Part of Kathy Caprino’s series “Becoming The Most Powerful You, To Live and Work Better”
As you may have read, there’s a powerful new viral trend and movement emerging, referred to as #quietquitting. As reported in NPR recently, a TikTok video on quiet quitting posted in July by @zkchillin (now @zaidleppelin) went viral, with many TikTok users weighing in with their own experiences in response. The term #QuietQuitting gained over 8 million views on the platform last week alone.
Career experts and professional growth websites by the plenty are weighing in, each attempting to define what “quiet quitting” means, why it’s gaining so much popularity now, and how it’s important both for employees and employers.
I spoke to CNN Business this week about the topic, and offered my personal take. But there’s a good deal to tease out that’s important for all professionals as well as their leaders and managers to understand and consider, and take action on.
Just as the “Great Resignation” started as a phrase (coined by Anthony Klotz, a Texas A&M University associate management professor who has studied the exits of hundreds of workers in his interview with Bloomberg Businessweek), I sense that Quiet Quitting has the power to catalyze some important job and career reevaluations as well.
Here’s my view on some key questions about ‘quiet quitting’ I’m hearing from my career and leadership coaching clients as well as the media:
What is #quietquitting referring to?
As I understand it, #quietquitting is a term trending on TikTok and now on many social platforms and media and career sites, that has received a great deal of traction and speculation. The name is a bit misleading as it’s a concept that’s not referring to quitting your employment or your job or making plans to do that “quietly.”
Instead, it’s discussing limiting your job output and tasks to only those that are strictly stated in your job description—not taking on more duties and tasks than your current role specifies, and perhaps even doing the least you can to complete the job required, but doing that well. These “quiet quitting” actions are aimed at helping avoid the growing experience of burnout, being taken advantage of, working longer hours than required, and doing more than you were hired to, without being compensated for it.
It’s also giving a platform and voice to all those who are very disgruntled with how they feel their employers are treating them—taking advantage of them at every turn, forcing them to return to in-person work when remote arrangements were fully acceptable and productive, not paying them for the extra work they’re doing day and night, and feeling that this requirement—to give 120% to stay in the job—is not being met with a commensurate return of 120% from their employer.
Why is this gaining popularity now?
As a career coach for over the past 16 years working with thousands of professionals globally, it’s crystal clear that the pandemic has brought with it many additional work challenges that are contributing to burnout, depression, anxiety, overwhelm, rage and a feeling of lack of control over our lives.
And those challenges are falling even more heavily on women, who are often doing more of the domestic responsibilities, child and elder care, helping with children’s schooling and more.
Most notable is that our new normal of “remote work,” while it has some benefits, unfortunately can completely blur our boundaries between home and work, and make it even more difficult to feel (and understand when) we’re “done” with the work that we’re being paid for, for the day. While remote work can allow us more flexibility, it also can be much more difficult to remove ourselves from being constantly “on.” It makes it harder to unwind, and separate ourselves completely from work—to focus for a solid period of time each day and on the weekends, on our personal lives, hobbies, family and other non-work activities, without work interruption.
This is not a new phenomenon by any means, but the pandemic has exacerbated the stress and overload that many feel about the degree of work they’re doing that is above and beyond what they were hired to do or signed up for.
Why #quietquitting has traction
The term (and the word “quitting”) gives people a sense of personal power and urgency (along with validation and “normalizing”) around what so many millions of people are feeling today. And it allows them some new ways to think about how to regain control of their lives that they so desperately need and want. And it is empowering for people to see that they are not alone (and that millions of others share their struggles).
Further, just as The Great Resignation (or Re-evaluation) movement did, it legitimized professionals’ serious concerns about their work and work-lives, and helped them take action that make them feel more in control of where they were heading and how they are living their lives. And it helped leaders and managers wake up to the severity of the problem with how they were leading.
I’ve found that with any major crisis in our world, people are often pushed to a point where they have a “breakthrough” moment and finally wake up to new realities, and to the preciousness of time and the potential that life as we know it might end or change dramatically.
And that new awareness makes humans prioritize very differently. I personally experienced that after 9/11—and it led me to leave corporate life and move to work in the helping professions, becoming a marriage and family therapist, and then launching my own coaching business.
What the movement is REALLY talking about
I believe we’re not talking about “quitting” anything here. We’re talking about reclaiming control.
I recently wrote a book called The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss which shares what my research over the past 10 years has revealed are the 7 most damaging power gaps that keep professionals from creating satisfying, fulfilling lives and careers on their own terms. And these gaps block us from reaching our highest, most rewarding potential and goals, in both life and work.
