By Kathryn Dill and Angela Yang
Aug. 25, 2022
People have serious opinions about not taking your job too seriously.
The viral term “quiet quitting” isn’t really about quitting, nor is there anything quiet about the debate it has unleashed about careers and coasting this summer. What started as a quiet movement among office workers looking to draw firmer work-life boundaries after two years of pandemic overtime has grown into a rallying cry.
Of course, every generation of workers has had its anti-work philosophies and many managers and striving colleagues have always taken issue with them. Cue the quiet-quitting backlash: The concept has sparked a flood of vehement commentary from business leaders, career coaches and other professionals lamenting what the shift away from hustle culture means for Americans’ commitment to their jobs, while some young professionals are praising it.
“Quiet quitting isn’t just about quitting on a job, it’s a step toward quitting on life,” wrote Arianna Huffington, founder of health and wellness startup Thrive Global, in a LinkedIn post that has garnered thousands of reactions. Kevin O’Leary, co-star on ABC’s “Shark Tank” and chairman of O’Shares ETFs, called quiet quitting a horrible approach to building a career: “You have to go beyond because you want to. That’s how you achieve success,” he said in a CNBC video essay.
How quiet quitting’s advocates and critics react depends on what they think the phrase means—and interpretations vary wildly. Some professionals argue the concept is saying no to extra work without extra pay and work stress, not necessarily calling it in. Many detractors say the quiet quitting mind-set fosters laziness and hurts performance, even if baseline job expectations are being met.
Quiet quitters may think they’re preventing or curing burnout by doing less work, but better options exist, Ms. Huffington said in an interview. Coasting through your career instead of finding truly engaging work is a missed opportunity, especially when you could find more meaningful work in today’s hot job market, she added.
“As an employer, I really love when people in interviews say, ‘I give 100% when I’m working, and these are my boundaries.’ That’s very different from, ‘I do the bare minimum to get by,’” she said.
While some bosses push back against quiet quitting, saying that going above and beyond is the best way to get noticed, get raises and climb the corporate ladder, many workers are heaping scorn on the term itself, calling out the irony of doing a 9-to-5 job and calling it quitting.
Kristin Hancock, an Indianapolis-based communications professional, said that for her quiet quitting is a futile pursuit. There have been times in her career when she was dissatisfied with a job and wanted to coast, but she found herself unable to do so. Doing less felt frustrating and made her work feel even less meaningful.
“For people who are like me, the only other option is leaving,” she said. Ms. Hancock now runs a communications startup and is her own boss, a setup that she says allows her to reap the full rewards of her work.
Others say those who embrace quiet quitting could be selling themselves short. What some quiet quitters call doing the bare minimum actually means giving full-attention to their work, then having a life outside work hours, says Brian Gray, who works in web development.
After receiving a “meets expectations” score on a performance review at a past job—at which he regularly accepted last-minute requests to stay late at work and offered to take on extra tasks—Mr. Gray says he decided to stop chasing validation from his bosses by going above and beyond.
“You’re not coasting,” he said. “You are doing precisely the right amount of work.”
Who has the political leverage in the office to quietly quit is also up for debate. Mercedes Swan, a human resources manager and career coach, says the strategy may not work for a lot of people of color. Because of negative stereotypes, Black women especially could experience backlash if they decide to step back or set firmer boundaries.
“It’s going to look like we’re doing less work over time when, actually, we are just performing at a level that everyone else typically is,” she said, adding that from a performance standpoint, people of color can also experience stronger penalties.
Some critics say they fear quiet quitting is corrosive to workplace cultures—and the bottom line—because it’s demoralizing to efficient workers to see others phoning it in without penalty.
“It’s not about the quiet quitters. It’s about everybody else and the unfairness that occurs there,” said Amy Mosher, chief people officer at human resources software company isolved. If quiet quitting leads to performance issues, she said, those workers should be let go to find jobs that truly engage them.
Jay McDonald, an Atlanta-based executive coach and former CEO of several small companies, says the onus is on business leaders to set clear performance expectations. If employees are meeting them, that’s what matters, not when or how long they work, he says.
“You have a responsibility to have good metrics and measurements for knowing whether somebody’s getting the job done or not,” he says.
Write to Kathryn Dill at email@example.com
Dow Jones & Company, Inc.