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What is Quiet Quitting? A Revolution against a Culture of Toxic Workplaces

What is Quietly Quitting? A Revolution against a Culture of Toxic Workplaces

by Sara J. Baker, Ed.D.

And just like that, the revolution against toxic work cultures begins!

Quiet quitting is a new term that has popped up and you might be wondering what the hub bub is all about. If you’re not familiar with the term, quiet quitting refers to when an employee stays employed, but sets boundaries around work hours and taking work home.

When an employee quietly quits, they are withdrawing their mental and emotional energy from the toxic workplace. They are still employed, but they are no longer allowing their job to consume their life. They are setting boundaries and taking back their power.

So what does this look like? Someone who is quiet quitting might only work the necessary hours and not allow their occupation to consume their lives. They will continue to do their jobs effectively and produce high-quality work, but they are also reclaiming control over their own lives.

Why is this important? Because for too long, we have been told that our worth is tied to our work. We are told that if we want to be successful, we need to give 110%.

We are told that our worth is based on how much we can do and how little we can sleep.

But this is not sustainable. And it’s not healthy.

We are seeing more and more people burnout because of these toxic workplace cultures. And it’s time for a change. It’s time to take back our power and our lives.

It’s time to quietly quit.

For ideas on how to set healthy boundaries and quiet quit, check out our Toxic Workplace Survival Guide. We dedicate an entire chapter to setting healthy boundaries in the workplace.

What is Quiet Quitting?

Quiet quitting implies that a worker continues working, but establishes boundaries around the amount of time they work and whether or not they work while they are on their own personal time. The workers’ reaction to organizations that will not fight against toxicity in its culture and ranks is to quietly quit.

“Quitting” in this context refers to when people stay employed but mentally distance themselves from work-related stressors, like only working the required hours and not letting their occupation completely dominate their lives. The “quitters” still do their job duties well, but they’re also taking charge of their lives by setting boundaries.

Quiet quitting is a powerful form of protest against workplaces that refuse to address the toxicity within their ranks. It is the workers’ way of saying “enough is enough.”

Is Quiet Quitting a Bad Thing?

While some may see quietly quitting as a form of passive resistance, it is actually a very powerful way to take control of your life and protest against a toxic workplace. Quiet quitting allows you to keep your job and income while still taking a stand against the toxicity of the workplace. It is a way to send a message that you will not be controlled by a toxic work environment or a hustle culture that values prioritizing work over everything else.

Quiet quitting is a form of resistance that is growing in popularity as more and more people become fed up with the status quo of toxicity in the workplace.

What is Quiet Quitting? A Revolution against a Culture of Toxic Workplaces

It’s Just Business

Employers sometimes lay off people in a heartbeat, as dictated by business demands. And if that is how businesses need to operate in order to stay financially viable, then so be it.

It’s “just business,” right?

Yes, that’s it, exactly. It’s just business.

Even if it’s purposeful, important work, it’s still business.

Employers must sometimes make difficult decisions about their resources (time, money, people/relationships). Sometimes that includes laying off staff or cutting hours.

On the other side of that same shiny coin, employees must sometimes make difficult decisions about their resources (time, money, relationships).

Sometimes that includes setting boundaries about working outside of regular work hours, or taking on additional job responsibilities that they know they won’t be able to complete with their current workload.

Sometimes it means quitting a job, whether it’s because of a toxic boss or a workplace culture that has become too toxic to tolerate.

And that’s okay, because it’s just business.

Because the employer-employee relationship is business, we can choose to not subvert our personal needs for the sake of the organization. We aren’t bad people if we choose to live whole, fulfilling lives outside of our work.

The Lie of the Work “Family”

Some workplaces are warm, welcoming, pleasant places to work. But many are not.

Too often it seems that employers are using the idea of everyone at work being “family” as a manipulative tactic to encourage employees to give more than then they get. To sacrifice for the sake of the needs of the “family.”

That doesn’t seem right, does it?

