Why We “Quiet Quit” and 3 Ways to Avoid It

From corporate founders to hourly workers, professionals everywhere have unique interpretations of the latest buzzword: “quiet quitting.” Many of the former frame it negatively.

They say employees are “psychologically disengaged” from their jobs, doing the bare minimum, and clocking out at five o’clock on the dot (gasp!).

Some say this is destructive to the work environment, with one CEO suggesting that it’s a “step toward quitting on life.” Meanwhile, the rank-and-file say that quiet quitting is the drawing of a much-needed line between work and personal life. 

It’s easy to get caught up in all the noise. So, here’s a bit of clarity on what “quiet quitting” really means, and why we need to ditch this discourse to usher in authentically healthy work lives.

via Gallup

 

What is “quiet quitting” really?

Gallup defines “quiet quitting” as not going above and beyond at work. Instead, you’re just meeting the job description. 

But here’s the kicker: Gallup frames quiet quitting as a trend that could worsen since “most jobs today require some level of extra effort to collaborate with coworkers and meet customer needs.” It calls workers who don’t want, or can’t afford, to give that extra effort “actively disengaged.” Their latest poll says 18% of employees fall into this category, while 32% are actively engaged. 

Quoting a viral Tik Tok that helped popularize the concept, the World Economic Forum acknowledged that quiet quitting is, in its purest form, a rejection of hustle culture. It’s about “doing what’s required and getting on with your life.” Most workers are on board with this. They say it’s a great way to avoid burnout. 

 

What leads to overworking?

There is nothing wrong with having a work-life balance. But that doesn’t mean you have to scale back your productivity or “check out” while at work. 

It’s about balance.

To strike it, you must acknowledge the external pressures that push you to overexertion. Learn why you prioritize work over everything else. Explore the potential triggers of quiet quitting in your own life by learning some of the most common reasons for overworking.

via Economic Policy Institute

 

Trying to make ends meet 

Underpayment is a leading reason why workers feel uncomfortable in and resentful of their workplaces. Understandably, people who feel exploited pull back their dedication, effort, and enthusiasm for their role. This problem’s only getting worse. 

Despite the pandemic and skyrocketing inflation, worker productivity rises steadily. But compensation isn’t keeping pace. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) says there was a time at which productivity and wages rose in parallel. But things have changed since 1979. 

Since then, and up until 2019, net productivity has grown by nearly 60%. At the same time, a typical worker’s compensation grew by only 16%. 

These same employees are urged to simply work more if they want to increase their income. But this advice mischaracterizes the problem and makes many people feel unseen, unheard, and misunderstood. 

“Wage problems are a ‘failure by design,’ ” EPI reports. “[W]age suppression was generated by policy choices that resulted in… corporate [structural] changes that pushed down wages and profits in supply chains to the benefit of large firms.” 

Most people don’t want to wrap their lives up in their work. They just don’t have a choice.

With wages being systematically suppressed as the demand for productivity rises, workers have little to no wiggle room to demand their worth, much less off-time. So, they’re forced into a cycle of exhaustion and professional dissatisfaction. 

 

Work as identity 

It’s no secret that Western cultures glorify work. If we’re not proudly pulling ourselves “up by the bootstraps,” then we’re happily providing for our family in a “dream job.”

But most people are just trying to get by. Whether it’s with great joy or indifference, it would appear that everything we do is contingent on employment. This way of thinking is made clear in how we perceive job titles. 

The job title is a primary identifier. Think about it: What’s one of the first things you ask someone when you first meet?

“What do you do?” 

Our identities are deeply tied to our occupations. That shouldn’t come as a surprise—it’s where we spend most of our time. According to The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the average American spends about 1,791 hours at work every year. That’s just about 20% of your life. No wonder your job is so important to who you are! 

But it’s not just about the amount of time you spend on the clock. The desire (or obligation) to work is deeply ingrained in our society. 

“There are cultures which do not value work as highly as in Europe and America,” Tom Fryers, then a visiting professor of public mental health at the University of Leicester, wrote for the National Library of Medicine. “But it has been generally held in ‘western’ societies that people should work hard and conscientiously at whatever job they have, both to earn money for their families, and to serve the community.” 

The way we think about and engage with work is deeply influenced by these social and cultural norms. And while it’s certainly not bad to enjoy your work, it shouldn’t be your whole world. It’s possible to be comfortable enough to exceed the bare minimum on the clock without overexerting yourself or stewing in resentment toward the higher-ups. 

Here are some tips for deprogramming yourself from the “work is life” mindset to strike such a balance.

“American society pressures citizens to avoid wasting time, to work more and to get more tasks accomplished…. If we don’t prioritize our quality of life over our jobs, we are doing a disservice to ourselves.” – Sydney Cyr, The Echo

 

How to avoid becoming a quiet quitter

I’ve endured my fair share of toxic work environments. It’s easy to feel trapped when you’re surrounded by bad managers and hostile coworkers. But believe me: There’s a way out. 

For one, you can continue to work at the company and do your best to carve out a safe, professional space. But I’m going to be honest: Such an effort will probably be fruitless and at your own expense. It’s difficult to accomplish, especially if the toxic culture was established long before your arrival. Still, there’s hope. 

I’ve dealt with passive-aggressive coworkers and unprofessional management. But rarely (I wish I could say never) did I let my dissatisfaction or disillusionment with the work environment impede my job performance. 

In many cases, I continued to go above and beyond, taking on special projects or staying on shift until the job was done—not just 5 on-the-dot.

Why?

Because it’s better to strengthen your resumé and preserve the connections you have than to withdraw from your role and be remembered as mediocre. 

