A new term recently flooded the zeitgeist: quiet quitting. Nearly a quarter, 21% of working Americans say they themselves are quiet quitters, according to an August 2022 ResumeBuilder.com survey of 1,000 workers.
A TikTok user who goes by zaidleppelin kickstarted the conversation with a video he posted on July 25. "I recently learned about this term called 'quiet quitting' where you're not outright quitting your job but you're quitting the idea of going above and beyond," he says in the video, which has racked up 3.4 million views as of the publication of this article.
With so many people weighing in, the term has since evolved to include a wider set of definitions.
"To me, quietly quitting just comes back to setting your boundaries about what your outputs are going to look like at work," Amanda Henry, who made a series of videos about the topic on her TikTok, tells CNBC Make It.
"For some, that might mean just doing the bare minimum because that's all they have to give at the moment for a variety of reasons. For others, it just means not burning yourself out."
These kinds of attitudes are not new: As comedian Josh Gondelman wrote on Twitter, the idea of "mailing it in" has a "rich and storied history."
Still, the recent hype around the term has begun a vibrant discussion about what setting boundaries at work can look like. Here are three millennials who have taken part in quiet quitting, and a look at who might be excluded.
Daniella Flores, who uses they/them pronouns, was working in IT at a financial company in June 2021 when they decided to quiet quit. Eventually, they quit their job altogether.
"A lot of people that work in tech and IT have this problem where it's really rare in the beginning of your career to be working 40 hours a week," says the Port Orchard, Washington-based 32-year-old. At the time, they were putting in between 50 and 60 hours per week.
At some point they realized that the extra time they were spending picking up last-minute tickets and taking on work beyond the scope of their job title wasn't worthwhile. When they brought up the desire to get a title and compensation change, they say their boss brushed them off.
That's when something clicked. "I'm not going to overwork myself anymore," Flores says they decided. They switched teams and told their new boss upfront that they were blocking off time in their calendar to focus on their assigned work and avoid taking on unnecessary meetings. That cut their hours to between 40 and 45 a week.
Flores formally quit their corporate job altogether in June of this year to run their side hustle-focused blog I Like To Dabble full time and take on other creative projects.
"Our institutions need to take notice," they say. "Why are we calling just doing your job quiet quitting?"
Maggie Perkins worked as a high school and middle school teacher for six years. The Athens, Georgia-based 30-year-old began quiet quitting soon after her daughter was born in 2018 when she realized, "if I did not leave school immediately after contract hours, I would basically be fined by the daycare," she says. It forced her to create that boundary.
That set off a lightbulb. "Within education, above and beyond isn't compensated or often even recognized," she says. The typical teacher works 54 hours per week, according to a 2022 Merrimack College Teacher Survey of 1,324 teachers.
Leaving when her day was officially over made Perkins realize that, "I don't have to work 60 hours a week," she says.
Eventually, she found ways to build boundaries even during the school day. When her school couldn't find a sub to fill in for another teacher, for example, and she was asked to fill in during an hour otherwise allotted to grading papers and prepping for class, she still used the time to do just that. She'd tell the students she was subbing for, "here's the work you will be doing, and here's the work I will be doing."
Like Flores, Perkins quit altogether in 2020 to pursue her PhD in language and literacy education. An advocate for teachers, she has made a series of TikTok videos about quiet quitting, including one with tips for them specifically like don't bring work home and don't spend your paycheck on your classroom.
For her, quiet quitting is "a survival tactic," she says. "It's a coping mechanism. It's just giving more life to a career that I love and I miss."
For Clayton Farris, a 41-year-old freelance writer and content creator based in Los Angeles, quiet quitting is more about a mental switch than any specific change in his schedule or boundary setting with an employer.
"Quiet quitting is allowing yourself to put other things before work without feeling bad about it," he says.
It's a switch he started making during the pandemic when he found himself constantly worrying whether or not his clients were happy and where his next job was coming from. Though he typically works about 30 hours per week, with all of the anxiety about work even when he wasn't actively engaging in it, "it felt like I was working 50," he says.
Having adopted this latest attitude, however, "whenever I send an email and I'm waiting for a response," he says, "I'm literally closing my computer, and I'm going to the beach." Worrying about a response will not make it come any faster, he says he realized.
"Quiet quitting is a self-care tactic," he says. It's about mentally disengaging from his work life when he's not actually doing his job.
Not all workers feel they can fully take part in the quiet quitting trend, says Henry, 30, one of the TikTokers weighing in.
As a Black woman in corporate America, Henry says, the situation is more complicated. "For us, it's a little bit harder to navigate setting those boundaries because we always have to kind of prove ourselves and go above and beyond just to be seen."
Though she herself does not identify as a quiet quitter, throughout her eight years in the workforce, she's learned to advocate for herself and set boundaries around what she will and won't take on.
Henry is hopeful that there is a future in which everyone can participate in this kind of decision making.
"Because of just the seismic shift that we're seeing with this younger generation, I am hoping that it hits us a little bit sooner," she says of minority groups like her own. "That way we can even take our foot off the gas. You know, for a lot of us, we're just proving that we deserve to be in these spaces."