In 2019, I almost quit my job. Instead, I decided to quit part of my job.
Let me share some context. I was working in human resources at the time. And, I had been spending way too much of my time and energy mediating conflicts and having conversations related to poor performance.
I hated this part of my job.
It was exhausting. Emotions ran high. I was already doing my best to recover from my severe anxiety and mental breakdown in 2018. Because I had to deal with these difficult conversations, I needed to take beta-blockers every day, just to make it through.
In my mind, dealing with difficult issues was simply part of an HR job, whether I liked it or not. So, I considered quitting.
Then, I had an experience that completely shifted my perspective.
Quitting is Not All-or-Nothing
Around this time, I participated in a panel discussion on the Earn and Invest Podcast about Alternatives to Early Retirement. The most intriguing person on that panel was Lynn Marie Morski, who, among many other things, is a quitting expert. She’s the author of the book Quitting by Design. She also ran a podcast for almost two years called Quit Happens.
Over the course of the interview, I learned a few key things.
First, there is a huge difference between quitting and giving up. Choosing to quit something is an intentional move that can improve your life. It opens up space for something new and better.
Most importantly, she talked about how quitting is not all-or-nothing.
Sometimes, you don’t need to completely quit a job. What if you could quit your commute? Or quit overachieving? Or quit working with a particular person? Or quit a part of your job that you really HATE?
Lynn Marie called these things small quits. Small quits allow us to make adjustments to our job and life to make them work better for us.
I realized that I didn’t need to quit my entire job. What if I could quit this one part of my job that was making me miserable? I enjoyed everything else, so why not try?
Soon after, I spoke with my boss. I told her how I was feeling about managing difficult employee issues. I also told her that I didn’t know how long I could stay in this job if we couldn’t figure out a way to minimize this part of my job.
I was afraid that her response would be, “Well, this is part of the job, so deal with it.”
Instead, she understood completely. She recognized how good I was at the rest of my job and didn’t want to lose me. She wanted me to be able to focus on the things I was best at and enjoyed most. From that point forward, she promised to take over these difficult conversations.
Immediately, a weight was lifted. My job improved immensely overnight.
I happily stayed in that role for another year and a half. And, I probably would have stayed longer if my boss hadn’t left.
After she left, those responsibilities I had quit came creeping back into my job description. After an unsuccessful attempt to quit them again, I decided to quit the entire job.
From this point forward, I started framing setting boundaries as making small quits.
Here are some of the other small quits I made:
- I quit responding to emails right away. Many times, if I waited at least 24 hours to answer, people would figure out a solution themselves.
- I quit taking other people’s problems on as my own. I started asking, “What do you want to do about that?” and “How would you like me to help you with that?”
- I quit overachieving. As a type-A person, this was really hard. I was used to seeing a problem and wanting to fix it immediately. Instead, I focused on doing only the most important things.
With every quit, my job and my life got a little bit better. And, I felt more empowered.
Quitting is NOT Failure
Quitting is framed very negatively in our culture.
We are bombarded with messages telling us never to quit or give up. I always heard things like:
- “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.”
- “Winners are not people who never fail. They are people who never quit.”
- “Rest if you must but don’t quit.”
We even have this quote from Michael Jordan, “If you quit once, it becomes a habit. Never quit.”
I now realize that these are extremely toxic messages, especially for people like me with too much grit.
Until my 30s, I ascribed to the belief that quitting was failure. And, where did it get me?
- In my teens, I played through injuries. I ran until I couldn’t take another step. I pitched until my ankle gave out. Twenty years later, I’m still dealing with the ramifications of these injuries I’d never had if I’d just quit!
- When I graduated from college, I went and taught English in Nicaragua. Because of our living situation, it was impossible to stay healthy. After multiple bouts of parasites and amoebas and losing 30 pounds, I still almost resisted returning to the United States. I remember being on the phone crying with my Mom and saying, “But, I’ve never quit anything before.” It took over a year for my digestive system to get back to normal and for my hair to stop being stringy because of malnutrition.
- In multiple jobs, I worked in toxic work environments for way too long. I thought I needed to change my attitude and persevere. I wasn’t a quitter. This led to bouts of depression and anxiety.
Finally, things came to a head in 2018 when I started experiencing severe anxiety and panic attacks. It was as if my body said, “You won’t quit of your own volition? Well, I’ll do it for you.”
