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Is "Quiet Quitting" Really Quitting—or Setting Boundaries?

You are not required to give up what matters to you without compensation.

Key points

  • Creating work-life balance is an important part of maintaining good mental health.
  • Not everyone who works seeks promotion.
  • Setting boundaries at work is appropriate. Use kindness as a rule of thumb about when to do something extra.
  • Clear communication with employers and coworkers will help you to have a positive experience at work.
Set boundaries at work before frustration sets in.
Source: yogendras31/Pixabay

A great debate over “quiet quitting” has been raging for several weeks. The charge is that employees who choose to do the minimum job requirements—not going above and beyond required duties, not staying late to take on extra projects without compensation, or not being available to the office during time off—are actually quitting their jobs slowly without letting employers know. Employers complain that this is an unfair or inappropriate practice. Is that true, or are employees setting appropriate boundaries and not allowing employers to take advantage of them?

Doing the Job You Were Hired to Do

Employers provide position descriptions to employees so that all parties agree upon work requirements. Completing the tasks directly stated in the position description is in fact doing the job. On occasion, other duties may come up that are not included in the position description. For example, if you work in a busy restaurant as a host and a busser drops a bucket of dishes, it would be completely appropriate for you to jump in and help clear up the broken dishes from the floor so that the restaurant would run smoothly. It may not technically be “your job,” but we all need a little help from coworkers from time to time.

Starting and ending your work day at the agreed upon time is also appropriate. Different jobs have different expectations about what on time looks like. Police officers may have a shift briefing. Some workers are clocked in when they enter a locker room to prepare for a shift, others as they enter the workspace. In any of these circumstances, an agreed upon norm was established at hire.

Similarly, end times are established. Some are more formal and clocking out procedures are used. Others are not. Again, courtesy is the best rule of thumb. If you’re in an office job and a coworker is finishing up a presentation, it would be rude to simply close your laptop at 5 pm. Give them a few minutes to finish up. Or if it looks like they are nowhere near the end, politely suggest that since this meeting seems to need more time, that the remainder be rescheduled. Kindness goes a long way.

In any of these circumstances, we are creating boundaries about what we will and will not do. Courtesy, team spirit, respect, and kindness can all be part of boundary setting in the workplace, and setting boundaries in work settings can be good practice for setting and maintaining healthy boundaries in other parts of life.

When to Go Above and Beyond

There are situations in which it is entirely appropriate to go above and beyond what is stated in a position description, but this too is negotiated in advance. If you work for a nonprofit organization, especially if you are a salaried employee, it will be stated in your work outline that you will likely have duties outside of your job, for example attending major fundraising events and talking to donors there. There might be projects or activities that take a great deal of work for a specific period of time—days or weeks—and then workload might slow. Those who run summer camps are expected to spend long days working in the summer season, but have lighter workloads in the autumn and winter. Not all jobs conform to the norms of shift work, and those jobs will require “extra” hours.

Some of us will also choose careers that require additional commitment for advancement. If a person wants to become a partner in a law firm, expect to take on long hours.

Know What You Want

What’s important when you decide to set boundaries at work is to know what you want out of your job or career choice. Did you choose a specific job because you want to leave your work at the office? Do you have commitments at home—children, aging parents, someone who’s ill and needs assistance—and that is your priority? Are you taking on an extra job or additional hours to fund something you want: a trip, a newer car, or other expense? In any of these and many other situations, there is no motivation for a worker to work outside of expected hours or to take on additional duties. Not everyone in an organization seeks promotion.

No Guilt Allowed

One of the more insidious and inappropriate things an employer can do, especially a small business owner, is to complain that “workers here don’t have the commitment or work the hours that I do.” No, they don’t. Work is not a “family” and workers are not going to have the same commitment to a company that the owners do. Be respectful, but do not allow employers to guilt you into working uncompensated hours to be a “team player.” If you have no financial interest in the company, you have no reason to work without compensation to make it grow.

Create Work-Life Balance

The key to good work-life balance is to have clear communication with your employer. Position descriptions help you to define what your duties are. Workers are under no obligation to take on tasks or give hours for which they are not compensated. To ask employees to work uncompensated is inappropriate, and to shame them for “quiet quitting” is bullying.

Define for yourself what you want and need in a job. If you need part-time work so you can spend time in addiction recovery activities or you have a new baby at home and want to work a remote, flexible schedule, be clear with your employer that this is what you are doing. When you’re working, it’s appropriate to do the best you can, and when you are off, it’s entirely appropriate to focus on other activities. You set the boundaries you want to create the life that works for you.

More from Constance Scharff Ph.D.
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