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Why Is ‘Quiet Quitting’ A Thing?

As we discuss what this "new" work practice means, we acknowledge executing it will be different for Black women.

“Quiet quitting,” a viral TikTok movement, encourages professionals to release the idea of being an overachiever and doing just enough to keep their role. 

To be clear, quiet quitting doesn’t involve exiting a position. Employees are taking a stand against hustle culture (and by proxy, burnout) and declining to perform tasks they aren’t being paid for. The concept further promotes self concern, asking people to step away from work and focus on developing hobbies outside the office. Having boundaries at work, not taking on unnecessary projects, and freeing yourself from the intensity of grind culture—shouldn’t we all have been doing that anyway? 

If you haven’t, the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to remote work may be to blame.

Heightened stress, the blurring of the boundary between work and home, and a fear of being fired in the middle of a global medical crisis quickly produced panicked workers. Also, many couldn’t find an escape from work since their home doubled as an office. Exhaustion followed, but some employees still didn’t feel comfortable slowing down. They soon felt the weight.

According to the American Pyschological Association (APA), American employees experienced heightened rates of burnout in 2020 and in 2021. APA’s 2021 Work and Well-being survey also showed nearly 3 in 5 employees reported negative impacts of work-related stress, including lack of interest, motivation, or energy (26 percent) and lack of effort at work (19 percent). Essentially, during the pandemic, work became especially taxing and operating beyond bandwidth became the norm. It was even more difficult for people who only seek fulfillment through work. 

Exclusively finding validation work can be an emotional issue, but it can also be the product of the overemphasis of work through social media, familial pressure and media projections. American culture has cultivated generations that believe work is one of the foci of life. Self-worth is often tied to positions, time spent on work and the eradication of clear distinctions between employment and the rest of one’s life. “Career success is often encouraged to be the ultimate life goal,” said clinical physiologist Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, to VeryWell in 2022. “This becomes so centralized that people may fear failure or rejection from their family or community if they don’t achieve on an extreme level.”

If you’re only being emotionally fulfilled by work, it may be time to pause, especially if ‘quiet quitting’ elicits a visceral reaction.

But it’s not too late to undo the damage. 

“We shouldn’t rely on a term to describe the ordinary action of going to work and doing our job.”

Latesha Byrd, a career expert and the founder of the talent development agency Perfeqta, agrees that taking a step back from work is necessary for one’s mental health. “Quiet quitting, though a new term isn’t a relatively new trend. It means people are not overworking at unhealthy rates, settling for toxic workplace relationships, or allowing their employers to take over their lives,” she says to ESSENCE.  

This is why quiet quieting is problematic. We shouldn’t rely on a term to describe the ordinary action of going to work and doing our job. If one does subscribe to the idea of quiet quitting, it must be understood that the practice is gendered and racialized.

Black women have a different experience than others in most corporate roles. From navigating workplace politics to pay disparities to misogynoir to the lack of visibility for promotions. It proves the workplace to be a never-ending cycle of jumping through hoops to receive the proper support in a role, which is antithetical to quiet quitting. So if superseding expectations is embedded in the DNA of many Black working women, how can we begin to cut back? It starts with pushing back on tropes. 

The stereotypes for Black women employees have included being hard workers, emotional laborers, and general fixers of all things, we should reject these labels. We can still do our jobs well while being mindful of our needs. We’ve earned rest. We’ve also earned the right to advocate for ourselves in the workplace and to let managers know we may have too much on our plate. 

For Black women, some examples of not going above and beyond could be opting out of last minute meetings, delegating one-off tasks, blocking off our calendars in the afternoon for lunch and not responding to emails during an off day.

Byrd shared examples of language to communicate the above needs to your manager. “My roles and responsibilities have or my workload capacity has increased but my capacity is becoming limited. Do we need to get realigned on the pay structure, the compensation to make sure that the workload is aligned fairly?,” is one approach she shared. Another would be saying, “I’m not able to do all of these things on my plate, some things will either need to be deprioritized or delegated to someone else.” 

When communicating with your manager, you also need to be assertive and clear. Focus on the facts of your workload and not the feelings of the other party. If your manager pushes back on your needs, the final approach is to rethink your career path in general

Why Is ‘Quiet Quitting’ A Thing?

Byrd ultimately believes moving towards a healthy workplace environment is vital, putting the onus on employers and managers. “It’s important that managers regularly check in with their employees; and not just make it about the work,” she says. “Support them, ask them what they need, and care about them as a person. Working professionals are taking control back in their careers, and focusing on living full, meaningful, authentic and well-rounded lives. It’s important for employers that want to maintain a healthy and equitable workplace to embrace this new wave of employee sentiment in order to retain and engage their workforce.”