By: Nikki Winston
Imagine being an executive with a six-figure salary. You have days filled with meetings, travel domestically and internationally, and an assistant manages your to-do list. You don’t have set work hours, answer emails in the middle of the night, and when you’re not in a meeting, you’re combing through decks and spreadsheets.
Now imagine you’re a staff accountant making $42,000 per year. You have a few full meeting days, don’t travel much for work, and every day is a challenge to manage your workload but you still get it done. Even though you don’t travel much for work, you love traveling for fun and your weekends are for relaxing — not catching up on work.
Paycheck gap aside, what’s the difference between these two scenarios? The staff accountant could be considered to not work as hard or go above and beyond — which is what many define as quiet quitting.
Why is quiet quitting even a thing?
Everything about how we work is changing: location, technology, priorities. Employers and employees can connect on jobs regardless of where they are on the globe. Systems, apps, and artificial intelligence change how we get work done.
The economies of the world and labor markets have created uncertainty that makes every move questionable. Are companies doing everything they can to keep employees engaged in hybrid work environments? Are employees fully committed to their jobs?
If being “committed” means doing the job you were hired to do, then yes. If commitment means working long hours and canceling your personal joy for the job, it’s a hard no for the majority of today’s workforce.
Quiet quitting is the first cousin of burnout.
Quiet quitting and burnout are absolutely related. Quiet quitting is the prelude to burnout — it’s the onset of the lack of fulfillment at work. Now you’re not motivated to do your work and you tap into the hobbies and excursions you’ve abandoned in your personal life because of work. Then you land in this place of burnout where you’re showing up to check boxes and job performance is mediocre at best.
Now you’re in the market for a new job. Whether you leave or not, you’ll still have to explore these feelings of burnout in your current job. There’s some self-discovery that needs to happen so you don’t bring that quiet quitting energy into a new role.
What if it’s NOT quiet quitting?
What if it’s not really quiet quitting? Typical millennial response, right? LOL. What if it’s a matter of doing the job you were hired to do?
Going back to the example with the executive and staff accountant: The executive is doing all the things typical of someone in that position. But what if…the staff accountant is simply acting their wage?
Would you expect a staff accountant to work past normal hours and on weekends? Was that a requirement in the job description? What if the company is simply getting what they’re paying for — $42,000 worth of effort?
There are so many definitions and interpretations of quiet quitting, and these views differ by generation. Millennials, Gen X, Gen Z, and Baby Boomers all have differing perspectives. Imagine a Gen Z employee starting their career in a company with a Baby Boomer culture. Expectations, ways of working, and work/life integration have different meaning across generations.
So, let’s not call that quiet quitting; let’s instead call it the misalignment between what you want and what the company wants out of you. How to avoid this situation: Ask the right questions during the interview process.
[Related: Making Mindful Career Moves]
Black and brown employees don’t get to participate.
We all heard what Daddy Pope said on that episode of Scandal: You have to be “twice as good as them to get half of what they have.” Still today, that quote resonates with many Black professionals as we reflect on similar quotes we heard from our parents about relentless work ethic.
Half-working and celebrating mediocrity are forbidden in the black household; it’s also noticed in the workplace as black professionals feel the constant pressure of being under the microscope. The underperformance, quiet quitting, and everything else become the justifications for black professionals being held back from greater opportunities — also known as quiet firing.
What about quiet firing?
Before we blame employees (and their ages) on this shift in work/life sentiment, we have to acknowledge the role employers play, too.
Quiet firing — you’re not getting promoted, trained, or groomed for a promotion. You’re excluded from meetings, can’t get the right resources to do your job, and you’re the last to know about things. The company hopes these working conditions are enough for you to transition yourself out so they don’t have to pay you to leave.
Quiet quitting is employee-driven, while quiet firing is employer-driven. The lack of engagement with or investment in employees is a classic sign of quiet firing. Asking for feedback only leads to more confusion about why you were passed over for that promotion. If you feel like you’re being pushed out of your job, you could be in a quiet firing situation.
It’s more than quiet quitting.
This is about humans realizing that life is more than a 9–5 and feeling the urge to live their lives unapologetically. Employees are finding their voices and the audacity to go after what they deserve and set expectations for employers — asking for more money, taking vacation no matter what reports are due, and investing in their well-being.
Before we conclude that it’s quiet quitting — that people don’t want to work — think about WHAT we’re talking about, WHO we’re talking about, and WHY we’re talking about it. There’s no question that employers will lay out what they need from you. Now more employees are reciprocating.
Nikki Winston, CPA is a CPA exam coach and host of The WERKin’ Mommas podcast. She has been a featured speaker at national accounting conferences and her career advice for millennials has been featured by Forbes, Ellevate Network, and Reader’s Digest. Catch her on social media @NikkWinstonCPA sharing accounting insights, career tips, and all things mom life.