The idea of quiet quitting has been getting a lot of attention on social media recently, and could be more widespread than you think—around half of American workers are quiet quitters, according to a recent survey by Gallup. These employees are embracing the idea of no longer going above and beyond at work, in many cases in response to feeling overworked. Proponents have commandeered the phrase “act your wage” to encourage workers to do just what they are paid to in an attempt at setting boundaries at work. Company executives and some careers experts warn that checking out at work could have serious long-term consequences for employees’ careers, as well as their employers.
Anita Williams Woolley, an associate professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University, encourages workers to take a more active role in improving their work lives, rather than a passive one. “If you’re really upset about something, you can often overestimate how unsolvable it is,” she says. “I don’t think you need to quiet quit to get out of a situation.”
Here are ways Wooolley, and other experts, suggest setting boundaries at work, before getting to the point of disengaging completely.
Be vocal about what’s not working and what is
Employees that check out at work typically make the decision to switch their pace quietly, suggesting they will not directly communicate with their employer about their decision. The most simple step you can take to setting boundaries at work is to be anything but quiet. Speaking to your manager about what isn’t working and what your personal goals are can make all the difference, says Jim Harter, Chief Scientist for Gallup’s workplace management practice. Try having those meaningful conversations often to set up a system of accountability, says Harter. “That builds some equity into the culture. That feels good for you, your well-being and it’s good for the company.”
If you are dissatisfied with the work you are expected to do for what you earn, it may be time for a conversation about your salary, too. Mary Nice, a career and workplace consultant, says having a conversation with your manager, advocating for higher pay by clearly articulating your points for why you deserve a raise could be very constructive. “Conversations about money are going to be uncomfortable, but they are also completely expected and deserved,” she says.
Take time off
For many, requesting time off can seem daunting, even when paid time off (PTO) days are written into your work contract. In 2020, Americans left an average of 33% of paid time off days unused, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Not taking a necessary break from work can lead to burnout, chronic stress and other health problems. “It’s tough to gain perspective when we’re in our normal routines,” says career advisor Nice. “PTO allows us the chance to break our routine and get through our stress cycle.” Prioritizing yourself means rightfully requesting your days off (with advanced notice to your manager) so that you can rest and come back to work recharged. Remember: the days are there to be used!
Limit notifications outside of work hours
The last few years of remote work has blurred the lines of the usual work-life balance, leading to a build up of resentment with every after-hours email or Slack message. Ana Goehner, a career strategist with nearly five years experience in human resources, says limiting your availability outside of work hours can make those lines much clearer. But the key is communicating with your team on what those boundaries will look like, says Goehner. “Managers are not mind readers, so you need to communicate your availability.” If you plan on setting your phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ or are limiting your time-frame of answering emails after a certain hour, be sure to clearly relay that to the rest of your team to manage their expectations of you.
Prioritize your mental and physical health
The state of your mental and physical health is core to your well-being and how you show up at work. Educators are among those struggling most with this balance. K-12 workers and those who work at colleges and universities surveyed in February were found to be suffering the highest levels of burnout in the U.S. compared to other industries, according to a recently published Gallup poll.
In the journalism industry, burnout is becoming an increasing problem and the pandemic has led many journalists to leave due to an increase of stress and anxiety. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates journalism jobs will decline by 4.8% by 2030).
There are some small steps workers can take to help alleviate stress. Leslie Rangel, an anchor at FOX 7 Austin, also known as “The News Yogi,” is combating burnout of the news industry by leading over 500 journalists in yoga and meditation sessions to help manage their stress levels. Rangel believes taking steps in your personal life like yoga and thought work can drastically impact your state of mind during work hours. “There’s a common misconception that yoga means you have to roll out a mat and do this whole thing, but in reality yoga can be as simple as intentional breathing,” says Rangel. “Sprinkle that throughout your day.”
Try to find meaning in your work
One of the main factors contributing to burnout at work is increased mental distance or negativity related to one’s job, according to the World Health Organization. Feeling passion, purpose and variety in the work you do can make a great impact. “It’s meaningful when you feel like you’re doing something that has an impact, that you care about, or that feels important to the company,” says Carnegie Mellon’s Woolley. That mindset can be difficult to embrace when your work feels mundane, but Woolley argues that even the simple task of filing cabinets “plays a role in a company’s bigger outcome.” Nice says that finding meaning at work can go beyond your contributions for a company. Factors that improve your life, like making connections with coworkers, securing financial stability or gains, or getting access to healthcare, can be motivators too, she says.
So before “quiet quitting” your job, or flat out quitting, try making your current workplace work for you and your goals. “If you haven’t set boundaries and communicated what you need, when you go to another job you’re just taking all of that lack of clarity into a different setting,” says Rangel. “You can get rid of the stressor, but not get rid of the stress.”
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