I will admit to trying to create a sense of family with my teams over the years, but what I found to work better is the idea of a team. Because that’s what you really are, a team of people, united in purpose (hopefully) and working together to achieved shared goals.

That’s a healthy euphemism, void of guilt trips and subversion of personal needs.

The idea that an employer is like a family is a lie. A business is not a family.

Trying to brainwash your staff into believing they are part of a “family” in an effort to convince them to go above and beyond what the employment agreement dictates is unethical.

If an employer is willing to lay off “family” because of economic downturns and toss people aside after they have sacrificed their personal time and gone “above and beyond” the requirements of their job, then it’s only fair that employees gracefully bow out of the “familial” brainwashing and take back the power they have over their own minds, energy and personal time.

The idea of the work family is used to make people feel guilty for setting boundaries at work. It is used to make people feel like they need to sacrifice their personal lives for their job.

It is a lie that we do not have to buy in to. You can still enjoy your work and you can even love your work. You can like your boss and your coworkers, but don’t let your employer manipulate you into sacrificing your personal life for the sake of “the family.” But enjoying something, finding purpose in it even, doesn’t mean that your needs are less important than the needs of the organization.

It’s just business, after all.

What is Quiet Quitting? A Revolution against a Culture of Toxic Workplaces
Being a healthy, productive work “team” is a better description than “family” of the social contract that exists in the workplace.

Does It Make You Mad?

If you are a manager or a CEO and this trend of “quietly quitting” upsets you, then you need to take a hard look for signs of toxicity in your culture.

These signs of toxicity often hide under the pretense of “good work ethics,” “expectations for excellence,” or other attempts to sell employees on giving more than they get.

If you are a leader and you have a problem or take offense because your employees or team members want to set healthy boundaries around their time and mental energy while still serving as productive team members, then it is likely that you need to consider adjusting your mindset.

Quietly quitting simply stops allowing companies and bosses to overreach outside the agreed-upon hours/days of the employment agreement.

Quietly quitting means to “quit” letting energy and time vampirism run rampant in toxic workplaces.

It is a form of self-care and setting healthy boundaries.

If your team is #quietlyquitting, then you have an opportunity as the leader to show support for your team by opening a dialogue about what factors in the work environment aren’t healthy and what can be done to improve.

What is Quiet Quitting? A Revolution against a Culture of Toxic Workplaces

Violating the Employer-Employee Agreement

There is an agreement between employers and employees. The employer agrees to compensate the employee for their time, energy, and work output according to the terms of the employment agreement. An employment agreement can be simply the job description or the verbal explanations of the job duties.

The employee agrees to complete the work required during the agreed-upon hours and days. If there are additional expectations, such as working overtime or completing extra assignments, then these should be discussed and AGREED UPON between the employer and employee BEFORE the work is completed.

If an employer decides to introduce new expectations or job duties that were not discussed during the hiring process, then they are in violation of the employer-employee agreement.

The employee is NOT obligated to do this additional work. If the employee does agree to do the extra work, then they should be compensated for their time according to the agreed-upon terms.

If an employer wants to change the terms of the employment agreement, then they need to have a conversation with the employee about these changes and get AGREEMENT from the employee before expecting them to comply.

If an employer attempts to force their employees to do extra work without compensation or discussion, then they are violating the employer-employee agreement.

Expecting someone to do the work of 2 or 3 people, or giving unrealistic deadlines that cannot be met without working outside of regular work hours, is unreasonable. An employee has a definitive right to set a boundary against these unrealistic expectations.

How to Increase An Employee’s Workload Ethically

If you can’t backfill a position, then ask me if I’d be willing to absorb another employee’s extra job duties for extra pay.

Oh, wait. Do you actually want me to do the work of 2 or 3 people and give me a $2500 bonus?

No, thanks.

I’ll be happy to work an extra 10 hours a week for 25% of the unfilled position’s salary. See, that’s logical. And research shows my performance will be acceptable up to 40-50 hours. After that, we’re all really just wasting our time.

The way that economics works is if you can’t pay for services or goods, then you don’t receive services or goods.

