Maggie Perkins said she started “quiet quitting” at her teaching job in 2018, even before it became a TikTok trend.
“There was no reason for me to hustle because as a teacher, there’s no promotion opportunities. If you’re the person who wins the award for teacher of the year, [you’ll] make the same salary as somebody who isn’t,” the 30-year-old mother told CNBC.
To be clear, there’s no single definition of the term quiet quitting. For some, it means setting boundaries and not taking on additional work; for others, it just means not going above and beyond. Most, however, agree it does not mean you’re leaving the job.
Four years on, after quiet leaving started making waves on TikTok, Perkins also made a video about how to do that as a teacher. It includes doing your job only during contract hours, not taking on extra work because that’s how you get burned out or taken advantage of, she said in her video.
“I didn’t volunteer for committees. I didn’t stay late and do extra. I just taught my classes, and I was a good teacher,” she told CNBC Make It in a virtual interview.
What workers are looking for
While the term quiet quitting may be new, the concept isn’t.
Michael Timmes, a senior human resource specialist at Insperity said that there have always been employees who react to burnout by “doing the bare minimum.”
“Today, this is being driven by Gen Z, however evident across all generations. It has taken steam through social media platforms,” he added.
For Jaya Dass, Randstad’s managing director for Singapore and Malaysia, quiet quitting is a “residual impact” of Covid-19 and the Great Resignation, where employees felt empowered to take control of their work and personal life.
“What used to be a passive aggressive challenge of work-life balance is now becoming a very direct request,” she said.
“It’s not a request anymore. It’s a request.”
Kelsey Wat, a career coach agreed, and said quiet quitting is now a way for workers to “stick it” to companies who see them “as another cog in the machine.”
The problem with the Great Resignation is that it assumes everyone has somewhere else to go, Dass added. But for individuals who feel they don’t have alternative jobs to go to and need to stay employed, quiet quitting has become the next available option.
“If no one’s asking you to leave, why not do less by default and get away with it? You’re buying time where you’re at,” Jass added.
“It could come from this general sense of hopelessness … with what’s happening with inflation or the cost of living, a whole bunch of things that people haven’t recovered from.”
Is quiet quitting beneficial and what do hiring managers think about quiet-quitters?
When quiet quitting backfires
However, quiet quitting in theory and in practice can look different for every individual.
Experts said the concept is worrying because it can go beyond simply striking better work life balance.
“Quiet quitting removes any emotional investment you might have from your work, which is sad given the fact that most of us spend so much of our time at work,” said Wat.
“Most of us want to be proud of the work we do and the contributions we make. We want to see our impact and feel good about it. Quiet quitting doesn’t allow for that.”
She added that it is possible to maintain healthy boundaries and remain emotionally invested at work.
Timmes agreed, and said there’s a difference between better work-life balance and “being totally disengaged.”
“An employee that shows up every day, goes through the motions, turns down certain projects due to lack of interest, and has no desire to advance in their current career or develop skills is very different to a case of work-life balance.”
He added that quiet quitting could be a positive trend if workers focused on maximizing their hours at the office. “The only problem: the trend isn’t reflecting this mentality at the moment,” Timmes said.
There are bad qualities that can be adopted from quiet quitting too, such as lack of motivation, underdevelopment of skills, lack of flexibility and inability to work in a team setting.
“From an office perspective, quiet quitting can cause conflicts between employees, as some employees will feel others aren’t carrying their weight,” he added.
“Overall, this can backfire on the employee and can also create a wave of inadequate and underdeveloped employees.”
Kevin O’Leary, an investor and star of ABC’s “Shark Tank” has also said that quiet quitting is “a really bad idea.”
“People that go beyond to try to solve problems for the organization, their teams, their managers, their bosses, those are the ones that succeed in life,” O’Leary said.
However, Perkins insisted that quiet quitting does not mean slacking off at work — though she acknowledged that some people may do so.
“I do value my work and I do put in the hours, but I just want to be respectful of my time and my energy,” she added.
Perkins has since left teaching and is now an academic consultant and full-time tutor. She says now that she’s willing to go above and beyond for her current role.
“That’s because it’s a company that has shown me that they value me and I get very respectful feedback from my boss, it’s a healthy work environment,” she explained.
“If my boss had been really negative towards me in the past, I would have just said no.”
Perkins said she used to quit “out of necessity.”
“I had my first daughter [in 2018] … If I was late picking her up from day care, they would fine me a dollar a minute and so if I didn’t leave work almost as soon as my students left the building, then I was gonna have to pay a fee.”
Why quiet quitting may work
Quiet quitting can be beneficial in terms of providing more time for employees to pursue passion projects, Timmes pointed out.
“The employee may be able to think more outside the box, feel more refreshed and become more efficient in the hours they are working.”
Wat added that quiet quitting can give employees short-term relief from a work environment that is “overly focused on outcomes.”
“I can see how quiet quitting for a season may help them to refocus on their needs outside of work and hopefully lead them towards recovering from their burnout and getting clear on their needs and boundaries within the workplace moving forward,” she added.
“At the end of the day, quiet quitting is about … combating the long-held belief that the only way to get ahead professionally is to work far beyond your limits and to take on a ‘yes man’ mentality.”