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Quiet Quitting: A Path to Work Engagement?

Protecting yourself in an always-on work culture.

Key points

  • The term “quiet quitting” is when employees continue to do their job, but only do the work laid out in their job description.
  • Although quiet quitting is seen as means to combat burnout, it can also be used to enhance work engagement.
  • The presence and popularity of quiet quitting suggest that people are experiencing high levels of work–life conflict.

This post was written by Melissa Wheeler, Ph.D. and CJ Campos.

Quiet quitting is an idea that emerged from Tiktok and was quickly scooped up by the media. Reports on quiet quitting can be quite polarizing, either extolling the courage to set healthy boundaries around work or lamenting a generation of people who “do not want to work.”

 Olya Kobruseva/Pexels
Source: Olya Kobruseva/Pexels

The term “quiet quitting” is when employees continue to do their job, but only do the work laid out in their job description—they do nothing that would be considered as above and beyond their established role. Sometimes the practice of quiet quitting is neither quiet nor a form a quitting, which makes the label quite the misnomer. Employees may choose to firmly set boundaries with their supervisors about what their job actually entails and what they are willing to contribute to fulfill their duties. Others will enact quiet quitting by doing the bare minimum to remain employed and to keep receiving a paycheck, slacking off to just the point that they can still hang on to their job.

A middle ground to the above two methods would be deciding what work one was willing to put in, limiting contributions to that point, but not being open or direct about it. Each of these methods likely results in a different level of resentment and comes from a different level of cynicism and disengagement, with the slacking-off version representing the highest level of cynicism and resentment.

A Similar Concept But With a New Name

Contrary to popular belief, quiet quitting is not new. It has existed for many years under different monikers: coasting, taking charge, and checking out, to name a few. All of these share work–life as common ground and refer to, in some form, doing less at work and putting personal well-being first.

Two empirical concepts come to mind when thinking about quiet quitting: proactive personality and job crafting. Proactive personality is an individual’s tendency to engage in proactive behaviors; individuals with this trait are driven to intentionally change their circumstances and/or environments to bring about meaningful change. Job crafting is when employees actively impart changes in the design of their job by choosing tasks, negotiating job content, and assigning meaning to tasks or jobs. Quiet quitters may hold proactive personality traits that enable them to craft their jobs; they take a proactive approach to setting boundaries at work and crafting their job to only do their bare minimum or only what is in their job description.

Although quiet quitting is seen as means to combat burnout, it can also be used to enhance work engagement. Work engagement is defined as a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption. Work engagement is important because engaged employees tend to have increased in-role performance. They experience positive emotion, which is linked to increased personal resources and positive well-being.

Those who hold a proactive personality and can craft their job tend to be more engaged at work. Counterintuitively, quiet quitters who engage in job crafting and align their working conditions to their own needs are effectively utilizing their job resources and creating a personal work environment that fosters the characteristics of work engagement. In this way, they can be more engaged at work while still ensuring personal well-being.

Doing Less Is Best

How can quiet quitters expect to compete with overachievers, employees who brag about their level of commitment, dedication, and amount of overtime they put in each week? Many organizations and employees are still under the influence of the ideal employee norm, or the expectation that employees (especially in senior roles) will contribute long hours, manage their responsibilities outside of work in a way that does not interfere with their paid work, and even be willing to travel or relocate for their job.

The presence and popularity of quiet quitting suggest that people are experiencing high levels of work–life and life–work conflict, which is defined by the negative impact on one domain of life on another. Employees want trust, autonomy, and more time for the other aspects of their lives, such as their families, involvement in their communities, and opportunities to focus on the self. People need the chance to disengage from work to feel refreshed and ready to re-engage the next day, which is a real challenge in this tech-savvy, always-on culture. When work emails and notifications are carried around in your pocket and sit next to your bedside, it is almost impossible to disconnect.

While it is true overachievers can benefit from going above and beyond, the quiet quitter can achieve similarly by crafting their job and being more efficient with their time, allowing them to combat work–life conflicts and maintain balance in other domains of life. Implementing these changes allows the quiet quitter to prioritize their well-being, set boundaries at work, and maintain balance in other domains of life, all while continuing to stay engaged at work and remaining productive. Employees who feel motivated by the quiet quitting trend should consider the implications of quiet quitting on their career trajectory and ensure they engage in the kind of quiet quitting that is aligned with their current priorities and future ambitions.

In Summary

There is no denying the degree to which this concept has resonated with so many people in the workforce. While it has been misrepresented as a generational sense of entitlement and expectations of instant career fulfillment, quiet quitting can be an empowering way to reclaim balance in your life while still leading to positive individual and organizational outcomes. Quiet quitting’s ability to empower employees to craft their jobs and be more efficient within the boundaries they have created at work can lead to enhanced work engagement and productivity.

References

Bakker, A., Tims, M., & Derks - Theunissen, D. (2012). Proactive personality and job performance: The role of job crafting and work engagement. Human relations (New York), 65(10), 1359-1378. https://doi.org/10.1177/0018726712453471

Demerouti, E. and Cropanzano, R. (2010). From thought to action: Employee work engagement and job performance. In: Bakker AB and Leiter MP (eds) Work Engagement: A Handbook of Essential Theory and Research. New York: Psychology Press, 147–163.

Fredrickson BL (2001) The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56, 218−226.

Gunasekara, A. N., Wheeler, M. A., & Bardoel, A. (2022). The Impact of Working from Home during COVID-19 on Time Allocation across Competing Demands. Sustainability, 14(15), 9126. https://doi.org/10.3390/su14159126

Schaufeli, W.B., Salanova, M., Gonzalez-Roma, V. and Bakker, A.B. (2002). The measurement of engagement and burnout: a two-sample confirmatory factor analytic approach. Journal of Happiness Studies, 3(1), 71-92.

Williams, Joan C. 2000. Unbending gender. New York: Oxford University Press.

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