Act Your Wage! Why “Quiet Quitting” is harmful to both employers and employees

Who else dislikes the term “other duties as assigned” on a job description? Well, we’re guilty as HR Pros for encouraging employers to use that term to be a “catch-all” term for the stuff we may have left off or for things that may come up that are within the scope of the job.  And perhaps we need to do away with it!  Not doing those “other duties” is something that has been coming up a lot recently, with the now viral term “quiet quitting.”  It’s a buzzword used by TikTok user @zkchillin in a July 2022 video that now has 3.5 million views, where he states “You’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond.”  

However, the trouble with this term is that it is implying that going above and beyond and performing tasks outside your job description is the norm, and, therefore, not doing that additional work is “quitting.” It should be the opposite–just doing the work you’re paid to do should be the standard, and going above and beyond should be well…going above and beyond! But- at least in our pre-pandemic work culture- it’s not.

The huge reaction to this term speaks to broader trends in part fueled by the pandemic where employees are really evaluating what work means to them and how it fits into their daily lives. There is employee pushback on the “hustle culture” that characterizes many work environments, especially highly competitive and successful enterprises, and is based on a belief that such pushback is necessary to mitigate the effects of work burnout, exacerbated by 2½ years of remote or hybrid work schedules and poor communications.

So let’s look at this from both the employee and employer’s perspective. Employees have good reasons to be concerned about their working conditions; they have been experiencing burnout.  Employee burnout is not only a real and definable condition, but it is also a global phenomenon according to a recent collaborative study conducted by several leading universities.  The study concluded that the major contributing factors to burnout are:  

  1. Unsustainable workload
  2. Perceived lack of control
  3. Insufficient rewards for effort
  4. Lack of a supportive community
  5. Lack of fairness
  6. Mismatched values and skills

To put some dimensions on this problem, the Harvard Business Review, in collaboration with researchers from YMCA Wellness, conducted a survey on employee burnout in 2020. They received feedback from 1,500 participants in 46 countries, representing employees in all positions and seniority levels within their respective organizations. Nearly 70% of the participants worked at the supervisor level or higher. Here is what they found:

  1. 89% of respondents said their work life was getting worse.
  2. 85% said their well-being had declined.
  3. 56% said their job demands had increased.
  4. 62% of the people who were struggling to manage their workloads had experienced burnout “often” or “extremely often” in the previous three months.
  5. 57% of employees felt that the pandemic had a “large effect on” or “completely dominated” their work.
  6. 55% of all respondents didn’t feel that they had been able to balance their home and work life — with 53% specifically citing homeschooling.
  7. 25% felt unable to maintain a strong connection with family, 39% with colleagues, and 50% with friends.
  8. Only 21% rated their well-being as “good,” and a mere 2% rated it as “excellent.”

These findings strongly resonate with women in the workplace. They have borne the brunt of work/life imbalance and conflict. Those working in hourly jobs, especially women of color, have few options; they often have to work to feed their families even in hostile work environments.  Women who have achieved high-paying management and professional positions have also encountered the “glass ceiling” at some point in their careers while experiencing gender-based discrimination in pay and other working conditions.

For this group, going “above and beyond” the job requirements has always been their mantra.  But have their efforts really made a difference?  A recent article in Elle magazine (“What Comes After Ambition?”) explores this question, observing that for many this may be a time for quiet introspection (not quitting) and personal reckoning of their ambitions with the constraints (real and perceived) of the American workplace.   There are no firm answers to the above question; each employee has her own decision to make.

Some employees may be making serious mistakes, too.  Those who resort to “quiet quitting” may face unintended consequences.  According to Fox Business, “Quiet quitting usually isn’t so quiet to your boss — and in unsure economic times when RIFs (reduction in force) are on the table — management likes to look at the impact you are making and how you are helping the company initiatives,” said Tanya Dalton, a productivity expert in Asheville, N.C.  She further states: “If you simply give up and decide to ‘quiet quit,’ you miss the opportunity to flourish and thrive in your existing job.”

Employees need to take the initiative in evaluating their current job and whether it is aligned with their skills and aspirations. If it’s not, then it’s probably time to move on and do something that gives you meaning and aligns with your purpose or long-term career goals.

What role does the employer play?

Employers have faced daunting challenges resulting from the pandemic, volatile capital markets, and employee behaviors they thought they were in control of.  Businesses have responded in various ways.  Some are diligently working toward bringing all employees back into the office.  Others are embracing remote work as a way to expand their labor pool and accommodate harried employees.  Still, others are waiting on the sidelines and seeing which direction the wind will blow.

