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The impact quiet quitting could have on employees

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

OK, if you have scrolled through TikTok recently, you may have come across this video.

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ZAID KHAN: I recently learned about this term called quiet quitting.

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CHANG: A young man is sitting on a bench at a subway station. There's this peaceful background music as he explains the phrase quiet quitting.

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KHAN: You're still performing your duties, but you're no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life. The reality is, it's not...

CHANG: But, you know, there's no one-size-fits-all definition to quiet quitting.

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SCOTT SEISS: If I'm supposed to go above and beyond, then so should my pay. Don't expect...

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CLAUDIA ALICK: It's not quiet quitting. It's just resisting wage theft.

CHANG: Critics, like entrepreneur Kevin O'Leary, see it another way.

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KEVIN O'LEARY: If you're a quiet quitter, you're a loser.

CHANG: But no matter how you look at it, the concept of quiet quitting is nothing new. Nancy Allard (ph) is 67, and she's been working hard since she was 11 years old. Her first job was cleaning her grandma's house. And more recently, she worked as a pharmacy technician before retiring this summer. And she says she was always that person who would stay late or pick up extra shifts or work on holidays.

NANCY ALLARD: It was important to me to show them that I was serious about my job - until later. You know, it became clear that it didn't really matter that much.

CHANG: Looking back at her time working, she says she would have prioritized family over work. And Allard says she's glad the younger generation of workers is questioning how much of themselves they should give to their jobs.

ALLARD: I have a big high-five for them (laughter) because I get it. It took me way too long to figure it out, you know?

CHANG: Younger workers like 19-year-old Arjan Bhargava - Bhargava is a student at the University of Southern California and also works on campus. And they say that the phrase quiet quitting doesn't accurately reflect what's actually going on.

ARJUN BHARGAVA: They're still showing up to their job. They're still doing their work. And yet we're associating a word like quitting with an action that's really not quitting. It's doing something that's preventing you from eventually burning out.

CHANG: Serena Bosco (ph) works as an executive assistant, and she defines herself as a quiet quitter who remains ambitious.

SERENA BOSCO: Just because I want to do my job the way it's set up and outlined for me for six months doesn't mean I'm not going to try to get a promotion when I'm ready for it.

CHANG: But what do bosses think about all this? Well, Timothy Styczynski runs a coffee company, and he says, look, it is important for employees to set boundaries at work. But he points out that co-workers may have to pick up extra work if people don't communicate how they're feeling about their work and slack off in an attempt to set boundaries.

TIMOTHY STYCZYNSKI: Are we really giving due consideration to the others that are also being impacted by the decisions that we're making? And I see from my definition of quiet quitting of being that you will do the thing that maybe is the least expected, doesn't resonate to what is beneficial both for yourself or your customer or your co-worker.

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CHANG: In this moment, it is clear that a lot of people are thinking about what they want their work to mean to them and how to not lose themselves in their work. So I talked with two women who have mentored a lot of people throughout their careers. Jhanee Carter is CEO and founder of the HR Queen, and Robyn Garrett is CEO of the leadership company Beamably. I wanted to talk to them both about how quiet quitting is playing out for employees and employers. For starters, what are some of the good things that people might actually gain from quiet quitting?

JHANEE CARTER: So this is Jhanee. I believe that it really is pushing a work-life balance - being able to say, hey, I'm not going to work a 60-hour shift when all I can really give you is 40 hours, and being able to say that and stand by it and be direct. That's a huge movement for employees, and I'm all about employee advocacy. So I think it empowers them and brings back that work-life balance, which is crucial to success. We don't need burnt-out employees. They're not productive.

ROBYN GARRETT: This is Robyn. I think it's also a good wake-up call for leaders. You can sort of see that there's a split between leaders right now. Some of them understand this movement, see where it's coming from and support employees, want to make sure that they're able to set healthy boundaries and that they have good, healthy, productive lives. Some of them are panicking because this sounds so different from what they value that they can't understand it. If that's the case, it's really time to wake up and look in the mirror because we have worked people so hard that now they have reached this point. This didn't happen spontaneously. This happened because a lot of people had bosses that had unrealistic expectations of them. And people tried and tried and tried, and now we've reached a point where, you know, sort of the jig is up. People understand that they're putting in more than they're getting out and that they're not willing to do that anymore.

CHANG: OK. The jig is up, at least with respect to maybe some work situations. But...

GARRETT: Yes.

CHANG: ...Before we get there, what do you think people lose if they choose to so-called quietly quit?

