Working in the mental health field, it is normal to find ourselves taxed with some pretty serious things – situations that at times can make us ask, “Why do I do this?” There is a new trend, however, that has started to gain traction in the workplace, and mental health operations are being touched by it just like every other place. This trend is called “quiet quitting.”
If you were to ask anyone that might have TikTok (or a friend that does), if they know what quiet quitting is, they probably would answer yes. Some may let you know that they have done this themselves within the past year. In fact, we all may have seen this in our companies, or even have done this ourselves. But what may not be understood about quiet quitting is the possible lasting effect on the organizations that we are working so hard to make better.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, quiet quitting refers to “doing the minimum requirements of one’s job and putting in no more time, effort, or enthusiasm than absolutely necessary. As such, it is something of a misnomer, since the worker doesn’t actually leave their position and continues to collect a salary.” (Daughtery 2023) Quiet quitting can take on many forms. Some of the ways that I have witnessed this over my many years in mental healthcare include: not showing up to work, not taking clients, being late to see clients, calling off randomly because of a full day, missing deadlines, missing paperwork, and not providing individuals with the top level of care.
Obviously, this can affect the client, organization, and the therapeutic foundation that has been established negatively. However, many people are defending this practice. Let’s look first at why it can be detrimental.
One of the primary identifiers of quiet quitting is someone knowing that they are not happy in their workplace, but sticking it out minimally to get through what is required to keep their job. In mental healthcare this is not only unethical but can be dangerous as well. I ask you to imagine (especially right now, in the current mental health crisis), how you would feel as a client who has had to switch their therapists multiple times. People have finally found someone that they want to talk to, and feel comfortable talking to, and then that person stops taking people weekly, and then finally stops altogether. (I myself have been a victim of this. – going to a therapist that in a couple months, unknown to me, decided that they no longer wanted to practice due to high demand and ultimately burnout. Trust me when I say “abandonment” is an understatement of the feelings that can occur!)
When we break this down further, we must look at what this can do to the teams that we work with. Think about when there is a task that you are not there to complete, or maybe don’t complete fully: what happens to that task? Does it simply go away, is there an exception made for this person by the facility that they are working for, or does it go to the next person who has a caseload of their own? In my experience, the two options that are most common are that an exception is made, or someone else has to take on this task. Either of these outcomes could be detrimental to our team; our colleagues might be feeling a similar overwhelm on their own, and now they have some new tasks. This could add to that burnout feeling for them, which could result in them leaving the position altogether. I personally wouldn’t want to be the reason why someone on my team leaves.
With everything that was just stated it is hard to think of how someone can feel this is an appropriate way to work through your day. But some people make the argument that quiet quitting can be great for your own mental health. Corey Wilks, Psy.D. (2022), is one of these people. He reports in his article that quiet quitting can do things like help you set boundaries within your organization, extend your burnout time due to not overdoing it in your work day, and having a more beneficial work/life balance.
While reading this article I found myself agreeing with some of his reasoning – but wondering: couldn’t there be a better way?
For example, take concern over your mental health. That is great, but a lot of organizations offer things like EAPs (Employee Assistance Programs) which give you the opportunity to talk to a professional when you feel as though your mental health is being affected by your job, or you are starting to feel burned out from your position. In the same vein, setting boundaries is an important consideration. But it’s also one that could be addressed by having open conversations with your managers and supervisor about what is important to you and why you need a better work/life balance.
Between the positive and negative arguments about quiet quitting is a middle ground that sees it more as a Band-Aid to a bigger issue. One of these individuals is Robin Madell. According to her article: “Employee engagement has declined in 2022, according to a Gallup study published in April 2022. It found that in the U.S engagement dropped for the first time in a decade over the past two years, ratcheting down in 2021 and again in 2022, with now less the 32% of workers surveyed currently engaged in their workspace.” (Madell, 2022) She did report that small moments of taking time from work and re-prioritizing can be beneficial to re-engage someone, but that something like this can also have some really negative consequences to those individuals.
In the article by Anthony Klotz (2022), he raises a valid point of that most jobs do not have a formal job description, and therefore many of us go above and beyond our tasks that we are hired for. When someone begins to “quiet quit” their completed tasks begin to go down. This could lead to things like their being looked past for that promotion that maybe they hoped for, or even being terminated for not fulfilling the tasks they have been assigned.
So, what can we do? When talking about retention in an organization’s workforce, there needs to be a balance of sorts. First, we need to acknowledge that workers in the mental health field do have the right to do this. But if the “quiet quitting goal” is for the therapeutic worker to feel better and more accomplished, there are so many other ways to do this – and if we work together in our organization we can address it as a “success trend” that can help our organization to continue to grow and evolve within itself.
As a manager I find myself asking, “If I am not willing to do something, why would I ask my employees to do the same?” I have talked to many managers who do the same and will often challenge their own thoughts on what their expectations are. These excellent managers suggest talking to their employees monthly on how they are feeling, and what they would like to change; this gives people ample opportunity to talk about how they are feeling and what they could work though. Keep in mind that burnout will cost you employees, so asking those questions and making sure that they are feeling supported and heard can keep a good employee where they are.
The current trend of quiet quitting may not last. But I think it is important for us to look at the people that we work with and make sure that we are seeing them as exactly that – people. The importance of good work/life balance will always be there, and those of us in manager or supervisor roles must recognize that people have lives outside of the company that they work for, and there will be times where they are not going to be giving “above and beyond” – or even doing what is minimally expected. This is when it is important to discuss how you can help and support them, and make sure that they are feeling heard in their position. We all need to work as a team and support one another as best as we can.
Emily S. has a master’s degree in psychology, and currently serves as Clinical Training Manager in KidsPeace’s Organizational Development and Training (OD&T) department.
Daugherty, G. (2023). Quiet quitting definition & meaning. Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/quiet%20quitting
Klotz, A. C., & Bolino, M. C. (2022, September 15). When quiet quitting is worse than the real thing. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2022/09/when-quiet-quitting-is-worse-than-the-real-thing
Madell , R. (2022, September 22). Can Quiet Quitting Hurt Your Career?. U.S News . https://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/articles/what-is-quiet-quitting
Wilks Psy.D., C. (2022, August 22). 5 reasons why quiet quitting is great for your mental health. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/human-flourishing-101/202208/5-reasons-why-quiet-quitting-is-great-your-mental-health