Quiet Quitting vs. Setting Healthy Boundaries: Where’s The Line?

In the summer of 2022, we first started hearing buzz around a new term: “Quiet quitting“.

Quiet quitting is a term that essentially means an employee who does the core responsibilities of their role, but doesn’t go above-and-beyond for their company.

I think it‘s safe to say we’ve all met quiet quitters throughout our careers — heck, most of us have been quiet quitters during times when we felt less engaged by our work, and opted for the out-by-five approach rather than staying late to pursue projects outside our scope.

There are parts of the quiet quitting approach that I believe are fundamentally healthy … but there are other aspects that hint at employees who feel unengaged, unmotivated, or unsupported in their roles.

So I‘d like to revisit the concept of quiet quitting and figure out why roughly 30% of full-time employees say they’re quiet quitting in 2024 — and whether that’s actually a bad thing.

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What is quiet quitting?

Quiet quitting is a term that took off on TikTok in a video by content creator Zaiad Khan.

In the video, which currently has 3.5 million views, the Tiktoker explains what quiet quitting is: A rejection of hustle culture and a reclaiming of work-life balance.

Shortly after, other TikTok users shared their thoughts and experiences with quiet quitting – the hashtag now gaining 97.6 million total video views.

So while the term includes the word “quitting,” it actually has nothing to do with it.

Quiet quitting involves completing your work responsibilities without going above and beyond. This looks like logging out at 5 p.m., not seeking additional tasks or projects, and taking regular time off.

For some quiet quitters, it’s a form of rebellion. For others, it’s an odd term to describe something they’ve done for decades.

How many employees are quiet quitting in 2024?

HubSpot Blog Research found one in three full-time employees say they’re actively quiet quitting in 2024.

Here’s how this breaks down by generation:

  • 32% of full-time Gen Z
  • 37% of full-time millennials
  • 35% of full-time Gen X

What‘s more interesting, though, is the respondent’s viewpoint on what quiet quitting actually means: Over half (55%) of full-time employees think quiet quitting is equivalent to setting healthy boundaries at work, while 45% say quiet quitting reflects an employee’s work ethic.

That’s about an equal, 50-50 split.

So I took to LinkedIn and sent out a poll: Do most people think quiet quitting is a bad thing … Or do they think it’s healthy?

The Results Are In Favor of Quiet Quitting … So What Are The Benefits of Quiet Quitting?

A whopping 71% of the respondents on my LinkedIn poll stated that quiet quitting is a good thing.

To be clear: Quiet quitting, a term originally coined by Zaiad Khan in a TikTok video with 3.5 million views, initially began as a reclamation of work-life balance, and a rejection of hustle culture.

As Khan puts in his video: “Work is not your life. Your worth is not defined by your productive output.”

Those in favor of quiet quitting believe that it can help an employee establish boundaries around work, while ensuring they aren’t taken advantage of by their employer.

In other words: Why should an employee stay late to work on “extra” projects beyond their current scope, if they aren’t feeling valued or fulfilled in their role otherwise?

I can see the argument. Many employees are feeling burnout from being required to consistently overachieve. Our culture often emphasizes productivity at all costs – be it mental, physical, or emotional health. (There’s actually a word for this: Toxic productivity.)

HubSpot’s most recent 2024 Consumer Trends report found that the top four reasons employees are considering leaving their jobs in 2024 are:

  • Pay is not competitive enough (38%)
  • Wanting to switch career paths (24%)
  • Lack of a sense of purpose in their work (23%)
  • Burnout (20%)

And, to some extent, all of these reasons point back to the benefits of quiet quitting. If you‘re not feeling fulfilled or finding purpose in your role, if you’re not getting paid enough, or if you’re feeling overworked and underaprpeciated … Why should you continue to go above-and-beyond for your employer?

I’m all for setting work-life boundaries and finding your worth outside the productivity hampster wheel.

But hear me out: Is quiet quitting really the healthiest way to do it? Or is quiet quitting just a reflection of an unengaged, unfulfilled employee?

Quiet Quitting Suggests a More Insiduous Problem

A couple of years ago, I was a quiet quitter myself – at a chocolate store.

It was my first high school job, and I didn‘t like my manager. I felt she didn’t respect me enough to abide by my work preferences when it came to my work hours, and she made jokes about my age in front of customers, which embarrassed me.

So what did I do? The bare minimum, of course.

I didn‘t stay late to help her wrap Easter baskets; I didn’t raise my hand when she asked who could pick up an extra Saturday shift; and at six p.m. on the dot, whether I was with a customer or not, I beelined it for the exit.

As silly as this example is (I get it – it was a high school, part-time job), I use it to suggest that quiet quitting isn’t always about achieving more work-life balance, or setting healthy boundaries.

A lot of times, it‘s a miserable experience, and it occurs because an employee doesn’t feel engaged or motivated.

