Quiet quitting is the latest workplace trend, which Forbes describes as burned-out or unsatisfied employees putting forth the least amount of effort possible to keep their paychecks. While this might sound appealing to a generation that is increasingly experiencing burnout and striving for balance, many women don’t have the privilege of quitting quietly.
There are several factors, based on identities and circumstances, that influence if women are able to take part in the quiet quitting movement.
Quiet quitting might be an answer to being overworked in an otherwise healthy environment, but it’s not a solution for people that are experiencing harmful behaviors at work.
If someone is experiencing harassment, discrimination or microagressions at work, simply working less will not remove them from those toxic dynamics. With 42% of women experiencing gender discrimination, 38% experiencing sexual harassment and 31% experiencing microagressions in the workplace, this is not an uncommon scenario. And these percentages are significantly higher for women of color, LGBTQIA+ women and women with disabilities.
On OwnTrail, a social platform where people share their authentic journeys in order to achieve their next milestones, 59% of the women who reported having issues at work left their jobs afterwards. As one of these women shared on her trail: “The culture, management style and communication in the org did not work. Considering the impact to my mental health, I had to quit.”
When someone is already in a toxic situation at work, dialing down their performance can actually cause even more stress.
“This can be especially problematic for women with existing mental health issues such as anxiety and PTSD,” shared Lara McLeod, head of DEI at FullStory. “There’s an inherent triggering that can happen from a toxic workplace, and that only gets amplified when you add on the stressors associated with quiet quitting.”
That’s exactly what happened when Stefanie Monge, a startup advisor and consultant, was struggling with a toxic former manager. “The more I tried to fly under the radar and do the bare minimum, the worse my mental health got. At one point, my therapist told me to hold ice cubes in my hands for as long as I could stand it or to write the alphabet backwards with my non-dominant hand to help cope with my panic attacks,” Stefanie remembers. “It was a nightmare.”
Women are held to different standards in the workplace, which can be seen everywhere from assessments of potential to performance review feedback. When women are already 14% less likely to be promoted than men, the decision to show up in a more mediocre way can only exacerbate that.
“For Black women, the compounding marginalization of these intersectional identities leads to you not being able to phone a job in,” shared McLeod. “You’re expected to be twice as good and held to higher standards of performance to prove your worth and counteract biases.”
This is likely a reason that more women “loudly quit” their jobs than men. When there is less potential for career growth within a company, there’s a bigger incentive to change jobs. On OwnTrail, women have reported getting new jobs 3.8 times more than getting promoted, and getting a new job is the third most common aspirational milestone (after achievements and travel).
The inability to quiet quit drove Monge to go back to working for herself as a startup coach and retreat producer.
“I’m tired of the double standards and inequities in startup culture,” she told me. “At least when I’m working for myself, I’m in control of my destiny. Now I help other Black and Brown women figure out how to navigate that toxic culture or to get out of it to start pursuing their own ventures. It’s done wonders for my mental health.”
Deciding to quiet quit poses a risk of job loss. As layoffs continue to rise amongst American companies, work performance undoubtedly plays a role in who is first to go.
Women earn 17% less than men on average, have 45% lower financial savings, and higher caregiving costs with 80% of single parents being mothers. With these economic gaps, the impact of job loss for women can be more catastrophic. They often can’t afford to risk losing a job due to not over-performing–especially with the above-mentioned discrepancies in performance standards.
Women with physical and mental healthcare needs are particularly at risk in this case, as they can’t afford the lapse in healthcare coverage.
“Quiet quitting is only afforded to people with the privilege of health or access to healthcare,” McLeod explained. “As someone who has an invisible disability that requires me to take an incredibly expensive pill each day to survive, I don’t have the luxury of being without corporate health insurance.”
Like all behavioral trends, quiet quitting is nuanced and deserves a look through an intersectional lens. With inequities in who is able to quiet quit, it’s not a solution that works for everyone. Companies will end up with higher retention of women and higher performing employees all around if they find ways to create balance and reduce overwork for all of their employees, rather than leaving it up to individual circumstances.