‘Quiet quitting’, while a relatively new phrase, isn't a new concept. It went viral back in July when TikTok user Zaid Khan posted a video on the benefits of not ‘outright quitting’ your job, but quitting the idea of going above and beyond. That might mean things like leaving when the work day is done, not checking your Slack in your own time or doing the job assigned to you and no more. In other words, it means maintaining a work-life balance while separating your identity from your job. In one of thousands of recent TikToks on the topic, one man says that the shift to quiet quitting came with internal benefits and no professional drawbacks: ‘I still work just as hard. I still get just as much accomplished. I just don't stress and internally rip myself to shreds.’
In a society that rewards grind culture, the idea of doing the bare minimum is revolutionary. It's also very difficult, in over-surveilled workplaces, to set firm professional boundaries. Still, that's what the growing chorus of quiet quitters is trying to do.
Prioritizing the five-to-nine over the nine-to-five
‘The constant pressure of an “always on” culture means people have found it difficult to put their own health and wellbeing first,’ says Janine Jacobs, co-founder of workplace culture consultancy HappyHQ. ‘For those hardwired to constantly overwork and over-achieve, quiet quitting is simply taking back control of your life outside of work. It's a mindset shift that breaks free from the emotional and physical demands of hustle culture, allowing people to level the power.’
Let's be clear: setting boundaries professionally isn't nefarious, lazy or unprofessional. In fact, it could lead to less burn-out among workers and the time they do dedicate to their work becoming more valuable. But not every employer is a corporate overlord. Some, particularly small business founders, put everything they have into their business. Quiet quitting, in its most extreme form, could mean that small businesses struggle to cope.
As a small business grows, what can you do to keep employees engaged? Janine says that you can see this time as an opportunity to have important, honest conversations about people's stress levels, engagement, workloads and boundaries. ‘When people feel trusted and appreciated and have a better work-life balance and a better sense of belonging, they'll do their best work, they'll be more engaged and they're more likely to stay longer.’
Prevention is the cure
You can get ahead of quiet quitting by not overworking people to begin with. Be transparent in your job listings and hiring processes: is the job nine to five, or is it really eight to six? Do you expect employees to be on call 24/7? Would you ask them to sacrifice personal milestones for your business? Take a hard look at your work culture and be honest with yourself – these are things that should be clear up front. Punishing employees for not going ‘above and beyond’ but never specifying what that means – or not rewarding them when they do it – is a one-way ticket to resentment and burnout. You want your employees to want to grow with you.
You can never expect employees to care as much about your business as you do, but you can make sure you're on the same page. Ask questions that dig into whether your values align and whether they want to grow with your business. Then, take their answers at face value, rather than considering their boundaries a preference that can change with not-so-gentle nudging.
Plus, checking in on employees' wellbeing and considering their boundaries and needs will make sure that they don't feel forced to carve out space for their own identity behind your back. If you get this right, any potential quiet quitter could turn into your loudest advocate – and that's something that will help any small business in the long run.
A version of this article was published in the Courier Weekly newsletter. For more insights, analysis and inspiration, sign up here.