The topic of quiet quitting dominated headlines in 2022, a year in which record monthly quit rates were set in the U.S. The central idea behind quiet quitting — the phenomenon of employees doing only what they’re paid to do and no more — is restoring work-life balance.
While the concept may sound reasonable, this approach is more harmful than you might think. Quiet quitting isn’t just disrespectful to employers and managers in the sense that employees aren’t really giving their employers the chance to try and fix their problems — it hurts employees as well.
First, let’s acknowledge the fact that most workers are, in fact, burned out: Studies show that 81% or more of workers feel overwhelmed. Turnover is high — almost 30% of U.S. workers changed jobs in the first year of the pandemic — suggesting that employees are seeking better conditions, such as improved work-life balance, greater support for personal and professional development, and greater recognition.
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Why is this happening? The economy has been thriving coming out of the pandemic, forcing companies to ask more of their employees than in almost any previous economic cycle. As a result, industries such as retail, distribution, transportation, and hospitality have been overwhelmed by consumer demand with depleted workforces. Health care workers have been through as much trauma as their patients. And most IT workers continue to be pressed to build new systems more quickly for their employers to fit the needs of hybrid and remote workplaces.
And now that the stock market has dipped and inflation has reached generational highs, employers are asking for even more from their employees. The newest research on work trends by Microsoft shows that 87% of workers feel productive, but only 12% of leaders agree that they are — a scenario that’s often referred to as the productivity paradox. Executives and managers don’t appreciate how hard their employees are working, and that’s a management issue that needs to be addressed.
Leaders need to do their part to address the problem of burnout, but employees should not simply disengage and quietly withdraw in response to a less-than-ideal work environment.
First, employees should understand that the vast majority of employers want their workers to be happy. The cost of unhappy employees is exceedingly high. In my recent book, Irresistible, I reveal that companies with the highest Glassdoor ratings are both the most financially successful and the most enduring.
Employees should not simply disengage and quietly withdraw in response to a less-than-ideal work environment.
Taking care of employees is good business, and most CEOs know this. If you feel overworked, poorly treated, or unproductive due to a poor work experience, you owe it to both your manager and yourself to speak up. Your manager is likely being evaluated based on your level of engagement as well as your output, so your feedback and advice is important to them and to the wider organization.
Providing feedback can be challenging, and there can be negative repercussions in some environments. However, if you approach your manager in a way that engages them to help, with statements like “I’m just too busy” or “How should I best prioritize my time?” or “I have a suggestion to make our work easier,” they are likely to actively listen. And most companies are working hard to open up feedback channels.
Employee experience, or EX, is one of the biggest trends in HR right now, with companies spending billions of dollars on survey tools, passive listening tools, and feedback tools to give employees channels for sharing their opinions anonymously. By choosing not to speak up and engage with these types of tools and outreach efforts, workers can miss out by not giving the company indicators that something needs to change and, consequently, not receiving help.
Disengaging from work can also negatively affect your development as an employee and your ability to build resilience. Every job, every company, and every employee faces difficulties at some point. Work, by its nature, takes effort, and human beings naturally make mistakes. In my career, I’ve had quite a few jobs that I didn’t like. Each was difficult for different reasons, but I always eventually learned something or discovered ways to adapt. These learning experiences were valuable to my career. Assuming that you are in a safe environment (and the difficulty at hand does not stem from a toxic environment), it can be helpful to your career to use difficulty as a learning experience.
Disengaging from work can also negatively affect your development as an employee and your ability to build resilience.
If you quietly disengage and refuse to speak up, others may assume that you are uninterested, unqualified, or simply a poor fit, which may lead to missed opportunities for promotions or salary increases, or even job loss. That being said, if you really see no benefit from trying hard, particularly if you work in a toxic environment where you feel that you are met with abuse for speaking up or are routinely passed over despite putting in the extra hours/work, quiet quitting may literally feel like your only option.
Disengaging to a degree that protects your well-being can — hopefully rarely — seem like the rational option, but I would still caution you to take this path only as a last resort, as your reputation can follow you throughout your career. Instead, it’s best to be honest and deal with challenges head-on whenever possible.
Don’t Quiet Quit — Strive for Excellence
As someone who has studied work and employment for decades, I firmly believe that a job or career should be more than just a means to collect a paycheck. When employees fully engage in their work and expect employers to ask more of them, they realize that work can be a fulfilling and meaningful part of their lives. Of course, an employee’s responsibilities should grow within reasonable limits to avoid burnout. Unfortunately, however, women — especially women of color — are often subject to this type of burnout.
Finally, what should you do if your employer is abusive, discriminatory, or simply dangerous? The worst thing to do here is to quietly resign yourself to the situation. If you face these scenarios at work, you should quit, speak up, and/or seek legal counsel. No one should have to endure a situation that undermines their self-esteem, well-being, or physical health.
It may seem like the only option when economic conditions make it difficult to find a better job, but a better response is to stand up for your career, offer positive suggestions to your manager and company, and respect yourself as the valuable contributor you want to be. Remember, work is an opportunity to pursue your aspirations and give your best effort. Adopting this mindset can lead to greater happiness and self-respect. And in today’s economic climate, having this attitude may make you more recession-proof.