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Thinking About Quiet Quitting? Maybe Think Twice

There are professional and personal costs of the “anti-hustle” mindset.

Key points

  • Quiet quitting happens when employees psychologically detach from their work and stick only to what’s in their job descriptions.
  • Quiet quitting is costly for organizations, but it can also have costs for employees.
  • There can be personal and professional benefits from going above and beyond.

In high school, I landed my first job at Erol’s Video Club in Fairfax, Virginia. While employed there over the summer, I recognized and appreciated that, beyond a paycheck, working gave my day some structure, let me be part of a team, allowed me to meet people outside my existing network, helped me find an identity, and kept me busy.

Even though I only made minimum wage, I liked my job. I often went the extra mile by volunteering for extra shifts, covering for coworkers, helping my manager, learning new procedures, or delivering exceptional service to our customers. As a Ph.D. student, I learned that such behaviors are called “organizational citizenship behaviors” (OCBs), and they have been the principal focus of my research for the past 20-plus years.

OCBs are now in the headlines because of the “quiet quitting” movement. The quiet quitting label is deceiving because it really isn’t about quitting at all; instead, it happens when employees adopt an anti-hustle mindset by psychologically detaching from their work and sticking only to what’s in their job description. Recently, more and more employees are embracing the notion of quiet quitting and saying “no” to OCB.

When employees are treated poorly by their organization or supervisor, quiet quitting makes sense. Organizations that want their employees to go the extra mile should be willing to go the extra mile for those employees. If they fail to do so, they are undeserving of any special contributions from their employees.

Furthermore, my research has shown that organizational citizenship can be potentially harmful to employees: they can feel pressured to go the extra mile, get tired of being a good organizational citizen, and experience stress and work-family conflict because they are giving so much to their organization, and feel like more and more is expected of them to be considered a good organizational citizen. In short, citizenship can be a burden.

But those thinking about quiet quitting should remember that there are also benefits associated with going beyond the call of duty, meaning that quiet quitting can have personal and professional costs.

First, although going above and beyond can be taxing, it can also be energizing. In one study, researchers found that on days where employees spent time helping their coworkers with work or nonwork problems, kept up with organizational developments, made a point of showing concern and courtesy towards coworkers, acted to protect the organization from problems, or made suggestions to improve the organization, they were more likely to experience their work as important and personally meaningful. As a result, they felt more invigorated and alive.

Likewise, studies have found a correlation between OCB and job satisfaction, showing that satisfied workers are more likely to go the extra mile and that going the extra mile can make work more satisfying. This is probably due in part to the fact that prosocial behavior and helping others—including coworkers, customers, and the organization itself—often make people feel more positive about themselves and their work.

Conversely, when employees quietly quit, it could mean disappointing a customer or putting an additional burden on one’s coworkers, which might result in missing out on those positive feelings and lead to negative feelings, such as guilt. Further, while psychologically detaching may insulate one from negative feelings about work, it may also limit positive experiences.

Second, although it may seem like being a good organizational citizen means that employees are just doing extra work for free, such behavior can also benefit employees in the long run. Even though OCBs are behaviors outside the employee’s job description, supervisors typically notice and reward employees who go above and beyond.

For instance, an analysis of 70 studies involving over 20,000 employees found that employees who engage in OCB receive better performance evaluations from their bosses. Studies also indicate that these employees are more likely to be recommended for organizational rewards, such as salary increases, promotions, high-profile projects, public recognition, and opportunities for professional development. In other words, while OCB may not be immediately compensated, the evidence suggests that going the extra mile can pay off down the road.

Finally, employees can find ways to go beyond their official job duties that are more personally rewarding and less draining. Based on the concept of job crafting, Anthony Klotz and I have referred to this as citizenship crafting. Thus, for an employee with children to care for, rather than staying late to finish an important report, it might mean helping onboard a new employee while at the office. Alternatively, it might involve volunteering for special projects that play to one’s strengths—technical or interpersonal. Simply put, citizenship crafting means being more mindful and selective about engaging in OCB.

At the same time, given that citizenship pressure can be stressful and draining, employees should focus on engaging in OCB when they feel inspired, owing to their positive relationship with a colleague, customer, supervisor, or the organization. Further, when employees find that going beyond the call of duty is a burden or interferes with their life outside of work, they should cut back and recalibrate to achieve a better balance.

In sum, quiet quitting may harm organizations and prevent employees from experiencing the potential benefits of being a good organizational citizen. Employees who feel like their citizenship is being overlooked or taken for granted or that they are expected to do too much OCB should consider having a frank conversation with their manager about the appropriate recognition or boundaries. Moreover, at a time when there are more job openings than employees to fill them, if one’s willingness to go the extra mile is still unrecognized and unappreciated, it may make more sense to think about engaging in real quitting instead of quiet quitting.

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