Pretty straightforward.

When employers demand more than what is specified in the employment agreement, they are asking employees to give up their personal time, energy, and sanity, without compensating them fairly for it. This often happens when employers take advantage of employees during times of need, such as during an economic downturn.

If you want more from employees, you must give more. That is the employer-employee agreement.

What is Quiet Quitting? A Revolution against a Culture of Toxic Workplaces

How Managers Can Support Quiet Quitting

The employer-employee agreement is an economic business agreement. That’s all.

It’s a trade where an employee is able to provide value and successfully complete work tasks or projects in exchange for monetary goods.

Many of us are lucky enough to love working and producing good products or providing great service. But loving your work does NOT mean that you must allow your employer to own your time (and head space) away from work.

As a manager, you can start with something as simple as not emailing your team outside of work hours and setting the expectation that no one else will either.

  • If you need someone to work late, then ask them and pay them for their time.
  • Do not make assumptions that your employees will be available at all hours or on weekends just because you are.
  • Show your team that you respect their time away from work as much as you value their time at work.

This will go a long way in building trust and respect between you and your team. Don’t wait for your team to have to push back against you and quiet quit. Take a stand and create healthy boundaries around your work tasks, time and expectations. Be the leader, that’s your job.

The Toll of No Boundaries

I served in leadership positions for 17 years before becoming a freelancer. And five years before that as a teacher. So I know all about blurred (or a complete lack) of boundaries. Both because in my earlier years, I failed to respect the boundaries of my team members or I failed to set boundaries for them when they were afraid to do so, and because I failed to set boundaries for myself.

In not having boundaries for myself, I sacrificed untold hours, days, weeks, and months of my personal time to give to employers. Because of not setting boundaries around my time and mental energy, I missed my kids’ events, drifted away from friends and lost touch with family.

Yes, I felt the time and energy given was to achieve an important purpose. But you can also have purposeful and meaningful work that doesn’t overextend and overreach across healthy boundaries.

It seemed as though there always was some great need that I had to meet, something so important that it just couldn’t wait. And I’m a giver. I want to make the world better for people, ease their burdens, and help them have a better quality of life.

As I spent more time as a leader and saw how my committed, engaged and passionate staff gave and gave without limits — well, I realized I had to set boundaries for them because they weren’t going to do it on their own.

I stopped emailing outside of work hours. I asked another leader on my team to train all of our staff on how to use the Outlook email delay feature. Because I understood the need to write random emails when the inspiration struck (or to clear out a to-do item that was weighing) we didn’t STOP people from writing emails whenever they wanted, we just created a culture with a solution for not disrupting non-work time for others.

I shared this approach with our corporate offices and happily saw a few leaders higher up the chain begin to implement the same approach with their teams.

Was I trying to “quiet quit?” No, of course not. I was just trying to create a culture for my team that respected and valued them as people with fulfilling personal lives outside of work.

Sometimes we don’t realize how unhealthy and overreaching our work cultures are. Simple things like constant, unfettered emailing are within our power to make seemingly small changes to adjust work expectations and give peace to people.

What’s Your Priority?

The quiet quitting revolution is a push back against the people in charge who have created a workplace culture that relies on unhealthy levels of personal sacrifice for the “good” of the organization.

Bosses, employers, boards, state agencies, legislators and anyone else with decision-making authority will continue to mismanage resources (time, money, people) as long as they have people who will help them get through their mismanagement.

Those people who get them through their mismanagement are the “family” of workers who are led to believe that work cannot wait, it’s an emergency, we NEED you, but, in reality, this constant high-stress, crisis mode is because someone higher up the chain didn’t make important decisions in time or chose to make decisions that created the crisis.

Someone was more interested in shareholder profits, bonuses based on not expending their budgets, or accruing exorbitant funds in the bank, you know – just in case.

Someone didn’t allot enough funds or didn’t send the approval.

Someone didn’t say yes to the extra staff that was needed three months ago.

…Someone who then said there’s no funding for resources, staff or even bonus pay, but we MUST get this project done anyway, no matter what it takes.

