Does anyone else feel like the loudest thing on the internet these days is the debate about quiet quitting? Something in its alliterative brevity has struck a chord. Like, with everyone! We continue to spin in the debate over whether it’s good (we’re finally boundary-setting) or bad (people have gotten lazy), whether it’s old (disengagement rebranded) or new (Gen-Z and millennials’ pandemic response). And I feel like we’re missing the bigger points.
If this is a new term for you, let’s start with a basic definition. Like all things relevant today, quiet quitting gained its fame on TikTok. According to Zaid Khan, a user with 10,000+ followers, quiet quitting means “You are still performing your duties, but you are no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentally that work has to be our life.”
Wherever you fall on the good/bad or old/new spectrum, I think there are some critical lessons and calls-to-action we all need to hear and respond to.
I’d love to share some of my takeaways and some very actionable suggestions coming out of this whole kerfuffle.
We all really want to do our best
I spend more professional hours than I care to admit doing research on what’s happening in the world of the working. Next time you have 7,498 hours of free time, ping me for a coffee (or a cocktail), and I’ll dish it all.
But in the spirit of offering quick and dirty tips, I’ll share one piece I pull into every Employee Experience talk and workshop I deliver. It comes from Gallup—a research institute that publishes an annual report called the State of the American Workforce.
Each year they ask employees across industries what attributes they look for when considering a new job. And each year, the attribute that comes out as most important is not compensation, flexibility, leadership, or culture—it’s “the ability to do what they do best.”
Even the pandemic and all the chaos it rained on us did not manage to knock this attribute out of its top spot. How amazing is that?
My point here is that while there may be some exceptions, most of us aren’t inclined to be lazy, to “phone it in.” On balance, we really want to do a great job. And so, if you feel yourself, a colleague, or a team member starting to meet your criteria for “quiet quitting,” approach it from a place of curiosity, not judgment. Ask yourself, is something getting in the way of my/their ability to do what they do best?
Begin with a mission to explore and resolve sets everyone up for success.
We need to redefine “best”
In the course of the past few years, we seem to have conflated “doing our best” with “working all hours, non-stop, leaving nothing for the next day.” We’ve confused busyness with productivity, and this is super problematic.
It seems like people are being labeled quiet quitters for dialing back their “on-hours,” quantity, or volume of work. Too many of us have lost sight of the impact, the outcomes, the clarity of expectation.
Part of my job is to provide Modern Mentor followers with great podcast content each week. And frankly, the amazing team that produces this show has no idea whether it takes me one hour or 20 to present a point of view. Also, they don’t care. They want my best work, and that’s what I strive to deliver.
“Best” is not a quantity game. So let’s make sure the expectations we’re setting for ourselves and our teams are grounded in impact over constant availability. Let’s all stay accountable for doing something meaningful each day, while also remembering it’s OK to have a life beyond our work.
We need to reprioritize the human spirit
Though we may not all agree on whether quiet quitting is good or bad, real or made up, I do suspect we all agree the last few years have taken a real toll on our collective humanity.
Like, we’re tired. And burned out. And trying to settle into an ever-evolving new normal.
As a kid, I had a friend who was always telling stories of mean things her parents would say or do to her. Not abusive, just cold or unkind. I could never tell whether the stories were real or made up. One day my mother explained that it didn’t matter whether the stories were real. True or not, they were a cry for help. This friend needed to be cared for in ways that weren’t happening at home.
My mom’s words are ringing true for me again now.
Part of me wonders whether quiet quitting is real. But more of me thinks it doesn’t matter. I think all our spirits need a little extra care right now.
If you’re a leader, put your oxygen mask on first. Start setting boundaries for yourself and your team, check in on folks around you, watch periodic cat videos. And don’t hide these things; celebrate them so your team sees it’s safe and can learn from your example.
If you’re just a citizen, take breaks, ask for help. And also watch cat videos.
We all need and deserve care right now. Not quiet care. Out loud care.
We need to imagine new ways of connecting
Together-time used to be an invisible thing, something we took for granted because for so many of us it was the norm. In the way that fish don’t know they’re in water, we didn’t notice the gifts of our physical environment or the ways in which it kept us connected.
And now our norm has shifted. And we’re all trying to figure it out.
But I’m seeing too many leaders and companies try to legislate connection through policies and memos that say “everyone in on Thursdays” or “we’re all in the office three times a week.”
But the landscape has shifted. We’ve learned how productive we can be from outside the office. Commuting is no longer a default. People are feeling resentful, mistrusted, and disrespected. And yeah, maybe that is triggering a bit of quiet quitting. It’s like a small rebellion, a way to take back control.
So try focusing instead on how people want to connect. Maybe sometimes it’s about coming physically together. But it can also be about sharing interests, or starting book or podcast clubs with discussions. Maybe it’s connecting in smaller groups or establishing mentorships or peer coaching circles.
My point is that connection requires intention. And also some fresh imagination.
Getting connection right pulls people in instead of repelling them. I think that’s the best antidote to quiet quitting. Or just a good idea if you don’t think quiet quitting is real.