It’s the only resource none of us can ever replenish: Time. So why is it now a revolutionary act to say that you’ll spend exactly as much time at work as your boss is willing to pay you for? Quiet quitting is a resoundingly stupid name for simply doing your job.
I was paid to write this. I have an agreement with the publisher of this website to perform certain functions in exchange for money. Another word for this is work. The column you’re reading is one of the many work products I created this week.
In this job, and in most of the jobs I’ve ever had, I’m an engaged member of the team, which, according to Gallup, means being enthusiastic about work and highly involved in the workplace. It’s typical for me to begin work early and stay late. The company’s goals become my goals. I think about work when I’m not at my desk.
Today, I do all those things because I’m treated with respect and it’s made clear to me (financially and in other ways) that my time and talents are valuable. But I’ve had my share of jobs where neither of those things were true or that while my time and talents were valuable, the company couldn’t or wouldn’t adequately compensate me for either.
Faced with continuing to grind away for a company that would never reward or recognize my efforts, I sometimes did what might now be described as “quiet quitting,” a term that has many, often contradictory definitions. But the one that applies here is showing up on time, leaving on time and doing those tasks that are required by the job description.
Another word for this is work.
It’s not clear who originated the term, but TikTok user Zaiad Khan’s video, which now has nearly 500,000 likes, defines quiet quitting as, “… you’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond. You’re still performing your duties, but you are no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be our life.”
In the hot-take cycle that followed, a lot of dumb people wrote a lot of dumb stuff about how Millennial and Zoomer workers are lazy, about how quiet quitters damage their careers and that quiet quitters would soon find themselves loudly unemployed.
The median age of the American worker is just under 42. That makes them a Millennial, a geriatric one to be sure, but Millennial all the same. Columbine happened when they were in high school, in their post-college-age lives, they witnessed 9/11, the Afghanistan/Iraq wars and the Great Recession, and as they begin peeking at middle age, they watch a pandemic that’s claimed more than 6 million lives, live on a planet that appears to hurdle headlong into a climate apocalypse and try to make ends meet in an increasingly unaffordable society.
I don’t know if people really are quiet quitting in greater numbers than they were in years past (because, let’s be honest, TikTok isn’t real life), but if they are, I applaud them. They are doing the only thing that makes sense: Expecting to be compensated for their time and establishing healthy boundaries.
Let’s go back to Gallup’s definition of employee engagement. Here’s how each of these states is described:
- Engaged: “Highly involved in and enthusiastic about their work and workplace. They are psychological ‘owners,’ drive high performance and innovation, and move their organization forward.”
- Not engaged: “Psychologically unattached to their work and company. Because their engagement needs are not being fully met, they’re putting time — but not energy or passion — into their work.”
- Actively disengaged: “Aren’t just unhappy at work — they are resentful that their needs aren’t being met and are acting out their unhappiness. Every day, these workers potentially undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish.”
Here’s the thing. Everything described above is work. Would I want to be on a team with a disengaged person? Probably not, but as the description itself says, their needs aren’t being met. Same goes for not-engaged workers, though they aren’t resentful about it — yet.
And this is the other thing I find so frustrating about this conversation. Employers are the ones with the power to fix the problem. How much do you know about your company’s culture? Are people expected to work off the clock? Are they expected to work through lunch? Do they know that the only way to get a raise or promotion is to put in unpaid hours?
Some of those things are illegal, and all of them speak to an unethical culture that will lead only to burnout.
A quick digression for a story. I once worked at a local newspaper, and Election Day was our busiest and most stressful day of the year. We covered multiple cities, towns, counties and school districts, and they all had election results that came in at the same time.
The company would order lunch for those who worked nights, and one year, it was boxed-lunch sandwiches. Lunch came, and everyone grabbed their boxes and headed back to their desks to work while they ate. Except for one guy, who took his lunch, grabbed his briefcase off his desk and left for an hour.
Those of us who’d been there longer looked around at each other in shock and disbelief. Doesn’t he know he’s expected to simply suck it up and work through lunch? To be sure, he did know that was the expectation; he just had a different expectation, which was to be paid in exchange for working 40 hours that week.
A workplace custom that said hourly staffers were expected to work through lunch (on Election Day and some other days, too) and simply donate that time to the company because overtime requests certainly weren’t going to be approved. You wouldn’t be shocked to learn that other toxic expectations were prevalent there and that this job, through unreasonable expectations, low pay and high stress, eventually became one of my quiet-quitting experiences.
A recently released ResumeBuilder survey found that 75% of managers say they’d be justified in firing someone only doing the bare minimum. Let me put that another way. Three-quarters of managers surveyed said it would be OK to fire someone for not doing extra work.
While I reject the definition of quiet quitting as a form of not doing your job, it certainly should scare a manager or employer when a previously engaged employee no longer does all the little things, paid or unpaid, because it could signal that something is seriously wrong with that workplace.
Let’s all remember that an employee of a company is not the owner of that company (unless, of course, they’re the only employee). So, it’s entirely unreasonable and, frankly, abusive to expect them to have the same degree of passion and drive to make the business succeed, particularly if the compensation provided is not balanced with what they bring to the job.
Companies that fundamentally misunderstand what work is will risk burning out high-performing, talented employees who would rather find another place to work than waste their one wild and precious life on employers who simply don’t get it.