There’s a new workplace buzzword in town, but what does it mean and could it prevent burnout?

Scrolling through TikTok recently, I noticed a phrase that made my ears prick up, ‘quiet quitting’. When I did some further digging, I found myself down a rabbit hole of various takes, interpretations and ‘solutions’ (for both employers and employees).

So what is it? While that may well depend on your interpretation, after reading countless articles and LinkedIn posts, I see it as a rejection of the hustle mentality. Recognising your worth outside of work and pulling back on the energy you dedicate to it.

This means not working hideous hours for minimal pay, not stressing over inconsequential (in the grand scheme of things) decisions and not giving everything you have to go above and beyond for work. Instead, it’s about turning up, doing your job to the best of your ability… and that’s it. Some call this ‘working wage appropriate’, which shouldn’t be that radical, should it?

I think the reason my ears pricked up at the term was because I feel like I’ve done this. Twice, actually. Once about five years ago when I decided to step down from a management position and reduce my working hours. This was initially so I could dedicate more time to a side business, but it was also to lower stress levels as I was dealing with some intense work-related anxiety at the time.

I remember saying to myself ‘I can’t give 100% to this job, because I have other important areas of my life’. I needed to pull back, both mentally and physically, and stepping down from a management position allowed me to do that.

More recently I’ve, perhaps not so quietly, quit the aforementioned side business and hope to return to full-time employment. There are many reasons for this but a big one is, again, to regain some energy and a better work-life balance.

Both of these were different moves (that some may consider ‘stepping back’ in my career), but both had the same, positive outcome. Me prioritising my health and joy over work. And this is coming from someone who is passionate about her work and actually enjoys her job. So… yes, I’m pleased more people are coming around.

Speaking to life and career coach Gaby Grzywacz, it seems I’m not alone in my feelings towards this.

“If we understand quiet quitting as ‘just’ doing your job (which, I think, is all we should ever be asked to do by our employers!), then I feel very positive about it!” Gaby says.

We’ve finally reached the point where younger employees come into companies and say ‘we don’t want to sacrifice everything for you, we’re here to do the job’

“We’ve finally reached the point where younger employees come into companies and say ‘we don’t want to sacrifice everything for you, we’re here to do the job’. This is a very positive move towards improving employee wellbeing, reducing rates of burnout and, in my view, potentially increasing productivity.

“I strongly believe that an overworked employee is less likely to do their best work, while someone who leaves their work at work, and physically steps away from the work on time to relax, can rock it out of the park.”

Let’s be honest, the phrase ‘quiet quitting’ is misleading, because for most of us it isn’t about checking out and doing the ‘bare minimum’. It’s recognising that, as a culture, we have a real problem with burnout and it’s time we did something about it.

The pandemic has also likely had a part to play here. It has put a lot of things into perspective, helping us see that this life of ours is fragile, precious and not to be wasted. Some of us have had our wants and dreams put into sharp focus as we pursue our own versions of happiness. This led to ‘the great resignation’ for some, but for those of us who enjoy our jobs, and those who financially can’t afford to quit (we’re looking at you, cost of living crisis), then quiet quitting could be the answer.

So, another question here is, could quiet quitting prevent burnout?

“I believe so.” Gaby says, “However, just because you’re working your contracted hours and not overworking yourself, doesn’t mean you’re immune to burnout. Burnout is the result of mismanagement of chronic stress.

“If you work in a toxic environment, the work you’re doing is constantly criticised with no ability for you to improve, or even if the job goes against your values, you can still burn out, even if you ‘quiet quit’. It’s not a magic cure to burnout.”

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The key here may be to question your motives around quiet quitting, and your interpretation of it. If, deep down, you know you’re unhappy at work, quiet quitting is like a bandaid on a bullet wound.

Gaby explains that some people interpret quiet quitting as an opportunity to do 'nothing work', sit quietly and hope you don’t get fired, “I think this might be particularly likely to happen to those suffering with mental health problems and existing burnout – retreating might seem easier than taking time off or considering a job/career change.

“But this version of quiet quitting runs a risk of getting poor performance reviews, or even getting fired, while burning bridges behind yourself.” Gaby warns.

“Generally, if someone thinks they will feel better if they stop putting in the effort into their job and just sail through days and weeks and months, then that’s likely to have the opposite effect. They will most likely feel worse and fall even deeper into career dissatisfaction.”

If this is the interpretation you relate to, asking some big questions around what you want from your career and steps you can take to move on from your current role could help. It isn’t always easy to simply ‘find another job’, but carving out a little time each week to work on your CV, network, scope out opportunities etc. can help you feel proactive and gain a sense of autonomy over the situation.

Aside from quiet quitting, I asked Gaby if there is anything else we can do to improve our relationship with work.

“Quiet quitting is one way to set boundaries, but it doesn’t address other concerns, eg. how many projects at the time you can handle, what sort of projects you don’t want to be a part of, how you can be given work that capitalises on your strengths.

“If you’re feeling unwell or are going through a period of lower performance (and those happen to everyone, even if you’re not suffering from burnout), it can be a good idea to communicate it to your manager and team members. I generally think open and honest communication is the key to a successful relationship, but we should also remember that not all managers are willing to listen. In such a situation, quiet quitting may well be the only option available.”

The term seems to have spooked some employers, encouraging them to look at ways to boost employee engagement. While this is a positive step, perhaps a more appropriate response would be to look at their culture and see if they are demanding an ‘above and beyond’ mindset, hours of overtime and blurry boundaries.

If all employers did this and made positive changes, quiet quitting would become a moot point, and isn’t that what we’re all striving for?

If you’re questioning your career, you may find it helpful to explore the National Career Service for advice. If you’re keen to work more deeply, you can find a career coach at Life Coach Directory.