From this experience, I learned that quitting does not equate with failure. Quitting can be strategic (thanks, Lynn Marie for these words). Quitting is empowering. Small (and big) quits can help us to shape a better path forward.
What is Quiet Quitting?
This brings me to quiet quitting. The idea of quiet quitting has taken hold in our society over the past few weeks. I have to be honest, I absolutely LOVE the term.
Lately, I’ve seen many people try to demonize quiet quitting. They do this by sharing examples of people who are completely zoning out and doing the bare minimum. But, I disagree with this definition.
One of my favorite definitions of quiet quitting can be found in Parade, which says that quiet quitting means that someone is “saying goodbye to unnecessary stress that has been added to their lives from consistently going above and beyond by taking on responsibilities that do not fall under their job description.”
Sometimes, we are asked or pressured to take on things outside of our roles. Other times, we take on too much by choice. We’ve been told that is what’s needed to advance, so sometimes we put unrealistic expectations on ourselves. Then, there are some type-A problem-solvers, like me, who see a problem and immediately want to fix it. I used to create so much extra work for myself!
But, no more!
Quiet quitting reminds us that quitting is not all-or-nothing. We don’t necessarily have to quit our jobs to improve our lives. We can make many small (and strategic) quits to improve our work and our lives. Many of these can be done quietly, though some may require conversations to build alignment.
The Case for Quiet Quitting
There are so many reasons to quiet quit.
- Reduce Stress and Anxiety – Striving for a better balance in our lives, setting healthy boundaries, and putting work in its rightful place can help protect us from overwork and burnout.
- Improve Your Entire Life – Spending less of our time and energy on work allows us to spend more time focusing on other important things, such as our mental and physical health, our relationships, and (heaven forbid) hobbies and interests.
- Reduce time wasted on unnecessary and non-stratic tasks – When you eliminate the non-essential items, this gives you more space to focus on what’s most important both inside and outside of work.
- Shape your Path – Making small, quiet quits can be very empowering. Each boundary we set, “no” that we assert and item we deprioritize allow us to strategically shape our path forward. And, we gain more confidence to make bigger changes.
Simple Ways make Quiet Quits Without Burning Bridges
Over the last few days, I’ve turned to social media to learn more about the quiet quits that other people have benefitted from.
During this time, I didn’t hear a single example of someone completely zoning out from their work and doing the bare minimum.
I heard stories of people who were getting really creative and setting better boundaries. This gave them more time for the things that matter to them.
Here are just a few examples of ways you could quiet quit without burning bridges. I’ll break them into a few categories:
- Taking breaks or time away
- Additional responsibilities
Quiet Quits: Communication
- Stop replying to (non-urgent) emails ASAP: When we respond immediately, we train people to expect an immediate response from us, even when it’s not necessary.
- Stop replying to emails that don’t pertain to your role: Sometimes we are CCed or included on an email as an FYI. I would confirm this in our own work environment, but I’ve always understood a CC to be an FYI. If I’m CCed on something, I do not need to respond.
- Turn off notifications: We’ll be a lot more productive if we set boundaries and have focused time. Constant notifications popping up on our computers and phones never allow us to get into deep work. We feel pulled in too many different directions.
Quiet Quits: Taking Breaks or Time Away
- Don’t check email after hours, on weekends, or on vacation: Periodically, there might be an acceptable exception, but it shouldn’t be the rule. And, quit feeling guilty about it!
- Take breaks: Take time away from your desk to eat lunch, if possible. Take a few quick walks during the day. Humans can’t focus uninterrupted for full days anyways.
- Don’t accept overtime: If you are an hourly employee, you could choose not to accept overtime.
- Use all your vacation time: 55% of Americans do not use all of their vacation time. In my mind, time off is part of your compensation package, so take advantage of it!
Quiet Quits: Additional Responsibilities
- Don’t create work for yourself. When work is slow, it’s okay to let it be slow. You don’t have to create extra work for yourself. We can let go of our perfectionist tendencies. Done is better than perfect in most cases.
- Drop responsibilities that aren’t part of your job: You could resign from committees or other groups at work that aren’t beneficial to you or your job. And, certainly don’t offer to take on “office mom” duties such as planning office parties, distributing birthday cards, or putting in the lunch group order.
