Is ‘quiet quitting’ really good for your mental health?

The term “quiet exit” emerged in early 2022 on social media to describe the phenomenon of workers refusing to go beyond their job and instead simply meeting the basic requirements of that job. Typically, these workers come from fields known for undercompensating employees for extra effort and fostering cultures of noise that leave little time for finding meaning, purpose, or cultivating relationships outside of work. But as quietly leaving has become more popular, employees in nearly every profession have begun to take notice — and wonder if they, too, should quietly leave.

Is leaving quietly a good idea? And what might its impact be on workers’ mental health? Below is a closer look at what quiet opting out entails and how it may affect those who embrace its growing popularity.

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What quietly giving up really means

Because it is still such a new term, silent opt-out does not yet have a standardized definition. But here’s how it’s described on the internet: Log in, complete your assigned tasks, and log off. That’s it. No taking on extra tasks outside of your job description – unless you’re compensated for it. Skeptics call this doing the bare minimum or making a phone call. Proponents of a quiet exit counter that you’re actually just doing your job and setting stricter boundaries at work.

Why employees are quietly leaving

Many employees are fed up with not getting raises or promotions commensurate with the amount of effort they put into their jobs. Others are tired of not having enough time and energy for non-work endeavors such as family, friends, hobbies and other activities that enhance their well-being. Many quiet quitters have personally experienced (or witnessed others) the consequences of depriving themselves of sleep, exercise, and quality time with loved ones in order to “succeed” at work, and refuse to suffer any further damage to their physical condition and mental health by repeatedly overexerting themselves.

Instead of resigning, however, these workers stand up for their rights, their physical health and their sanity, saying, “I’m not going to compromise my well-being by overworking myself—especially not without a significant pay raise or increased time off.” Or more simply, “I just want to do my job without being completely exhausted by it.”

The benefits of quietly giving up

A significant majority of American workers (up to 84% according to a Deloitte study) say they have experienced work-related burnout—that is, emotional and/or physical exhaustion (often combined with a loss or significant reduction in motivation) caused by prolonged work stress. Many quiet quitters claim that giving up the extra mile(s) at work is a means of compensating for or managing this burnout, as doing only what is required is believed to reduce performance pressure and prevent workers to take it personally when they don’t get promoted or don’t get promoted.

Photo courtesy of Tim Gouw via Pexels

Source: Photo courtesy of Tim Gouw via Pexels

Effective boundary setting at work—think: actually taking a lunch break or refusing additional inquiries from superiors and colleagues that go beyond the defined roles and responsibilities of your job—has been shown to help increase worker well-being and prevent burnout. Especially when it comes to maintaining the distinction between working and non-working time. Not responding to work emails, calls, or texts after a certain hour and not checking work messages during vacation and sick days are two very important strategies that help maintain this final boundary. Protecting one’s well-being in this way is a great way to balance the concerns of work life with non-work life and health, and if that’s what a quiet exit entails, the trend certainly comes with benefits.

The Disadvantages of Quitting Quietly

Research shows that when we put more effort into an endeavor, we value that effort more. Likewise, the more personal energy workers invest in their jobs and the more engaged they feel in those jobs, the more satisfaction they derive from them. Reducing your contribution to work (“calling the phone,” so to speak) can rob you of that all-important sense of engagement and purpose that contributes to job satisfaction—a measure that itself has been shown to positively affects our physical and mental well-being. Less effort, less engagement, and lower job satisfaction can make some workers feel like most of their days are worthless, meaningless, and boring. These moods are known to negatively impact mental health and can contribute to depression, so it’s important to keep a pulse on how any changes in your efforts at work may affect your mental health.

A drastic reduction in the effort you put into your work can also make you feel guilty about saying no more to colleagues or superiors, and this can increase your stress. Additionally, those you work with or for may not respond positively to changes in your professional behavior, and these reactions may make you feel uncomfortable in the workplace, increase your anxiety about being passed over for a promotion, or they’ll make you worry about getting fired.

The Takeaway

All of these factors—the potential pros and cons of quietly opting out—are worth considering if you’re wondering whether quietly opting out is right for you. Regardless of your plans to leave quietly (or not), seeking support from a mental health professional about the stress you’re experiencing at work can help you gain insight into its sources and develop strategies to cope. keep from experiencing burnout. Discussing what made you consider leaving quietly can also help you understand the benefit of setting boundaries and how best to enforce them—not just at work, but outside of it as well.

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