A popular trending topic on social media this year is that of ‘quiet quitting’ in the workplace. There is not one standard definition of this term, but it is generally agreed to mean conducting your job in a way that meets the minimum requirement of your role, without voluntarily going above and beyond. It is not so much about doing the bare minimum, but more about knowing the basic expectations of the job and meeting those. Fans of this workplace dynamic promote ‘quiet quitting’ as a way of avoiding burnout through taking on fewer optional activities and thus reducing workload. Burnout occurs when we feel overwhelmed due to the stress of our workload, so on the face of it, quiet quitting seems a good way to voluntarily manage our workloads.
But is quiet quitting suitable for all? Essentially, in order for this to work, the employee needs to place boundaries around what is required in their daily duties, and what is optional but not statutory. Arguably, if we can set these healthy boundaries, we can better uphold a work-life balance. Working remotely can make setting such boundaries more difficult, as easy access to devices and inboxes makes engaging with our workload effortless.
Some simple ways to help maintain a healthy work-life balance include:
- Do not check work emails after a set time, such as 6pm.
- Removing the app for work emails from your mobile phone, and aiming to keep them strictly on a laptop or desktop PC, so reducing accessibility.
- Turning off notifications for incoming emails, and ensuring you add out-of-office replies when you are taking a break, are also useful in managing this switch-off successfully.
- Reduce the number of meetings; could one longer meeting every fortnight be more effective than a meeting every week?
- Keep meetings online rather than face-to-face when possible.
- Avoid weekend work when necessary.
Negatives of quiet quitting?
It all sounds plausible, perhaps even sensible given the removal of the European Working Hours Directive, but might it go horribly wrong? Teachers, and I’m sure many other professions, are in a situation where it is actually impossible to complete the basics of the job (plan, teach, mark, report) within the number of contracted hours unless you accept that directed time and contracted hours are not equal. Another metaphorical soft filter is the phrase, ‘and any other reasonable duties as directed by the head teacher’ (need to check exact wording). I would hope few professionals are requested to do unreasonable duties, but the lack of sharpness that this phrase introduces makes it tricky to clearly define the key aspects of work beyond which one would quietly quit.
We can also ask what about the children (including patients, accused, defendant, or project) for when our job is about supporting health, education or justice, time for a ‘posh coffee’ while nice could perhaps feel less vital. Equally, if you are constantly saying ‘no’ to opportunities and offers that people send your way, you may find that before long, colleagues stop inviting you to take part in these additional projects; while this may be preferable for someone who is quietly quitting, this could make future promotions or job applications less successful, and may also lead to less positive relationships with colleagues who would have valued your partnership.
Whether it’s quiet quitting or working to rule, work-life balance or holding boundaries, none of us should live to work. Whether the need for both fulfilling work and time for life beyond work to be fulfilling and rewarding is best met by quiet quitting or a sensible and open discussion about roles and responsibilities with a senior colleague is open for discussion.
Poppy Gibson, EdD currently leads the innovative Blended Accelerated BA Hons in Primary Education Studies at Anglia Ruskin University (Essex).
Jess Mahdavi-Gladwell, PhD is SENCO and head of the assessment centre at a trauma-informed pupil referral unit, working with excluded children and those with significant mental health needs.