The dream for most employees is to want to go above-and-beyond for their employer. Quiet quitting usually isn‘t an employee’s first choice: Instead, it‘s the result of months or years of burnout where they’ve been unsupported and underappreciated.

In his article, “What’s New About Quiet Quitting (and What’s Not)“, J. Richard Johnson, Ph.D., writes: ”If a worker enjoys his or her job, he or she will supply more — possibly far more — than the bare minimum … Consider as examples the work of a professional surfer or musician. The surfer and the musician get intrinsic joy — gratification — from their work regardless of whether they are paid.”

Simply put: Your employees won’t feel compelled to quietly quit if they feel engaged. The two are at odds.

At HubSpot, I‘ve always felt compelled to own projects outside my role because I know it’s the fastest way to create a career I‘m excited by — and because I trust my employer to reward my hard work. I’ve also felt empowered to work extra hours (at times) because I’ve been too engaged to shut my laptop down.

Why aren‘t I quietly quitting at HubSpot? Because I love my job, I feel appreciated and supported by my manager, and I feel like I’m making a difference. And I trust that my employer has my best interests at heart: Including allowing me to sign off when I’m finished, and never expecting me to give 110% if I only have 70% in the tank.

That‘s empathy, and it’s likely the key to reversing the quiet quitting trend.

How Companies Should Address Quiet Quitting

In an NPR article, critics of this term say that quiet quitting is a misnomer for setting boundaries at work and having a healthy work-life balance.

They also argue that this term highlights how many companies exploit employees and set an expectation of overperformance without adequate compensation.

With this in mind, instead of seeing quiet quitting as a trend that’s harming the workplace, employers should see it as an opportunity to improve their workplace culture.

The fact is: Employees are only “quiet quitting” as a result of a poor workplace environment – and there’s data to support this.

Invest In Good Management

A workplace study by HBR states that quiet quitting is a reflection of “bad bosses” rather than employees’ unwillingness to go the extra mile.

Their researchers found that managers who ranked highest in balancing business needs with employees’ needs had the highest percentage of employees willing to go the extra mile — 62% to be exact with only 3% quiet quitting.

This is a stark contrast to the managers who ranked the lowest in the category only having 20% of their employees willing to go the extra mile and 14% quiet quitting.

An employee who receives adequate support from their manager, is given growth opportunities, and is rewarded for their work will be motivated to perform at the highest level.

It’s up to employers to create the environment in which that happens. It starts with setting boundaries surrounding work hours – this can look like a no-contact policy around out-of-office times.

Management training is also important as that will likely have the strongest impact on the employee. Training on growth coaching, skill development, and pay transparency will help toward building trust with employees and promoting a positive work life.

In addition, set quarterly career chats between managers and their direct reports to discuss areas of interest and focus, current or expected challenges, and more. The more engagement managers build with their teams, the lower the likelihood of quiet quitting.

Encourage Recognition as a Remedy

However, to effectively tackle the problem of quiet quitting, we need to address its roots. When work dissatisfaction affects morale, recognition emerges as a remedy. In environments where recognition is part of the culture, quiet quitting doesn’t thrive because employees are consistently affirmed and reminded of their value.

When employees feel seen and appreciated, it transforms their perception of their work. They become more engaged, form closer bonds with their colleagues, and are less prone to stress and burnout. When employees believe they’re recognized, they are 2.7x more likely to be highly engaged.

So what does effective recognition look like? Shanyu Kates, a Data Analyst on HubSpot’s People Analytics team, told me her team has instituted “High Five Fridays”, a weekly initiative that encourages managers and ICs to give shout-outs via an automated Slackbot in the team channel. This practice is a simple yet powerful tool to reinforce appreciation and combat the underlying causes of quiet quitting.

In most cases, a quiet quitter is simply an employee who doesn’t have the right support. Once you offer what they need, you’ll have an engaged performer on your hands.

How Employees Should Address Quiet Quitting

Finally, Sarah DeLuca, a Human Resources Manager at Dion & Sons Inc. and podcast host, believes employees will also need to figure out how to address their own inclination towards quiet quitting. 

As she told me, “Employees must also take ownership of their career satisfaction and well-being. Rather than silently enduring dissatisfaction, individuals should actively communicate their concerns with their managers or HR representatives.”

She adds, “Whether it involves re-negotiating workload expectations, seeking opportunities for skill development, or advocating for a healthier work-life balance, employees play a crucial role in shaping their professional experiences.”

Ultimately, it’s up to you to imagine the type of role or career experiences that would make you feel most engaged — and then continue to make efforts to head in that direction. If your employee isn’t fostering a culture where that’s possible, maybe you should consider actually quitting. 

As DeLuca puts it, “Only through collaborative efforts can we navigate the complexities of the contemporary work landscape and create environments where both employers and employees thrive.”

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