Cue the “family” of workers who overgive.

In the world of mental health, this is called enabling. As a workforce who doesn’t stand up for ourselves and hold our own boundaries, we enable our employers to continue to mismanage. To continue to prioritize profits over people. To continue to serve us the lies about “family.”

But What If I LOVE to Work and I WANT to Give More

Hey, you know what? Me, too.

I love working, I love doing good things, and I am really good at rallying other people around me who are equally motivated to excel.

Loving to work and being highly productive does not mean that you must work around the clock. It does not mean that you must think about your job constantly.

If you want to, that’s cool. You do you.

But if you don’t want to, if people don’t want to live and breathe their work, then that’s fine, too.

The important thing is that we respect each other’s boundaries. And if you want to work more, ask your boss or colleague how they feel about it. If they’re open to the idea, awesome! If not, don’t take it personally and move on.

In my experience working around the clock, I found that I was never as productive as when I had healthy boundaries. A Stanford study showed that working beyond 50 hours actually sets the business back because of an increase in mistakes that have to be corrected due to poorer concentration and execution.

I know that when I am well-rested, have time for self-care, and feel like I have a life outside of work, I show up as my best self.

I am more focused, more efficient, and more likely to come up with creative solutions.

I am also more likely to be patient with others, less likely to make careless mistakes, and more likely to build strong relationships with my colleagues.

All of these things contribute to a healthier workplace culture – one that is less likely to tolerate toxic behavior.

What is Quiet Quitting? A Revolution against a Culture of Toxic Workplaces

So, How Do We Create a Healthy Workplace Culture?

It starts with each of us setting boundaries and holding ourselves and others accountable to those boundaries.

  • It means saying no when we are asked to do something that violates our personal code of ethics.
  • It means speaking up when we see someone being treated unfairly.
  • It means refusing to participate in workplace drama.
  • It means taking care of ourselves so that we can show up as our best selves.
  • And it means supporting each other in creating a work world that is sane, healthy, and respectful.

People are beginning to recognize that a healthy employee-employer relationship should be a two-way street. If an employer is not providing what they need to maintain a healthy lifestyle, then their employees should feel free to quiet quit and set their own healthy boundaries. If the employer continues to insist on long hours and constant availability outside of the workday, then it’s time to move on to a better situation.

Where Do You Stand?

Now that you know a little more about quietly quitting, where do you stand?

Do you think it’s a bad thing? Or is it just a natural response that is long-overdue?

Are there benefits to quietly quitting? Are there risks associated with it?

We’d love to hear your thoughts! Connect with us on LinkedIn or Facebook and tell us your stand on quietly quitting!

#quietquittingrevolution #toxicbosses #quietquitting #workplaceculture

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Dr. Sara Baker, Founder of the Leadership Reformation

About the Author

Dr. Sara Baker is an advocate for positive leadership and healthy workplaces. With over 20 years of experience leading private and public organizations, she understands the challenges that employees and leaders face every day.

Sara is the author of Toxic Workplace Survival Guide, an essential resource for anyone who wants to thrive in spite of a toxic work environment or who is ready to quietly quit. In addition to her writing, Sara provides online courses for leadership development and coping with a toxic workplace.

Sara enjoys spending time with her family and friends on her farm in Texas.

Dr. Sara Baker, Founder of the Leadership Reformation

About the Author

Dr. Sara Baker is a thought leader in the area of positive leadership and healthy workplaces. With over 20 years of experience leading private and public organizations, she understands the challenges that employees face every day.

Sara is the author of Toxic Workplace Survival Guide, an essential resource for anyone who wants to thrive in spite of a toxic work environment or who is ready to quietly quit. In addition to her writing, Sara provides online courses for leadership development and coping with a toxic workplace.

Sara enjoys spending time with her family and friends on her farm in Texas.

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The book you've been waiting for to help you stop the stress, find peace and live your best life in spite of a toxic work environment. Ready to #quietquit? This is your step-by-step guide to help you prioritize your life over your job.

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