A Therapist’s Hot Take on “Quiet Quitting”

Reading Time: 3 minutes 

I heard this phrase while watching the news recently and literally yelled at the television, “That’s work-life balance!” 

As a therapist helping high achievers and busy professionals manage stress, I support every employee who has decided not to do any extra work for their employer for one of the following reasons: 

-They are not getting compensation—of any kind—for these duties. This article is not meant to shame organizations starting out on a budget, or nonprofits who can’t afford to pay their employees higher salaries. Compensation can be a flexible schedule, leaving early with no penalty, lunch, or a gift card.

For professionals of marginalized identities, it is even more important to set work boundaries due to institutional discrimination.

“[A]lmost 90% of the Fortune 500 CEOs are white males,” writes Richard L. Zweigenhaft of Guilford College, ”who continue to be the dominant group in the corporate elite — they held 96.4% of the Fortune 500 CEO positions in 2000, and they held 85.8% in 2020.” Zweigenhaft continues, “[S]ince most of the seats lost by white men were lost to white women, and white women make up 6.8% of those who are now CEOs, whites still make up 92.6% of the Fortune 500 CEOs.” 

If you know you’re playing a losing game against more privileged people, knowing that the white person related to the boss is going to get the promotion no matter what, it is smart and strategic to do the bare minimum. 

It is an act of self-protection to think of your job as just a paycheck instead of tying a promotion—or more responsibility—to your self-worth.  

“Quiet Quitting” preserves positive mental health in a marginalized identity.

Leadership Question: How are you motivating and affirming your employees of marginalized identities? 

 -The extra work doesn’t advance their career. One of the principles of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, a mode that I use in therapy sessions, is effectiveness. Effectiveness asks, “Is what I’m doing working?” A focused, goal-oriented person who has clarified their career objectives will stop doing busy work that does not meet their objectives. To call this “quiet quitting” shames those who have decided to work smarter, not harder.

Leadership Question: Have you asked your employees about what motivates them about their work? If so, how can you bridge their natural motivation to tasks needing to be done? 

-The extra work is not congruent with their goals and values. This often happens when an employer engages in “bait and switch.” Here are some examples of what this looks like: 

-An employee being told one job description in an interview when the real-life job turns out to be completely different.

-An employee being hired for one department, and then being transferred elsewhere even though their skills and interests don’t match their new department. (The employer doesn’t care. After all, a worker is a worker and a body is a body, right?)

-A manager getting to know a team in one department, and being abruptly switched to a team in another department with little to no warning.

Put a talented person who is conscious of their strengths and weaknesses in one of the above scenarios, and they will quietly quit under the best circumstances. Work that is congruent with goals and values—work that gives people a sense of agency—is fulfilling and motivating. 

Work that is incongruent with goals and values, that disempowers the individual, drives talented and focused staff out of an organization. 

If your organization’s leadership engages in bait-and-switch as a management (or recruitment!) technique, hope and pray that your employees “quietly quit” and don’t leave.

Leadership Question: Have you noticed “quiet quitting” in any of the aforementioned situations? 

-They have not been given the proper structure to do work aside from their core job description. Outdated equipment, lack of training, lack of an onboarding process, and an inconsistent internet connection belong under this category. 

Leadership Question: Do your employees have the resources to excel at their jobs? If not, how can you give them more support? 

-They’re not interested in the extra work. If you are leading or managing people, it is your duty to either motivate others to do extra work that needs to be done—or find people motivated enough to do it. 

Leadership Question: What are the tasks that no one wants to do? Who might be most motivated—inside or outside your organization—to complete them? 

Their humanity is not being respected. It’s a sign of healthy self-esteem to stop doing extra work for an employer that does not respect you. If you know you’re going to be fired for asking for a raise (that more privileged people in your organization already have), time off due to a chronic illness, or because you’re about to have a baby, “quiet quitting” equals survival. 

Leadership Question: Am I creating a workplace where people feel respected? Why/why not? 

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Disclaimer:This blog does not replace in-depth, individualized help from a health professional or provide any diagnosis or treatment. By reading, you understand this statement and commit to seeking psychotherapy or medication support if needed. You also understand that Mari Verano, LLC will not be able to intervene in a crisis or court situation. Please seek your own legal and/or crisis resources.

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