Feeling exhausted from trying too hard to impress at work? You might be “quiet quitting” without even realizing it.
When was the last time you actually took a break? If you’re anything like Emma Chamberlain in personality or lifestyle preferences, that may not have been any time recently. “My work and my life are wrapped up together, and my work is never off my mind. I can’t ever check out,” she admitted earlier this year to The Cut.
Ouch. That’s no way to feel like you’re really thriving. But for many of us, that is a reality. Do you find that you’re always on-call for work, answering emails that pop into your inbox at any hour, and watching the lines get blurrier and blurrier between your work and personal lives? Can you even see the line anymore?
Some have been saying that the line has become so utterly muddled that we need to reevaluate our work-life balance. There’s a term to describe it, which has been buzzing around the media thanks to a viral TikTok video: quiet quitting. As a response to burnout, the trend at hand is not necessarily quitting your job, but instead, leaving behind the belief that you constantly need to be grinding.
Quiet Quitting Isn’t Actually Resigning from Your Job
In essence, quiet quitters will finish their work, but won’t go above and beyond if it’s causing a drain on their personal life. For many who now work from home permanently, the work weariness can set in quicker than those who commute to an office since there’s no way to hypothetically clock-in and clock-out.
The anti-work trends for Millennials and Gen-Zers appear to be two-pronged. Firstly, many Americans in these generations are actually less engaged with their work than ever before. Gallup polling revealed that employee engagement is falling across all age groups, but those who were born after 1989 had the lowest employment engagement at a small 31%. In summary, if their work didn’t “have purpose,” then they felt less engaged and would likely not overextend themselves beyond their allotted 40 hours a week.
Then, Millennials and Gen-Zers challenge traditional notions by dreaming of new ways to be “employed,” hoping to make it big with passive sources of income, and brushing off the typical salaried American job, but is the “hustling” mentality really helping us or is it hindering us?
Now, I’m not saying that everyone is suited to work a typical 9-5 – in fact, I’d wager a fair amount of the female population would actually feel great with motherhood as their primary career and a part-time role or returning to work later to live out their passions on the side – but seeing so much attention around “quiet quitting” has me wondering: Was there ever anything wrong with setting boundaries and enriching our personal lives in the first place? Or is hustle culture setting us up for failure?
Mental Labor Wears You Out As Much As Physical Labor
Though it sounds like laziness at first glance, “quiet quitting” from feeling exhausted from hustling might not be all that unreasonable. Recent studies have shown that your brain’s response to intense cognitive work is very similar to the defense mechanisms it takes when recovering from difficult, strenuous labor.
“[Mental] fatigue would indeed be a signal that makes us stop working but for a different purpose: to preserve the integrity of brain functioning,” said one of the researchers. That’s right, thinking too much kicks your survival instincts into gear.
Furthermore, the scientists said that “cognitive control is more difficult after a mentally tough workday” and that there’s no way to “overcome this limitation of our brain’s ability to think hard” beyond rest and sleep. Try as you might with your caffeinated beverage of choice, you can’t cheat the fatigue that hustling could cause unless you actually catch up on some beauty sleep.
Consider your additional responsibilities outside work that might get lost in constantly being “on.” Can you properly take care of your physical health with a quality diet, regular exercise, and proper grooming if you’re always mentally laboring? Can you express yourself creatively through your fashion and beauty if you take on extra training and work overtime regularly? Perhaps if you work in fashion or beauty, but for many, that’s not a reality.
Instead, you might be feeling emotionally conflicted from the pressure to be available 24/7 and actually being present not only for yourself but also for your family. This is actually supported by data that says married mothers working full time tend to still carry a larger at-home workload than the fathers who were surveyed.
Climbing the Corporate Ladder Through Masculine Techniques Is Stressful
Not all adult women are mothers or even wives for that matter, but perhaps many more would be if there weren’t societal pressure to be married to your work instead of a man. If a woman is going to have kids, traditions tells us she’s either not going to want to work or she will have kids and want to work but won’t be interested in 60+ hour work weeks.
Childless adult women put a monkey wrench in this stereotypical narrative, but the fact that they don’t have children doesn’t change that men and women do have biological differences that impact what jobs they pick. Firstly, women and men respond to and manage stress differently. As the American Psychological Association has found, compared to men, women read more, eat more, and try to enrich their personal lives through things like family time or time spent at church to manage stress. These are all things that take more personal time than just continuing to work through the stress, which the APA report suggested was one of the most common male responses.
Secondly, women have very different hormones from men. Throughout the course of a month, our estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate and affect how tired we feel, how alert we are, and how hungry we are. Of course, there are plenty of women who achieve incredible feats despite the ebb and flow of their female hormones, so I’m not suggesting that hormones leave us incapable of hard work and noteworthy accomplishments, but men don’t have the same cyclical experience. Instead, their primary cycle is the daily cortisol cycle: Cortisol spikes in the morning to wake them up and then starts falling in midafternoon to prepare for sleep at night.
Then there’s the fact that women are more agreeable in personality. This agreeableness in nature could lead to extra work-related burnout. Compared to a man, a woman might come in early, skip lunch, or say yes to any task put in front of them so as to not rock the boat. The same goes for expanding job responsibilities without asking for a salary increase. Is it any wonder why a woman would start to feel jaded by the thought of going above and beyond and just want to “quietly quit”?
All in all, data shows women feel work stress at higher rates than men. And the rates are worse for married, working women. Yet, according to research done last year by the Pew Research Center, the majority of American mothers work full-time outside the home – with about 80% of those mothers saying that working is what’s best for them. This is in spite of the fact that roughly half of working mothers say that working full-time makes it harder for them to be good parents.
Call It What It Really Is: Setting Healthy Boundaries
Being part of the workforce is just part and parcel of adulthood, but striving to be an honest, hard worker doesn’t mean you need to burn the midnight oil to your own demise. I actually disagree with the trend being called “quiet quitting.” Instead, I think this trend should be redefined as a resounding call for everyone to really evaluate their boundaries and set some if they feel overburdened.
In practice, this might look like keeping a more tightly managed daily schedule, staying focused on your most timely tasks at hand, and feeling less guilty about clocking out. It might include turning off notification after 5 p.m. and on the weekends, and not checking your email outside of work hours. If you’re feeling like your career isn’t progressing, that you can’t develop your skills further in your role, and that the success of your company actually isn’t desirable to you, it might actually be time to consider a change in career entirely instead of just “quietly quitting.” Then eventually, if you’re able to shift over to focusing on a family (and if that feels like it would be fulfilling to you) then you can more comfortably do so.
America is facing a mental health crisis and the surge in work-related trends like the Great Resignation and now “quiet quitting” demonstrate just how much a change in work culture is needed. It took me a lot of soul searching to realize that I didn’t have to be the girl who does it all, so I can only hope that more women wake up to the fact that girlbossing it up and succumbing to hustle culture is unsustainable and unhealthy in the long run.
Both genders deserve a healthy work-life balance, but for women this might look different from men because of our biological and personality-based differences. So close your laptop and spend that extra bit of time with your family if you’re not being compensated for extra work. Setting healthy boundaries will help you feel more balanced and likely even reinvigorated to do your job to the best of your abilities!
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