What Does Quiet Quitting Tell Us About Mental Health in The Workplace?

‘Quiet Quitting’, an intriguing term, isn’t it? What pops up in your head when you hear this term? The first thing I had in mind was, “Never thought people will start ghosting their jobs too and go on to join someplace else without any closure!” Jokes apart, I also wondered who coined this fancy term in the first place and does it apply to me too. Here’s what I found: The term which has emerged as a trend in TikTok is new but the idea behind it isn’t. It challenges the concept of ‘hustle culture’, whose time is gradually coming to an end. This new concept is making headlines and a lot of experts have been discussing about it. Being someone who ardently believes in maintaining a work life balance and is striving to not give in to the hustle culture, my curiosity was piqued at this point. So, what is ‘quiet quitting’? 

Well, unlike what I had in mind, quiet quitting doesn’t actually involve quitting. It’s more a response to hustle culture, overachievement, and burnout. What people are “quitting” is going above and beyond, doing additional work without being compensated for it, meanwhile completing tasks that fulfill the job requirements and nothing more. In short: doing the job one is paid to do. For example, not responding to work calls, emails or messages after office hours or on weekends, refusing to work overtime with little or no benefit are a part of quiet quitting. Specialists and experts in the field of human resource development have been quick to jump in with their own theories and advice on how to fix the “problem”. A recent article published in the Harvard Business Review urged managers to ask themselves: “Is this a problem with my direct reports, or is this a problem with me and my leadership abilities?” But, my question is, is this really a problem in the first place?

I don’t think so. To begin with, survey data suggests that this is neither new nor a trend, rather a new name for an old behaviour. Moreover, don’t you think if the employees are turning up to work every day and are doing exactly what is being asked of them, they aren’t “quiet quitting,” but they’re “working”? It’s crucial to realise that some people will always be driven by ambition, perfectionism, enjoyment or insecurity to do more than is asked of them. However, if employers expect everyone to do that, by definition it no longer is “above and beyond”. Judging every employee against the unrealistic bar of  how much one is going “above and beyond” will only lead to unhappiness and dissatisfaction in the workplace. Indeed, companies which have built their business model on people constantly going “above and beyond” what their job entails are on dangerous ground. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to work hard and go above and beyond in your job if you want to, particularly if you’re working towards certain goals. However, it’s important to take time out for yourself too. Even if you enjoy your job, you shouldn’t neglect other aspects of your life and well-being, which brings me to my next point. 

What should be the concern is quality of work. If there’s a decline in the work quality of an employee who otherwise excels in what they do or tend to go “above and beyond” often, that I feel is a sign of “quiet quitting” on the part of the employee. In such scenarios, employers need to pay more attention and understand the reason behind such decline. Wanda Jackson, senior vice president of human resources with the National Urban League (based in New York City) is of the opinion that quiet quitting has little to do with money or position. “It’s about the need for time and the other things going on in lives like being a parent or acting as a caregiver for an elderly person or someone who is sick.” Meanwhile, Maria Kordowicz, PhD, associate professor in organizational behavior at the University of Nottingham and director of the Centre for Interprofessional Education and Learning, said that, “It may be that employees wanting to find a better work-life balance will stop going above and beyond in their workplace, for instance, by not working outside of their allocated work times or no longer putting relentless productivity above their wellbeing,”. Given how hustle culture has conditioned us, we often get caught up in work to the extent that it affects the rest of our life – sparsely left with time to relax, indulge in self-care, see family and friends, exercise and the list goes on. Additionally, if people aren’t seeing wage increases, at least in line with inflation and amid a cost of living crisis, meanwhile CEOs keep getting richer, undoubtedly it can be demoralizing. The mental health of young adults is declining, and quiet quitting is a plausible response. 

Quiet quitting highlights that in any organization, there is a need for a program to check in on employees, not just their performance but their well-being too. The old practice of doing once-a-year engagement surveys is no longer the solution. Instead, they should be taking the pulse of people on a daily or weekly basis, have frequent conversations with employees. This includes creating a strategy by companies for their employees to provide more personal support or personalized motivation, such as supporting their educational goals, among other things. Gradually, more and more organizations are moving towards flexible work hours. It refers to giving people deadlines and timelines but letting them set their own hours, i.e., work when it’s most convenient for them rather than just making it mandatory for everyone to stay until a specific time of the day. 

At its heart, the “quiet quitting” debate highlights the enduring unhealthy understanding of the relationship between companies and their employees. Individuals are no longer subscribing to the neoliberal concept of ‘hustle’ culture, which puts materialism and profits over human-centered values of compassion, and self-development, among others. Evidently, the new generation of employees are redefining work. As such, companies can either choose to understand that and reassess how they’re going to treat their employees or face more pushback. To put it simply, things need to change in the workplace which revolves around caring for its people’s mental health.

Author: Mushkan Jogani, an aspiring psychologist and researcher with a knack for writing and overthinking

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