- Ask for additional compensation when asked to take on extra responsibilities (or simply say you don’t have the capacity). When someone leaves an organization, the people left behind are often expected to take on the slack. Sometimes, this makes sense if responsibilities are redistributed in a way that makes sense. Other times, people are expected to do more work. It is perfectly acceptable to ask for additional pay to take on extra work for a period of time.
- Create structures for people to solve their own problems: One person shared the genius idea of having her team set up their own weekly consulting sessions. This allowed them to ask questions and learn from each other before coming to her.
In my mind, all these are examples of quiet quits that you could make as you continue to contribute to your company or organization.
As a note, there are certainly a smaller number of people who are choosing to zone out and do the bare minimum in their work. If you are working in a toxic work environment and do not have the financial means to quit without another job lined up, I do not begrudge your decision. I would also encourage you to get out of that situation and into a better one as quickly as possible.
Accepting the Downsides of Quiet Quitting
It is important to note that there can be drawbacks when you choose to set boundaries and make small, quiet quits.
Fact: Not everyone will be receptive to your boundaries.
There are people and organizations that will receive and accept your boundaries graciously. The situation I shared above about quitting part of my job is evidence of this.
I’ve also worked in and heard about plenty of work environments that are not receptive. For example, at a previous organization, I’d create a project plan. Then, I’d go to my boss and propose deprioritizing a few projects because I was likely to be working 55-60 hour weeks. She looked at me and said, “And…?” as if I was crazy to ask. At this organization, I was denied a promotion because I needed to “manage my workload independently.”
You may be less likely to receive a promotion or pay increase if you don’t go above and beyond (although you aren’t guaranteed one by doing so). So, it’s up to each individual to determine how much effort they want to put into their work based on their desired path.
If you want to enjoy your work, the best thing you can do is build financial freedom. I know this might seem counterintuitive since I’m advocating for quiet quitting. I am also a firm believer that you can set boundaries and provide value. You can also improve your financial situation by reducing expenses or increasing income through side hustles.
Financial freedom is so valuable because it can provide you with the confidence to set boundaries and make small, quiet quits. It can also provide you with the ability to more easily quit a toxic job and find a new employer that has a healthier work environment. Or, it could allow you to quit the rat race and become self-employed or start your own business.
Building financial freedom gives you back some of the power in your relationship with work.
What types of small, quiet quits have you made that improved your life?
I relate to your stint in Nicaragua so much. Australia was my Nicaragua. I remember crying into my salad, wondering what I was doing in Australia, and telling myself I won’t quit. But I did quit and it was the best thing I did for myself.
Other small, quiet quits that I made was to really analyse what I do day by day at work and ask myself: What task do I want to quit? Before, I never entertained that idea. But now, I tell myself it’s one way to pivot towards a task that matches my strength. And with every job I have an answer to that question and look for tasks I’d like to do at the next job.
I spoke to someone who did just this. He pivoted his role bit by bit until he was living his ideal, digital nomad life. He quit management roles because he realised he didn’t like it. And he took pay cuts to realise it.
It’s an important lesson to learn, what you highlight in this post, but so hard to apply cos Ego always gets in the way. But once you get there, I think it’s pretty worth it!
This is a more unusual application but I think I will be quiet quitting a band I’m in. I LOVE the style of music and it’s the only group in this area to play (there are only a few groups in the whole US actually to do this style. Yeah, could start my own group, but I have little time or energy for this rn). I’ve put a lot of energy into it over the years and have a lot to offer, but I routinely am treated dismissively/disrespectfully, dare I say abusively (according to my therapist).
My goal with coast or barista FIRE would be to let go the day job and only do music gigs and churning (and anything else that comes up that I feel excited by). By far this group counts for the most gigs, and most income. I am challenging myself to explore other avenues but TBH my heart is just really in the music. I’m stopping to help with the group other than showing up to gigs, and the occasional (not all) rehearsals/meetings/recording sessions. It will be an experiment to see if I’m still included (with reflection I think I may be more than I feel, I often am called in to bail other people out) and if I get some energy back for both creativity, and other projects.
Thank you so much for sharing. This sounds like a great thing to quiet quit – get your energy back – and see if it’s something you want to continue investing in. I wish you all the best with it.