person making an expression to indicate "be quiet"

Quiet Quitting—It’s All In The Attitude

This post first appeared on Forbes.com

The recent TikTok trend, widely covered in the media, “quiet quitting” is really not that new at all (cue Office Space the movie). Work has always been greedy for our time and effort, employers have sought to pay as little as they could for talent, and workers at all levels have struggled to set boundaries. A year ago I wrote about how to quit your job without quitting your job, suggesting that if you were sufficiently fed up to consider quitting, you might first try taking some steps to improve your situation by “quitting” the parts of it that were overwhelming, toxic or unsatisfying.

The essence of quiet quitting is doing your job, but not going “above and beyond” or signing up for additional work that is not paid or rewarded. As one TikTok muses, it is a rejection of the “hustle culture mentality.” This current phenomenon has triggered a variety of reactions (often generational) from support to judgment to compassion to dismay. But it’s important to note that there’s not just one way to quiet quit. Here are three distinct approaches, which represent very different attitudes on the part of the worker:

  • Checking out. At its worst, quiet quitting might be seen as cynical and passive-aggressive, as in this TikTok. But if workers are cynical, it is not surprising. Recent Gallup poll data indicate that employee engagement is down and so-called “active disengagement” is up. The hashtag “act your wage” says it all—if I am paid the minimum, I will do the minimum. Doing the bare minimum and seeing how little work you can get away with signals a lack of respect and trust, and it is not a strategy for long-term happiness or success. It also tends to depress morale.
  • Going on (partial) strike. Taking a page from the labor movement, refusing to do work after hours or outside one’s job description can be a powerful way to highlight the importance of the unpaid labor that employers have been doing. This approach differs from passive-aggressive checking out; instead it is an assertive effort to call attention to the value of one’s work and seek appropriate recognition and compensation. Like a labor strike, the goal is a re-negotiation of the terms of employment to be more equitable to workers. The hope is to put pressure on employers to set clearer expectations, write accurate job descriptions and compensate appropriately.
  • Taking charge. At its most personal and positive, quiet quitting represents an assertion of control and choice, a rebalancing of the asymmetry of the employment relationship. Rather than taking a “bare minimum” approach or half-assing the job, the employee commits to providing value within the boundaries of a sustainable role. The focus is on being fully present when you are working, while maintaining your health, well-being, relationships and activities outside of work. It starts with self-management and learning to say no while remaining committed to the core responsibilities and adding value.

When it comes to asserting yourself in the workplace, race, gender, age and economic status create an uneven playing field. Thanks to societal norms that expect women to be helpful, women (and particularly women of color) find it hard to say no “non-promotable work,” which includes many team and culture-building activities. Women, often seen as the Office Mom, are in a tough spot, as they will be judged unhelpful if they say no to serving on a committee or organizing an office social event, but if they do take on that extra work, their core job performance may suffer. Even being able to consider quiet quitting is an indication of privilege, and may not an option for black employees, who are subject to racial stereotypes and often report having to work twice as hard as white colleagues to receive the same recognition, and who can feel obligated to be a positive representative of their race.

That said, if you find yourself thinking of quiet quitting, here are some tips:

  • Be direct. Set clear boundaries and expectations with your manager. Direct communication is more likely to lead to positive change than passive-aggressive maneuvers.
  • Be positive. Frame your boundaries in terms of what you are doing rather than what you aren’t doing. If there are some parts of your job that you want to “quit,” lean into the core responsibilities where you know you can deliver value and make sure to highlight that value.
  • Focus on outcomes, not input. Resist measuring your value or productivity in terms of hours worked or the effort expended, and instead look to results and outcomes. Seek efficiencies and prioritize so that you are using your time for maximum impact.
  • Cultivate work friendships. Camaraderie and mutual support not only makes the day-to-day more fun and is an antidote to burnout, it helps to have allies if you are trying to institute workplace change.
  • Be proactive. Don’t wait to be told what to do – look for opportunities to create value. Being proactive is not “above and beyond”; it is taking initiative and ownership.
  • Try to achieve a win-win. Part of what has led to disengagement in the workplace is imbalance and breakdown between employer and employee. Focus on solutions and seek an agreement in which you are satisfied and feel respected and well-compensated respected for your work and your employer sees your worth and is happy to pay you for the value you create.
  • Update your resume and start networking. If you hate your job, you should probably try to find another job. Being checked out at work and taking an entirely transactional approach may be a short-term fix, but you and your employer deserve better.

Whatever decision you make, whether to outright quit or to stay in your job and try to change the terms of your employment for the better, embrace your agency.