Quiet Quitting: Are Physicians Dying Inside Bit by Bit? Or Setting Healthy Boundaries?

Margaret Calvery, PhD


September 16, 2022

In the past few months, "quiet quitting" has garnered increasing traction across social media platforms. My morning review of social media revealed thousands of posts ranging from "Why doing less at work could be good for you — and your employer" to "After 'quiet quitting' here comes 'quiet firing.'"

But quiet quitting is neither quiet nor quitting.

Quiet quitting is a misnomer. Individuals are not quitting their jobs; rather, they are quitting the idea of consistently going "above and beyond" in the workplace as normal and necessary. In addition, quiet quitters are firmer with their boundaries, do not take on work above and beyond clearly stated expectations, do not respond after hours, and do not feel like they are "not doing their job" when they are not immediately available.

Individuals who "quiet quit" continue to meet the demands of their job but reject the hustle-culture mentality that you must always be available for more work and, most importantly, that your value as person and self-worth are not defined and determined by your work. Quiet quitters believe that it is possible to have good boundaries and yet remain productive, engaged and active within the workplace.

Earlier this month, NPR's posted tutorial on how to set better boundaries at work garnered 491,000 views, reflecting employees' difficulties in communicating their needs, thoughts, and availability to their employers. Quiet quitting refers to not only rejecting the idea of going above and beyond in the workplace but also feeling confident that there will not be negative ramifications for not consistently working beyond the expected requirements.

A focus on balance, life, loves, and family is rarely addressed or emphasized by traditional employers; employees have little skill in addressing boundaries and clarifying their value and availability. For decades, "needing" flexibility of any kind or valuing activities as much as your job were viewed as negative attributes, making those individuals less desired employees.

Data support the quiet quitting trend. Gallup data reveal that employee engagement has fallen for two consecutive years in the US workforce. Across the first quarter of 2022, Generation Z and younger millennials report the lowest engagement across populations at 31%. More than half of this cohort, 54%, classified as "not engaged" in their workplace.

Why is quiet quitting gaining prominence now? COVID may play a role.

Many suggest that self-evaluation and establishing firmer boundaries is a logical response to emotional sequalae caused by COVID. Quiet quitting appears to have been fueled by the pandemic. Employees were forced into crisis mode by COVID; the lines between work, life, and home evaporated, allowing or forcing workers to evaluate their efficacy and satisfaction. With the structural impact of COVID reducing and a return to more standard work practices, it is expected that the job "rules" once held as truths come under evaluation and scrutiny.

Perhaps COVID has forced, and provided, another opportunity for us to closely examine our routines and habits and take stock of what really matters. Generations expectedly differ in their values and definitions of success. COVID has set prior established rules on fire, by forcing patterns and expectations that were neither expected nor wanted, within the context of a global health crisis. Within this backdrop, should we really believe our worth is determined by our job?

The truth is, we are still grieving what we lost during COVID and we have expectedly not assimilated to "the new normal." Psychology has long recognized that losing structures and supports, routines and habits, causes symptoms of significant discomfort.

The idea that we would return to prior workplace expectations is naive. The idea we would "return to life as it was" is naive. It seems expected, then, that both employers and employees should evaluate their goals and communicate more openly about how each can be met.

It is incumbent upon the employers to set up clear guidelines regarding expectations, including rewards for performance and expectations for time, both within and outside of the work schedule. Employers must recognize symptoms of detachment in their employees and engage in the process of continuing clarifying roles and expectations while providing necessities for employees to succeed at their highest level. Employees, in turn, must self-examine their goals, communicate their needs, meet their responsibilities fully, and take on the challenge of determining their own definition of balance.

Maybe instead of quiet quitting, we should call it this new movement "self-awareness, growth, and evolution." Hmmm, there's an intriguing thought.


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