The term “Quiet Quitting” went viral when a TikTok video with a soft-spoken voice and images of skylines, trees, and bubble machines stated, in almost a whisper, “Your worth is not defined by your productive work.” This idea that a person is more than a job is not new, but something about this idea has caught on anew in our post-pandemic-shut-down economy and workplace. What is it about quiet quitting that has caught our imaginations?
Not long ago, Sheryl Sandberg was advocating the opposite of quiet quitting: Leaning In. In her 2013 book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Sandberg advises workers, especially women, to give more than 110%, to seize the opportunity and to make a place for themselves at the table in order to “fulfill their full potential.”
Next came a slew of articles about how to achieve work-life balance and the myth of work-life balance. These articles continue in today’s discussions of shifting from office-culture to work-from-home culture and quiet quitting.
The question raised by the terms quiet quitting, leaning in, work-life balance is a question of focus— where are we focusing our energy and time? Where do we want to focus our energy and time?
How the Great Resignation Shifted Our Focus
The Great Resignation demonstrates that the impact of the pandemic has been to change that focus for many people. For some, the upheaval and tragedy caused by COVID-19 has been an impetus to re-focus away from careers to family and friends, or away from unfulfilling jobs to follow an entrepreneurial dream. The key takeaway from the pandemic for many of us might be summarized by Pulitzer-prize-winning poet Mary Oliver in her poem The Summer Day:
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Quiet quitting answers these questions with the desire to be more than an employee who gives their all for a corporation that does little for them in return. People are desirous of making their corner of the world a better place, people are desirous of respectful and edifying relationships, and people are desirous of paychecks, but not at the expense of their “one wild and precious life.”
The Positive Side of Quiet Quitting
Though the term quitting has a somewhat negative connotation in our workaholic-prone culture, some people are trying to rename quiet quitting with a more positive feel with phrases like “having healthy boundaries,” and “acting your wage” and even “working at work.” This highlights that there is nothing negative or nefarious about quiet quitting, but that the employee has the agency to turn off the work-email alerts after-hours and enjoy something else.
Employers who fear quiet quitting means that employees are losing engagement or their “hustle” might instead reevaluate their corporate culture. What is happening in the office that has made it necessary to even use the term? Are there unwritten expectations that are causing burnout? Are job descriptions and compensation on point? If you find employees are not fulfilling expectations, it’s time to review these.
But again, even this is nothing new. This has always been the dance between the employer and employees and creating a workplace culture. Research continues to show that happy, healthy employees who work in an organization with a great culture are the most productive.