According to my latest survey, a staggering 98% of professional women and 90% of men have at least one of these gaps and 75% of women are experiencing three or more of the gaps at the same time. When we have these gaps, we simply cannot thrive and experience the success, happiness, fulfillment and wellbeing we want and deserve. We experience more burnout, depression, lack of control, confusion and deep dissatisfaction about how we are living and what we are focused on. And when have these gaps we find it harder to speak up and stand up for ourselves, and be the true advocate and author of our lives.
Many of these gaps have expanded in people’s personal and professional lives in part due to the pandemic and how we’ve been encouraged to respond to it professionally. And several of these gaps hit younger people (18 to 24) even harder.
Each of these gaps touch on, and contribute to, people wanting to quietly quit.
The 7 power gaps gaps are:
Gap #1: Not recognizing your special talents, abilities and accomplishments (63% of women surveyed have this gap and 83% of people between 18-24)
Gap #2: Communicating from fear not strength (70% of women surveyed have this gap)
Gap #3: Reluctance to ask for what you deserve (77% of women surveyed have this gap and 85% of people 18-24 have it)
Gap #4: Isolating from influential support (71% of women have this gap and 83% of those 18-24)
Gap #5: Acquiescing instead of saying “STOP!” to mistreatment (48% of women have this gap and 57% of those 18-24)
Gap #6: Losing sight of your thrilling dream for your life and career (76% of women surveyed have this gap)
Gap #7: Allowing past challenges to continue to define you (62% of women surveyed have this gap)
When we have these gaps, we lose the ability to shape and control our careers and lives as we need and want to. To close these gaps, we need to embark on what I term the 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths To Career Bliss: Brave Sight, Speak, Ask, Connection, Challenge, Service, and Healing.
When we take these paths, we don’t need to quietly quit. Instead, we bravely and powerfully reshape our lives. We increase our self-confidence, and dramatically improve our communication, relationships, boundaries, leadership impact, and access to influential support, and our ability to shape our lives as we want them, which in turn, transforms our futures.
The downsides of quiet quitting
To evaluate what strong performance is regarding “doing the job I was hired to do and nothing more,” that can be open to a lot of interpretation and misunderstanding between you and your manager. That’s why you have to have a discussion with them about it.
Further, there are unspoken rules about what we need to do in the world of work to succeed and advance, and those unspoken rules are different in different work cultures. And unfortunately, for people of color, women and other underrepresented groups, they are often held to a different standard or blocked from important growth opportunities in ways that are unfair.
So rather than see this movement as quiet quitting, I’d encourage people to close their power gaps now.
As a start, take the following steps to become the #mostpowerfulyou:
Understand what isn’t working and why
Take the time to understand more clearly what you feel is and isn’t working in your role/career. Assess why you might be doing more than you thought you had to. What part of that is a potential overfunctioning because you feel you need to?
Figure out how long this has been happening, and how many jobs you’ve signed up for that have been demanding this of you. And get clear on how you may be sustaining or perpetuating this.
Don’t be quiet – be clear and strong
Before you “quietly” stop doing work that has been considered yours, talk to your manager to share your view of your role, and get their views on it, to make sure you’re on the same page. Build a clear, emotion-free strong case (with facts, metrics, data and support) for why you feel you’ve been tasked with more than is appropriate for the compensation you’re receiving.
Understand that “just stopping” doing work that was considered yours won’t typically go well. You need to give it some context and communicate what is changing, if you’re going to make these types of changes work for your team and company.
Set stronger boundaries
Get very clear on how you want to engage with your team, when you’ll take and respond to emails and calls, how you want to manage urgent matters that come up, and other managerial issues. And discuss this with your team and manager.
If you’re chronically doing more than is healthy, appropriate and necessary, make sure that you get some outside help (a coach, coaching buddy or perhaps some therapeutic support) to examine that behavior. If it’s chronic behavior, it’s not just be related to this one job. Ask yourself, “How old is this behavior/problem?” And get help to stop.
Prioritize what matters
Figure out what matters most to you in this life, and decide once and for all that you will take a hard stand to prioritize that. Take a long look at how you manage (or don’t) your time. It might mean that you decide work will give you a just paycheck, but your true interests lie outside of work, and those matter more. Or that your family comes first before anything else and it’s time to honor that.
In order to have what you want in life, you have to recognize what matters most, than have the bravery and courage to honor those priorities fiercely.
Finally, if you’re a leader and manager today, it’s time to connect more deeply with those you manage. Take this opportunity—as “quietquitting” is at the forefront of what we’re reading and talking about—to sit down with your employees individually and in teams, and have an open, candid dialogue about what is working, and what isn’t, for them.
Then, be the leader you need to be, and address what needs to change.
Kathy Caprino is a global career and leadership coach, writer, podcaster and speaker helping professionals build fulfilling careers.