achieving work-life balance early on. Then, any changes to expectations will warrant a crucial conversation whereby an agreement can be reached.


What Should Employees Do Instead of Quiet Quitting?


Employees should try talking to their managers about their concerns and being honest about any life changes or circumstances that require them to pull back on “other duties as assigned” or need to have a lighter workload for a specific period. Whereas employees are typically intimidated at the thought of initiating these conversations with management, they cannot expect leaders to appropriately respond to situations they are unaware of. Managers are much more willing to make concessions for employees who are honest and transparent about their current capacities rather than those who hide concerns and react in ways that compromise workflows and organizational goals. Boundaries and communication are key.


Is There Another Side to Quiet Quitting I Haven't Considered?


I must admit that although I do believe quiet quitting exists, I do not agree with how most leaders and followers are interpreting it with this trending topic. I believe true quiet quitting is when an employee has emotionally checked out of the workplace and desires to leave the organization as soon as possible without abruptly quitting their job.


What does this look like? When quietly quitting, an employee is actively looking for another job, indirectly yet intentionally training coworkers on how to do their job, and one may notice that they no longer have personal items in their office (or cubicle) in the event they decide they must quit abruptly after all. I’ve done that. I know others who have done that.


Now, that’s quiet quitting, and that is much more serious than what is happening in the workplace now. In contrast, the trending “quiet quitters” are still emotionally present and committed to their jobs; that is something employers should acknowledge and be grateful for. Employers are constantly asking more from employees without giving more and so you can’t blame employees for taking matters into their own hands to create boundaries and only do the work they are paid for. In their own way, the employees are still trying to make a tough situation work.


Is Quiet Quitting A Response to Toxic Work Culture Only?


Absolutely not. We must understand that quiet quitting is happening in response to the current economic crisis as much as toxic organizational culture and work-personal life imbalance. With rising inflation and higher costs of living in general, more employees are having to find second and third jobs to make ends meet. From a financial or economical standpoint, employees must “quietly quit” the job that constantly overworks them without providing overtime pay to ensure they are available for the second and third jobs they need to provide for them and their family. And, as people continue to recover or navigate the emotional and mental strain of the pandemic, employees are also finding that clear boundaries in every area of their life is necessary to managing their mental health.


Therefore, it is both naïve and negligent for employers to ignore these important factors that “quiet quitters” are dealing with, because the fact of the matter is, they are still present and they are still doing their job. Rather than point the finger at “quiet quitters”, effective leaders will take the lead on negotiating a reasonable work-life balance and work with their team, not against them, as in the case of “quiet firing.”



NOTE: Part of this blog was quoted in an article written by Nicole Spector on September 20, 2022 and published on Yahoo News and GoBankingRates. Read at https://www.yahoo.com/video/experts-workers-actually-quiet-quitting-110040028.html




Dr. Wanita Mercer, Ph.D. is the founder and CEO of Lead My Heart, an executive coaching and consulting company specializing in leadership, change, and communication strategies. She has a Ph.D. in Education with an emphasis in organizational leadership from University of the Incarnate Word, and she is a certified change management specialist and management executive. She has over 15 years of experience as an international educator, motivational speaker, and author. She lives in San Antonio, Texas.

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