After making it through about 2 years of uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are now seeing signs of its impact on employees all over the world, from the emergence of languishing to trends of a great resignation. Nestled between those is the more recent discussion of quiet quitting, which has been making its rounds on social media for the past few months. And contrary to what it sounds like, it does not entail someone quitting their job.
Rather, quiet quitting stems from older, pre-pandemic notions of work where subscribing to the ‘always-on’, hustle culture mentality is associated with the perception of one’s worth. Employees today are now responding to that by rejecting - or quitting - the idea of always going above and beyond at work and choosing to get by by simply doing what their job requires and nothing more. Quiet quitting can therefore manifest differently for different employees. Some may choose to do so by strictly working during designated hours and not putting in overtime. Others may be firmer in not taking on additional responsibilities without the matching compensation. No matter the form it may take, a good portion of employees across the world seem to be agreeing that it is a possible strategy for self-preservation when stress becomes too much to handle. But how did we get to this point in the first place, and is it really beneficial for us?
What is causing employees to quiet quit?
As it turns out, the reasons for quiet quitting are not unlike those of other pandemic-related consequences that we mentioned earlier. COVID-19 has caused stress levels to be at an all-time high, and employees increasingly feel that they are overworked, yet at the same time underpaid and under-appreciated. Coupled with the rise of remote working arrangements, it is not surprising that they are feeling the effects of blurred boundaries, lower levels of engagement, and prolonged dissatisfaction. These are the reasons that so many of our peers feel that it is preferable to do the bare minimum at work, rather than to continue sacrificing their health and well-being only to receive perpetually disappointing results.
Simultaneously, we are also seeing a notable shift in what we prioritise as individuals. More and more of us are recognising that our lives do not have to be defined by our jobs. Quiet quitting therefore provides us with the opportunity to place more emphasis on self-care and a better work-life balance that will allow us to put our health and well-being first.
Is quiet quitting a solution for burnout?
Understanding the causes of quiet quitting can make it seem like an easy solution for burnout. It allows employees to mitigate the added risk and worry of having to find a new job in these turbulent times, while still providing them with a steady stream of income without unnecessary frustrations. In a way, quiet quitting also makes it easier to set boundaries once we accept the reality of mentally checking out at work. These are all perfectly good outcomes that can help us disengage and find time to recuperate from feeling burnt out. Unfortunately, they may not be the best long-term solutions for either our mental health or career.
Relying on quiet quitting for an extended period of time can render us stagnant by making it seem okay for us to be continually passive about our current situation. It encourages us to avoid challenges and to withdraw into the safety of our comfort zones when we should be actively finding solutions that can help us understand and address the root of the problem instead. On a more interpersonal level, taking on an indifferent attitude can also negatively affect the relationships and projects that we are part of, which in turn prevents us from finding fulfilment and belonging in jobs that we truly love.
How should we address quiet quitting instead?
Rather than completely writing off quiet quitting as a solution, we can see it as a sign that there are existing issues that should be changed. In other words, quiet quitting serves as a good first step for us to look into our dissatisfactions and set aside some spare time for a more effective, long-term solution.
A key part of recovering from burnout is to work on reframing our perspective on life from one that is bleak and unmotivating to another that re-energises us and helps us unwind. To do this, it is vital to explore the different things that can nourish our mind, body, and soul for a healthier and more fulfilling life. In a time satisfaction study that was designed to understand the relationship between our mental health and sense of fulfilment, participants were enrolled in a 9-week programme that ensured they made time for themselves and the activities which they found fulfilling1. At the end of the study, the participants reported a 16% increase in their satisfaction levels regarding how they spent their time as compared to before. Some even reported greater engagement and progress in their professional lives, indicating that the opposite of quiet quitting is true: partaking in activities that are meaningful to us can be more beneficial than simply sitting back.
Over to you
While quiet quitting is one way that we can claim back the time needed for our journey of self-care and recovery, that does not mean that we should always rely on it as a solution for burnout. Instead, it is vital to acknowledge the importance of balance when it comes to our health and well-being. Establishing and reinforcing boundaries are necessary for our mental health, but so are more active solutions that can help us address and rectify core problems. So depending on where you are on your health journey, it may be useful to look into how you can combine different strategies to help you achieve the best health outcomes.
Committed towards making real progress in this area, Cigna Healthcare invites senior executives and people managers from all organisations to take the 5% Pledge – to commit 5% of your work hours to listen, craft and implement tangible change to improve mental health and well-being in your company. Visit The 5% Pledge for more information.
1. Vanderkam, L. (2022). There's a better way to reclaim your time than 'quiet quitting'. The New York Times.