“Act your wage.”
That’s the theory behind the viral trend “quiet quitting”– doing only the essentials that you’re paid for, and no more. As younger workers see it, it’s a way of putting for them to put their mental health above their work performance. By rejecting hustle culture and (respectfully) declining additional responsibilities, employees are setting healthy boundaries around what they are willing to do for their pay grade.
Although there are many positive aspects to “quiet quitting,” including the potential to equalize the employer-employee relationship, people of color may not have the luxury of refusing to overperform.
Rahkim Sabree, the author of “Financially Irresponsible,” explained this well:
“There is an unspoken rule in minority communities that we have to work ‘twice as hard to go just as far’ in corporate settings. That our stellar performance would be viewed as expected or normal, and that someone who doesn't look like us can deliver normal results and be rated as stellar,” said Sabree.
The relationship between ‘quiet quitting’ and inequality
Sabree’s thoughts have been studied and substantiated by a McKinsey & Company Women in the Workplace study that found that when compared to white men, women of color are perceived as less competent, their mistakes are noticed more, and their achievements are more likely to be perceived as the result of luck (not skill).
Again, Sabree can reaffirm this with his own experiences. The successful author, coach and speaker was once told that he “could never be viewed as exceeding expectations” because he didn’t find time to assume extra work or volunteer more. Meanwhile, he was contributing to publications and conferences in his personal time and had previously served as a volunteer member of an ERG.
The LinkedIn post where Sabree shared his thoughts on “quiet quitting” is filled with comments from people (the majority of whom are women) with similar feelings:
“What you shared resonates so much. Thanks for expressing a reality so many of us face,” said one.
“This happens too often,” said another. “Doing more than it is outlined in the responsibilities of my role leads to burnout that the company would not even begin to help alleviate.”
“Even working harder to get promotions or being very talented at our job and position puts us as more likely being seen as a threat rather than as an asset,” said one
Performance reviews perpetuate bias
“Quiet quitting” may be a positive evolution for workers to take back their wellbeing and avoid burnout. But measures like performance reviews are not helping equalize the work experience. If women and POC were held to tougher performance standards before “quiet quitting,” how likely is it that they’ll be able to do only the essential work and nothing more – without getting dinged?
One study found that of men and women in the tech industry, women were more likely to get negative feedback because of personality traits that are seen as positive in men, i.e. women are abrasive while men are assertive. Women were frequently noted as bossy, aggressive, strident, emotional, and irritational while men were only occasionally called aggressive.
Not just that, but women who perform excellently receive significantly lower evaluations than men who do.
When women receive negative performance reviews for acting similarly to men, it’s harder for them to advance their careers. One has to wonder, doesn’t this only further the motivation to quietly quit – or at least scale back to a reasonable amount of work – if you won’t be rewarded anyway? This may be particularly true if “overdoing” only brings your performance assessment to match that of your male counterparts.
Twice as good
There is a sentiment among the Black community that says in America, you have to work twice as hard to get half as much as your white counterparts. Dr. Joan Williams dubbed this the “Prove It Again” bias and she found that three-fourths of black women feel they need to prove themselves over and over again.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama used this as the basis for her speech to Tuskegee University graduates in 2015.
“The world won’t always see you in those caps and gowns. They won’t know how hard you worked and how much you sacrificed to make it to this day,” she said. “Instead, they will make assumptions about who they think you are based on their limited notion of the world.”
Although she spoke at the historically black college over seven years ago, her words ring true today. Employees – especially women and POC - are tired of working twice as hard as their white, male counterparts to get less in the end.
Making a loud statement
Quiet quitting isn’t a sign of apathy. It’s a peaceful (not to mention productive) protest – a demand for opportunity, equality, and appreciation.
For leaders to react meaningfully to this sweeping trend, they need to do more than just accept that workers are demanding a fair, mutually beneficial exchange. They need to use it as a springboard to correct inequities in fair treatment that have lasted for decades.
Selena Rezvani is a women’s leadership speaker and author of the award-winning book, "Pushback: How Smart Women Ask – And Stand Up – For What They Want." Through in-person training and online courses via LinkedIn Learning, Selena teaches professionals how to be fierce self-advocates and carve out leadership paths on their own terms. Follow her on TikTok, Instagram and LinkedIn.