CARTER: This is Jhanee. When it comes to minorities, specifically people of color, unconscious bias is still a thing in corporate America. You know, we're making strides to work to better it, but it still exist (ph). And so people of color don't necessarily have the same opportunities as our white counterparts, and so it really can put us in a bad position when it comes to our career advancement.

Another things that are trending on TikTok is the sense that minorities aren't getting the job - you know, the interviews, and their applications aren't going through, and so if they're quiet quitting and then that leads to job hopping, they may not have another opportunity to find another employer that's willing to take them in and take them on and train them and develop them. We're dealing with 6 million people that are unemployed right now. And so it's a completely different atmosphere when it comes to job seekers, and so I want people of color to be mindful of that.

CHANG: Well, I do think the equity issue is really important, especially with respect to race. I also think there's an equity issue with respect to industry or to kind of work, which leads me into this other idea, and that is, there are some professions out there that are - I don't know - extensions of the identities of the people who self-select into them. Like, in journalism - I think about this a lot - a lot of us chose this career because many of us believe what we do makes an impact. How do you step back from a job that feels like an extension of your identity without feeling like you're shortchanging yourself or shortchanging your purpose?

CARTER: This is Jhanee. I think that's a great point. I mean, I don't think that it can be done. When you - and why it's so crucial to, you know, really select a career path or really get - you know, internships and things like that help. So when you start out on your career path, you kind of have a goal. My background is law. And...

CHANG: Me, too.

CARTER: ...I - an associate can't come in and say, you know, hey, I'm not going to get this brief out to this client. That's not going to happen. Like, you know, I'd rather go sip some margaritas on the beach. That's not going to happen. And to your point, we chose that career. You know, I chose to come, and I know the hours were going to be a long - a bit longer, but the passion is that I'm helping people.

You know, my hours are long, which I try to tell people that are in the corporate arena, OK, you want to come out, and you want to be a business owner, but the hours are longer. You know, I'm putting in more work, but I don't mind it because I'm passionate about it. So people really need to get into careers that, like you said, they're passionate about. And then you won't mind going above and beyond.

CHANG: But I guess, is there ultimately a trade-off? Like, if you're someone who supports the idea of quiet quitting, are you basically making a contract with yourself where you are just going to be comfortable with the idea that your career might not advance all that quickly? Do you have to accept that?

CARTER: This is Jhanee. I believe so. You may be putting yourself at risk to not reach that top level of - you know, to get to the C level, you know, if that's your desire. You might not get there if you decide to take this route.

GARRETT: You know, only so many people are going to reach the C-suite anyway. One of the reasons I think that we're seeing this movement is people are slightly disenfranchised. They've been working and working towards that promotion. And we are seeing a ton of cases where people are doing the job of two people or they've been promised a promotion, but they've been told not yet, not yet, it's coming. You know, corporations have been, you know, essentially pulling these tricks, and people are disenfranchised with that. They're frustrated.

Find an employer, a corporation and a boss that understands what your goals are, and your goals are aligned. If that can be aligned, then great. If you need some time, though, before you're able to sort of mentally heal and have that energy again, I think that's also OK.

CHANG: OK. So it sounds like a lot of it is workers exercising the choice to find workplaces that fit the right balance of work versus life, right?

GARRETT: Yeah.

CHANG: But my question also is, can leaders inside workplaces do more to support workers to help them avoid burnout? What do you think, Robyn?

GARRETT: This is something that I'm very passionate about. If you are seeing this in your organization, it's because there are probably some deep systemic flaws that need to be addressed. Go back to workload. Go back to priorities. Are we actually prioritizing or really calling everything a priority and still trying to cram it all in? There's so much you can do as a leader to streamline your business and to make it more employee-friendly, employee-centric. And we have entered that time. So whether you're on board with that or not, it has already happened.

And I'll say employees can tell if you're serious about it. They can smell artificial caring a mile away. You have to care. If you're just clinging on to, well, these are my skills, this is my status, you will listen to me - you're going to find a lot of struggle in the immediate future.

CHANG: That was Robyn Garrett and Jhanee Carter. Robyn Garrett is CEO of the leadership company Beamably, and Jhanee Carter is CEO and founder of the HR Queen. Thank you both so much for being here with us.

GARRETT: Thank you. It's been great to chat with you.

CARTER: Thank you. It was a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
Brianna Scott
Brianna Scott is currently a producer at the Consider This podcast.
Sarah Handel