Here’s how I was able to persevere and avoid quiet quitting.

 

Determine what you want out of your job 

I watched a video in which the host interviewed people about their current salaries and dream jobs. One interviewee responded, “I don’t dream of labor.” 

I laughed at her bluntness, but she was completely right. You shouldn’t dream of labor. You should dream of a full life, made possible by hard but humane work. So, before you accept that new job offer, ask yourself: Are you selling out

This can mean different things to different people. But it usually concerns a blend of three things: 

  • The amount of time you work 
  • Your compensation 
  • Company ethics 

People commonly “sell out” by working for companies with questionable ethics or low compensation but lots of clout. But someone with solid integrity, who seeks financial stability over affluence or renown, would be less vulnerable to such a workplace. 

If you’re one of the people who’s happy to work over 40 hours weekly for clout, ask yourself: Why? What joy do you reap from working a schedule that increases your risk of potentially fatal medical conditions like stroke and ischemic heart disease? 

This and the other questions below will help you separate your hourly commitment from ideological fulfillment, and get you closer to a more sustainable professional attitude. 

Do you want your work to make a difference? 

You don’t have to work over 40 hours a week as a replaceable corporate employee to make a difference in the world. Meaningful, positive change shouldn’t come at your expense. Consider other companies in the same industry that offer a better schedule and benefits for the same joy.


What are you looking for in a company culture? 

Determine if you want to work on a team or alone. Although it’s important to maintain professional boundaries, making friendly connections at the workplace isn’t a bad thing. 


Do you want your job to reflect your values and priorities? 

Taking a job at a place that contradicts your personal morality and ethics will wear on you fast. We’ve been taught to separate our work and personal lives, but the separation shouldn’t go that far. 

If you want to grab a drink with coworkers at the end of the day, that’s no problem! Just know that you don’t have to accept social alienation and toxic hierarchies for the sake of a job title. 


Do you want to earn enough money to travel, engage in hobbies, etc.? 

You were born to live, not to work. Everything you do should contribute to the betterment of your life, not take away from it. If your job is doing the latter—even if it pays well—it’s not the right job for you.

So, here’s what to do: Write up a budget for the things you want to do in your free time. Strive for a job that can afford you that lifestyle. Realize that you won’t land it overnight. It’s taken me about seven years, an undergraduate degree, and half a master’s degree, to finally secure a career that wholly interests and inspires me, and offers excellent benefits. 

Of course, college isn’t the path for everyone. But my point is that it took a ton of work to reach this milestone. At some point, you’ll likely have to put in some extra work to get a stable job that’s perfect for your preferred lifestyle. 

How did I get here? By not doing the bare minimum in any of my jobs. People notice when you give 110% to your professional duties 😉

 

Find your worth outside of work 

Wake up, go to work, go home, eat, go to sleep, do it again. This is the story of so many people.

With a routine so shallow and a world so small, it’s easy to make your life all about your job. If the only thing you do in your waking hours is work, you’ll be hard-pressed to experience anything worthwhile outside your paycheck and title. That’s why a positive work life demands a healthy and vibrant home life. 

You don’t have to spend every waking moment of your free time at social events or traveling the world. Start with something small like a local interest or hobby. You can volunteer at an animal shelter once a week or join a hiking club for a monthly hike. Even for introverts like me, outings like this are crucial to upholding your mental health and reminding yourself that your life is much bigger than your job title. 

These are chances for your family and friends to pour happiness and compassion into you. When you’re surrounded with such richness of life, it doesn’t feel so taxing to give a little extra at a job you enjoy. At the same time, it reminds you that work isn’t all there is to life, encouraging healthy boundaries. 

 

Think of your exit strategy early

No matter how you might feel, you are not stuck in your job.

I don’t deny that many systemic pressures can indeed create circumstances that feel undefeatable. At the same time, take it from someone who’s lived in her car and even on-site at a job when I had nowhere else to lay my head:

You can, and you will, find a way out of miserable socioeconomic and working conditions. 

But you must have an exit strategy. 

Recognize early on that your job is just one of countless options for earning money. You’ll be much calmer about your workflow and performance when you’re confident that your whole life doesn’t depend on it. 

Plus, planning ahead will prevent any significant disruptions in your income stream once the time comes to resign. The resulting stability will help you to remain focused on your day-to-day work. These steps will help you lay the groundwork for a peaceful exit. 

I. Pick a reference 

Consider who you want to use as your professional reference early on. Don’t burn your bridges, even in a toxic work environment. Have this worked out and talk to them about it in confidence several weeks before you apply to new positions or announce your resignation. 

II. Have multiple options open 

Never put all your eggs in one basket, even if you don’t think you’ll be leaving the job. You should always keep new opportunities on your radar. 

III. Be smart about your timing 

Once you’re certain that you need to exit your current job, start applying for jobs and attending interviews at least one month in advance. Never submit your 2-week notice until you have a new employment arrangement signed. 

IV. Work for yourself 

Start working for yourself. It’s the best way to supplement your income as you transition into a new role, and offers a much more secure off-ramp in a volatile job market.

 

Quiet quitting isn’t the end-all, be-all solution

“Quiet quitting” is an understandable response to a workplace culture that has long disadvantaged the average employee. People increasingly feel trapped and exploited by their employers as wages stagnate while profit margins balloon. 

Still—no matter how you define it—it isn’t the only answer to a toxic work environment. It’s not inherently bad to do a little extra on the clock now and then.

But it’s better to focus on the expectations you set for your job, and mitigate the damage proactively through a sound exit strategy and stricter criteria for the employers you select. 

For now, the job market is in the worker’s favor. Take advantage of it now for a better future.