The cure for burnout is not self-care – a discussion on “Quiet Quitting”

The cure for burnout is not self-care – a discussion on “Quiet Quitting”

Excerpted from an article in The Atlantic by Caroline Mimbs Nyce

The first thing you need to know about “Quiet Quitting” is that it’s not actually quitting. Instead, the quitter keeps their job and chooses to do only the bare minimum rather than go above and beyond. The second thing you need to know is that the term is brand-new, so everyone is still figuring out the rest. To cite the Oxford English Dictionary of our very online times, Google searches for quiet quitting were basically nonexistent until this past August.

But now it’s everywhere. TikToks dissecting the concept have amassed millions of views, prompting many national media outlets to publish explainers on the topic. The polling company Gallup found that at least half of Americans—maybe more—fit the definition of quiet quitting.

Amelia Nagoski, a co-author, with her sister Emily Nagoski, of the book “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle,” thinks the new term is useful—although she isn’t surprised by the discourse around it.

I was curious about the relationship between quiet quitting and the more scientifically established phenomenon of burnout. Nagoski and I discussed that over email.

Caroline Mimbs Nyce: How do you think quiet quitting relates to burnout?

Amelia Nagoski: I expect quiet quitting can be a part of a lifestyle to prevent burnout or help someone recover from burnout. Burnout begins with unceasing demands—the kinds that employers thrive on as they squeeze their employees not just for their time and labor, but for their obedience and their souls. A lot of those demands are unspoken cultural expectations rather than actual work requirements, and they comprise the bullsh*t that workers abandon when they quiet-quit.

Nyce: Because it’s so new, I imagine there hasn’t been much research on quiet quitting. But based on what we know about burnout, how rooted in psychological phenomena would you expect it to be?

Nagoski: We talk about the research on frustration and quitting very early in the book, because understanding it is so fundamental to managing burnout. Basically, when we have unmeetable goals, our brains can’t handle it. Our frustration grows into rage until eventually we are dropped into a pit of despair.

And how you get out of that cycle depends on whether you can or cannot control the thing that’s causing your frustration (the “stressor”). Quiet quitting is a strategy for when you can’t control the stressor. The revelation for lots of folks is discovering that they have the option to change how they approach their work, that they are not obligated to burn themselves out.

Nyce: Some people have pushed back on the term, calling it a misnomer (i.e., you’re still working) or just another term for doing one’s job. How useful do you think the term itself is?

Nagoski: Quiet quitting comes from the perspective of folks who have been selling not just their time, but their selves to their employer. So their experience feels like quitting. In that context, the term makes a lot of sense and is helpful.

Nyce: What kind of psychological relationship with work would you expect to see in someone who is considering quiet quitting?

Nagoski: If someone is thinking, Quiet quitting might be for me!, I would expect that they have, in the past, invested a lot of themselves into their work and felt like some of their self-worth is derived from their contribution to their employer. Workers throughout history have found the strength to detach their senses of self-worth from working conditions that are unreasonable, to do their jobs without giving in to the pressure to value themselves based solely on their contribution to the economy.

Nyce: Is it realistic for a person to just stop caring about work? How easy is it, practically speaking, to change your own mindset?

Nagoski: Every individual will vary in how easy it is for them to change their mindset about work. Once you see evidence that quiet quitting would be better for you, the real challenge is grieving the loss of something you thought was valuable, mourning the time and energy you invested into a relationship where you were not valued the way you deserved to be, and finding something new in your life that does give you what you thought (and were told) you would get from your work.

Nyce: A lot of quiet quitting seems, to me, to have to do with the amount of psychological space we give work. Do you think culturally we’re overdue for a recalibration?

Nagoski: It’s not just that we’re overdue for a recalibration. We’re overdue for a revolution.

The psychological space we give work is not just a choice we make as individuals or even just in our minds. It’s a cultural shift that must be impelled and supported by legislative support. Quiet quitting is a step toward rational and fair labor practices, but not everyone will have that choice. This is why we say in our book that the cure for burnout is not self-care. The cure for burnout is all of us caring for each other.

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