Maggie Perkins said she began “quietly quitting” her teaching job in 2018, even before it became a TikTok trend.
“There was no reason for me to fuss because as a teacher there are no promotion opportunities. If you are the person who wins the teacher of the year award, [you’ll] earn the same salary as someone who isn’t,” the 30-year-old mother told CNBC.
To be clear, there is no single definition of the term quietly quit. For some, that means setting boundaries and not taking on additional work; for others, it just means not going beyond. However, most people agree that it doesn̵[ads1]7;t mean you leave your job.
Four years later, after quietly quitting started making waves on TikTok, Perkins also made a video on how to make it as a teacher. That includes just doing your job for the duration of the contract, 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 quit quietly may be new, the concept is not.
Michael Timmes, senior specialist at Insperity, a human resources consulting firm, said there have always been employees who respond to burnout by “doing the bare minimum.”
“Today this is driven by Gen Z, however evident it is across all generations. It has picked up steam through social media platforms,” he added.
For Jaya Dass, Randstad’s managing director for Singapore and Malaysia, the quiet closure is a “residual effect” of Covid-19 and the mass redundancies, where employees felt empowered to take control of their work and private lives.
“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 demand.”
Kelsey Wat, a career coach, agreed, saying that quietly quitting now is a way for workers to “stick it out” to companies that see them “as another cog in the machine.”
The problem with the grand resignation is that it assumes everyone has somewhere else to go, Dass added. But for individuals who feel they have no alternative jobs to go to and need to remain in work, quietly quitting has become the next available option.
“If no one is asking you to leave, why not do less by default and get away with it? You’re buying time where you are,” Jass added.
“It can come from this general feeling of hopelessness … with what’s going on with inflation or the cost of living, a whole bunch of things that people haven’t recovered from.”
Is quitting quietly beneficial, and what do hiring managers think about quitting quietly?
When quiet quit strikes back
However, quietly quitting in theory and in practice may look different for each individual.
Experts said the concept is worrying because it could go beyond simply achieving better work-life balance.
“Positioning 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,” Wat said.
“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. Quitting quietly doesn’t allow that.”
She added that it is possible to maintain healthy boundaries and remain emotionally invested at work.
Timmes agreed, saying there’s a difference between better work-life balance and “being totally disengaged.”
“An employee who 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 from a case of work-life balance privacy.”
He added that quietly quitting could be a positive trend if workers focus on maximizing their hours at the office. “The only problem: the trend doesn’t reflect this mentality at the moment,” Timmes said.
There are bad qualities that can also be adopted from a quiet quitter, such as lack of motivation, underdevelopment of skills, lack of flexibility and inability to work in a team.
“From an office perspective, quiet quitting can cause conflicts between employees, as some employees will feel that others are not 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 quietly quitting is “a really bad idea.”
“People who go beyond trying to solve problems for the organization, their teams, their managers, their bosses, those are the ones who succeed in life,” O’Leary said.
However, Perkins insisted that quietly quitting doesn’t mean slacking off on the job — although she acknowledged that some people can do that.
“I value my work and the hours I put in, but I just want my time and my energy to be respected,” she added.
Perkins has since retired from teaching and is now an academic consultant and full-time tutor. She now says she is willing to go above and beyond for her current role.
“It’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 very negative towards me in the past, I would have just said no.”
Perkins said she used to run “out of necessity.”
“I had my first daughter [in 2018] … If I was late picking her up from daycare, they would fine me a dollar a minute, and then if I didn’t leave work almost as soon as my students left the building, I would have to pay a fee.”
Why Quiet Quitting Can Work
Quitting quietly can be beneficial in terms of giving more time for employees to pursue passion projects, Timmes pointed out.
“The employee may be able to think more outside the box, feel more rested and become more efficient during the hours they work.”
Wat added that quiet endings can give employees short-term relief from a work environment that is “overly focused on results.”
“I can see how quietly quitting for a season can help them refocus on their needs outside of work and hopefully lead them to recover from burnout and become clear about their needs and boundaries in the workplace going forward,” she added.
“At the end of the day, Quitting Quietly is about … fighting the long-held belief that the only way to get ahead professionally is to work way beyond your limits and to adopt a ‘yes man’ mentality.”