Clearly, many of the problems described above are organizational in nature.  However, too many employers have responded by focusing on “self-care.” “More yoga, wellness tech, meditation apps, and subsidized gym memberships — that’ll fix it,” according to one study. But these measures have not worked.  Employee burnout was seriously infecting the workforce long before COVID-19 struck.  The pandemic acted as an “accelerant” according to the same study.  Organizations, attempting to address significant disruption in the workplace, blundered by:

  1. Not adjusting workloads.
  2. Not giving employees more control and flexibility.
  3. Allowing (or encouraging) more meetings and unhealthy levels of screentime.
  4. Failing to recognize the extent of employees’ struggles (work and personal life).

But there are concrete actions employers can take now.  Fisher & Phillips, a major employment law firm, recommends the following:

  1. Clearly define expectations – “Use expectation-setting discussions as an opportunity to get buy-in from employees and determine whether and to what extent they feel equipped to handle their job duties and assignments. Be sure to document these discussions. If expectations have already been defined and an employee is not rising to the occasion, tell them. Setting expectations serves no purpose if you do not require employees to meet them.
  2. Check-in early and often – “Employers should consider implementing other periodic touchpoints such as self-evaluations, surveys, or town halls to measure employee satisfaction. Regardless of the type of touchpoint, be sure the purpose is clear and well-defined. You can avoid the “this meeting should have been an email” complaint by being well organized with a concise agenda and asking specific and pointed questions about the employee’s workload, the employee’s career goals, and how the company can contribute to (or do more to help) the employee’s success at the company. 
  3. Recognize and Reward Employees – Recognizing and rewarding employees for a job well done is one of the best ways to keep them engaged and maintain (or even increase) productivity.. .. I’m not talking about an occasional pizza party or work-sponsored happy hour. Employees likely appreciate these gestures, but rarely do they move the needle to boost morale or increase productivity. Use the above touchpoints to determine what employees want and implement a recognition program with clear objectives and measurable criteria for employees to reap the rewards.
  4. Don’t let the Quiet Quitting Tail Wag the Dog – While it is important to recognize the signs of an emerging quiet quitter and take steps to prevent and address it, employers should not let the tail wag the dog. This means that you can and should require employees to perform the jobs for which they were hired and enforce the company’s policies consistently. If an employee is not performing to your expectations (which, if you’ve followed the above steps, have already been well defined and explained to the employee), take action. Don’t let a general fear that your employees may actually quit overshadowing your ability to enforce your policies and maintain reasonable expectations.

So what’s the takeaway? 

It seems that nobody wins with this term – or rather – the behaviors that embody this term. Quiet quitting is a symptom, not a diagnosis, and we need to be wary of buzzwords being misinterpreted by employees and managers alike. Employers need to take measures to mitigate (preferably eliminate) quiet quitting behaviors – separate wheat from chaff vis-a-vis credible performance management systems and tools – to improve engagement, decision-making, and productivity.  Employers that don’t address these issues won’t achieve resilience that is based on trust and confidence – after all, trust is the foundation for cultivating positive relationships with employees.   Employees who spend their time and energy around “quiet quitting” behaviors are more likely to miss out on the benefits of finding a job or work that is meaningful to them.  So, we encourage employees to take the “high road” and channel their energy into finding fulfillment and purpose in their work, which may or may not be with their current employer.  When you do this, you are being true to yourself – you deserve to be happy – to fully express yourself through meaningful work that engages you, where “going above and beyond” is merely an extension of who you are, of being in a state of flow, where time flies by, and, earning a paycheck, well, that’s the icing on the cake.


 “Workplace’s new “quiet quitting” trend – and the pitfalls for today’s employees”, Erica Lamberg, Fox, August 4, 2022.

“Beyond Burned Out”, Jennifer Moss, Harvard Business Review, February 10. 2021

“Shhhhh – Three secrets employers can use to combat quiet quitting”, Fisher Phillips Insights, September 6, 2022

“Quiet Quitting – Why it’s exactly what should be happening today”, Peter Cappelli,, September 7, 2022

“What can HR do about quiet quitting?”, Tom Starner,, August 30, 2022

“Quiet quitting is about bad bosses, not bad employees”, Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, Harvard Business Review, August 31, 2022

“What comes after ambition?”, Anne Friedman, Elle Magazine, August 18, 2022


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