Hustle culture is not sustainable for anyone, no matter how dedicated and passionate they feel towards their position. After slowing down during the pandemic, many people are ditching this mindset in place of a better work-life balance. Enter this year’s new phenomenon: quiet quitting.
The term ‘quiet quitting’ implies something negative, but in fact, it means doing your job as described, not going above and beyond to the detriment of your own health and happiness. I've taught and applied these principles of setting healthy boundaries in the workplace before the trend became viral.
Instead of letting your team feel exhausted from long hours and work pressure, it’s time to learn from this concept to forge a kinder work environment. I'll discuss why this will help you and your team, and end this episode with an easy challenge to get you started.
Tune in to hear examples of why quiet quitting can help your organization grow humanely, be managed effectively, and create collaboratively!
Be sure to read this article from The Guardian, Quiet quitting: why doing the bare minimum at work has gone global.
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I guess it was the middle of summer when I came across the phrase Quiet quitting. I was puttering around my LinkedIn feed over lunch, as you do, when I bumped into one of the early think pieces about this wild new phenomenon of…doing your job as assigned. And as I read, I got more and more perplexed. Because most of the best leadership choices I’ve made and coached others to make over the last few years could be defined as forms of quiet quitting. And the results in my practice and the feedback from those I’ve coached indicate we’re all the better for it. Today I’m going to explain my belief that quiet quitting, thoughtfully and proactively applied, can make our organizations more humane, effective, and collaborative as we work toward the more informed and educated world we all need. And that’s the point of Kind Leadership.
Welcome to the Kind Leadership Challenge! I’m Sarah Clark, founder of the Kind Leadership Guild.
My PhD in higher ed Leadership, my experience advising educational and library leaders all over the world, and a career working in academic libraries from the front desk to the Dean’s office taught me how any leader in any situation can transform their organization so they can make their communities more educated and informed places to live, work, and thrive.
Kind Leaders know how to make the tough decisions without becoming jerks. We grow our organizations’ impact without burning anyone out. And we’ve learned that when we stop controlling and start collaborating, the impossible becomes effortless. It all sounds pretty simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s not hard. So stick around for the next 10 minutes, as I challenge you to part with perfection so you can build a better world.
Let’s start with a definition of quiet quitting. Per my not-terribly thorough literature review based mostly on chasing down citations from the wikipedia entry, The term arose in early summer of 2022 from a few viral tiktoks. For the purposes of this episode, we’ll go with the oldest article I could find about it in a major news outlet, a piece by James Tapper in the Guardian from August 6, 2022. As James puts it, “quiet quitters are avoiding the above and beyond, the hustle culture mentality, or what psychologists call ‘occupational citizenship behaviours’. Instead, they are doing just enough in the office to keep up, then leaving work on time and muting Slack. Then posting about it on social media.”
And you know what? With everything educators and librarians have been through the past few years, I actually don’t think James’ definition of Quiet Quitting is a bad idea—well, perhaps with the exception of the “posting on social media” part.
Hustle culture isn’t sustainable for anyone (believe me, I’ve tried), and a school or library that requires over the top commitment at all times simply to function will eventually burn through its resources and collapse. And even worse, a hard-charging leader isn’t just risking their own well-being, they can undermine their team’s health as well. By contrast, Quiet Quitting, when applied thoughtfully and appropriately, can actually lead to a kinder workplace. Let me show you how by walking you through how Quiet Quitting can help us improve at the core kind leadership skills of growing humanely, managing effectively, and creating collaboratively.
First, Growing Humanely. Some years ago, in the wake of one of my more epic post-hustle burnouts, a former boss observed that you can’t run a marathon at full blast. You have to pace yourself, so you have gas in the tank for that sprint at the end. And there’s truth in that. When we are motivated by a desire to build a better world, we can sometimes conclude that a big mission requires a big effort. And there are moments when that’s true. However, between the exam weeks and summer reading programs or the annual budget crunch, there’s the quieter day in and day out rhythm of the year. To have a clear mind and steady nerves for the expected rushes and unexpected crises that all require important leadership decisions, you will do better with a little gas left in your tank.
Turning to Managing effectively, just like it’s not smart to run your own engine at 100% all the time, you need to keep a little of your organization’s time, money, and political capital in reserve for the inevitable times that something goes wrong. For instance, right now there’s a bit of a crisis that a lot of universities are dealing with right now around online textbooks. A major vendor who shall remain nameless decided to yank their most popular textbooks from an ebook collection commonly subscribed to by libraries, so they could sell them individually to students at top dollar through a new ebook portal. A scummy choice, but within their rights. Unfortunately, they did this after the start of most university’s school years, when budgets were committed and to a large degree spent. Now universities or their students will have to scramble to either purchase these same books at a higher price, or faculty will have to scramble to change their syllabi after the start of the semester. That’s time, money, and energy that will be hard so come up with unless you’ve had the good sense, and admittedly the privilege, to not commit every dollar and hour at your disposal.
And finally, creating collaboratively. It’s easy to think that a team practicing quiet quitting isn’t going to be up for much in the way of creativity or strategizing. However, I’ve found it’s the opposite. When your workload gives you room to breathe and room to think, you have a chance to consider what can be done bigger or better or more efficiently. You can figure out what are your organization’s truly essential services, and what’s outlived its usefulness. And when a team collectively commits to do fewer things, but to do them more thoughtfully, space opens to create visions and initiatives that are both innovative and sustainable.
So, although Quiet Quitting is certainly a catchy phrase, and will hopefully help this episode rank well in the search engines, I don’t think it’s actually the best description of the phenomenon. Doing your assigned work, doing it well enough to meet the goal, then going home? That’s not quiet quitting. That’s setting healthy boundaries. And all I know is that those healthy boundaries will create a more sustainable, less stressed organization that is equipped to better manage the unexpected crises and sieze the surprise opportunities that always arise when you least expect them. Sometimes that slow and steady pace won’t feel as exciting or heroic as hustling to grab one brass ring after another, but it’s also the kind of pace that will truly enable your school or library to build a better world.
So, here’s your challenge. what do you need to quit doing to become a better leader? Let us know in the facebook group, or you can just send me an email—firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll keep you accountable.
Thanks for listening and for taking action to become a kinder leader. If you found this week’s episode insightful, give the show a rating or review—or even better, share this episode with your fellow leaders! Never doubt that day by day, you’re building a better world, even if you can't see it yet. So until next time, stay kind now.