AILSA CHANG, HOST:
If you've 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: It's a young man sitting on a bench at a subway station. There's this peaceful background music as he explains this 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...
CHANG: OK, just about everyone has something to say about this topic right now. I mean, the #quietquitting has, like, over 100 million views on TikTok. But what is it, exactly? Well, there's no one-size-fits-all definition to quiet quitting. Some see it this way.
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SCOTT SEISS: If I'm supposed to go above and beyond, then so should my pay. Don't expect something...
CLAUDIA ALICK: It's not quiet quitting. It's just resisting wage theft.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Leaving work on time, not checking your emails outside of work hours and not subscribing to hustle culture, which - isn't that what a job should be already?
CHANG: Of course, there are critics, like entrepreneur and TV personality Kevin O'Leary, who summed up his opinion pretty succinctly.
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KEVIN O'LEARY: If you're a quiet quitter, you're a loser.
CHANG: No matter how you define it, the concept of quiet quitting is nothing new. People have been trying for years to figure out the right balance between their work lives and their personal lives.
ANNE HELEN PETERSON: Really, I think what we're trying to think about is our relationship to work. Where does work figure into our lives? And every generation has had these moments of trying to figure that out.
CHANG: Anne Helen Peterson is author of the book "Can't Even: How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation." She says that more workers are pushing back against what they see as the exploitation of their labor, and quiet quitting is sort of like a quiet rebellion.
PETERSON: And this is where I think that we're seeing a lot of strength in people talking to other people about, oh, well, what if we got together and tried to figure out a way to make life more survivable - make our work lives more survivable? What if we formed a union? It's not a coincidence that so much labor organizing is happening at this moment where there are also these conversations about something like quiet quitting.
CHANG: CONSIDER THIS - contrary to its name, quiet quitting is not about people quitting their jobs, but what it is about is people reevaluating their mindset towards work and how work fits into their lives - working to live rather than living to work, right? But quiet quitting isn't for everyone, and some say it could backfire. From NPR, I'm Ailsa Chang. It's Friday, September 9.
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CHANG: It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. Nancy Allard (ph) has been working since she was 11 years old. Her first job was cleaning her grandma's house.
NANCY ALLARD: I was taught that you should do a good job no matter what it was and that you should show up every day, and you should do everything according to the rules and do what you're told. And so that's what I did.
CHANG: Allard is 67 now. She worked as a pharmacy technician before retiring earlier this summer, and she says she was always that person who would stay late or pick up extra shifts or work on holidays.
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, Allard says she would have approached her work differently and spent more time with her family, and she says she's glad a younger generation of workers is questioning how much of themselves they give to their jobs.
ALLARD: I don't blame them. 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: Arjun Bhargava, who's 19, is one of those younger workers.
ARJUN BHARGAVA: I think it's important to analyze what labor conditions and what precedents have created this culture of overworking ourselves, you know? And if we look at, like, the experiences of marginalized communities in America and globally, we can see that, like, groups of people are continuously extorted for their labor.
CHANG: 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 going on.
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: When you're quiet quitting, I think it's about setting boundaries, and it's just choosing when to push yourself into growth or push yourself in terms of ambition. So 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 Tchensky (ph) runs a coffee company. And he says, look, it is important for employees to set boundaries at work. But he points out that coworkers 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 those boundaries.
TIMOTHY TCHENSKY: 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.
CHANG: In this moment, it's 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.
JHANEE CARTER: We're coming off a time when people are just mentally exhausted. The pandemic really took a toll on mental health.
CHANG: That is Jhanee Carter. She's CEO and founder of The HR Queen.
CARTER: People are just exhausted and don't feel that they are being appreciated and recognized by their employers when they go above and beyond. And so they're pulling back.
ROBYN GARRETT: And so it isn't necessarily that this is a completely new thing. It's that we're seeing so many people reach that level of burnout at the same time that it's such a big trend.
CHANG: And that is Robyn Garrett, CEO of the leadership company Beamably. She and Carter have mentored a lot of people through their careers, so we brought them together to talk about how quiet quitting is impacting people's work both negatively and positively. Let's start with the good.
CARTER: So this is Jhanee. I believe that it really is pushing a work-life balance. So many of us in the corporate arena, we tend to go above and beyond and not understand how to set work boundaries. And so 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. We don't need burnt-out employees. They're not productive.
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. 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. 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 the thing in corporate America. You know, we're making strides to work to better it, but it still exists. 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, 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. 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. You know where you're going. My background is law and...
CHANG: Me too.
CARTER: ...I - and an associate can't come in and say, you know, hey, I'm not going to get this brief out to this client.
CARTER: That's not going to happen. Like, you know, we chose that career. I chose to come in. I know the hours were going to be a bit longer, but the passion is that I'm helping people. 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. 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: Can I just ask a basic question that's emerged out of this whole conversation about quiet quitting? Is there something wrong with simply doing the job you were hired to do and doing no extra work?
GARRETT: This is Robyn. I think it's perfectly fine to do the job that you were hired to do. In fact, I think something that people misunderstand about quiet quitting is - a lot of people I talk to have no intention of not hitting their goals. And if you can do that and you can have healthy boundaries in your life and good work-life balance, that's sort of the holy grail that we're going for here. It doesn't necessarily mean that you want to just be a slacker and coast in your job or that you don't have passion for your job. It might just mean that you're choosing to decentralize it from either your life or your identity.
CHANG: But I guess, is there ultimately a tradeoff? 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 if you decide to take this route and there's no strategy. You know, I've seen some posts where people are quiet quitting, and they're like, yeah, I'm just going to ride it out for years. And that's not the right way to do it. If you're unhappy or you've, you know, expressed to management - that's another thing that people need to be doing, talking to their managers - and you don't see any resolve in the near future, then you should not be wasting your time, in my opinion. Find another home where you can excel, where you find that passion again.
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? 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 of that, that is going on in business today, and we're not being serious about actually trying to prioritize. And we're wasting a lot of person hours on things that are not important. They don't ultimately produce results. There's so much you can do as a leader to streamline your business and to make it more employee friendly, employee centric. You have to care as a leader. You have to take that job seriously. 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: Robyn Garrett is CEO of the leadership company Beamably, and Jhanee Carter is CEO and founder of the HR Queen. You heard additional reporting in this episode from producers Brianna Scott and Elena Burnett.
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CHANG: It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Ailsa Chang.
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