Sep 11, 2022 - Economy & Business

When “quiet quitting” is a trap

Illustration of a single while filing cabinet next to a stacked set of black filing cabinets
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

“Quiet quitting” — a trending term for not going above and beyond at work — is an option that many workers, particularly women and people from under-represented communities, simply don't have.

Why it matters: People who already have to go above and beyond just to get noticed are afraid that pulling back on extra labor could do major harm to their careers, experts tell Axios.

State of play: Immigrants, for example, may feel they have to work harder just to catch up, Courtney McCluney, organizational behavior expert and former assistant professor at Cornell University, tells Axios.

  • Research also shows that women and under-represented groups shoulder a disproportionate amount of emotional labor and “office housework,” said Melissa Swift, U.S. transformation leader at Mercer.
  • Tasks including organizing office activities, taking notes at meetings and coordinating diversity efforts go “above and beyond what your typical job description would be” and yet often do not factor into promotions, said Ruchika Tulshyan, founder of Candour, a corporate inclusion strategy practice.

Between the lines: A person's ability to “quiet quit” is directly related to how much visibility and power they have at work and in society.

  • The trend is a reaction to many years of badly designed work — including too much work, performative work that has no real impact and misunderstood work — where supervisors don’t understand the work their staff performs, Swift said.
  • “If you're not going to get credit for how good you are ... why work more?”

By the numbers: Only 72 women are promoted for every 100 men, a 2019 McKinsey and LeanIn.Org study found.

  • That ratio widens to 68 Latina women and 58 Black women for every 100 men (of all races and ethnicities).
  • Separately, the least likely group of workers to be promoted into management are Asian Americans.
  • The pandemic also piled more work disproportionately onto women and people of color — especially those juggling work and family without paid time off. And yet promotions have still gone disproportionately to men. 

The bigger picture: Some under-represented workers also view going above and beyond as part of the responsibility for being the first, few or only.

  • McCluney recently left her job in academia. In the back of her mind, she worried that her own departure would make it harder for other women of color after her.  
  • “It's not just me that I'm succeeding for — it's for everyone else that's dependent on me or who's looking at me as an example,” she said.
Go deeper