Quiet quitting went viral in the summer of 2022, gaining attention from burnt-out employees desperate for change and from companies who feared it would strengthen the great resignation. Experts and thought leaders responded to the idea and worked to define it.
In early September, dictionary.com weighed in, describing quiet quitting as “the practice of reducing the amount of effort one devotes to one’s job, such as by stopping the completion of any tasks not explicitly stated in the job description. The term implies that this is done secretly or without notifying one’s boss or manager.”
Arianna Huffington would like to add her own definition, one that excises any sense of shame from the concept. The author, commentator, and entrepreneur calls quiet quitting a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to redefine how we work and live and do it openly.”
Huffington sees the attention around quiet quitting as a natural response to the global stress and burnout epidemic, which she believes was accelerating even before the pandemic. After she left The Huffington Post, she founded Thrive Global in 2016. The company’s whole premise is that, with the right tools, employers can help their workers avoid or recover from burnout and keep well-being at their center.
“We don’t have to choose between quitting or being burnt out,” Huffington says. “We can actually choose a healthy work-life with boundaries where our work does not define us.”
She isn’t a fan of the implication that setting boundaries should be shameful or that we should do it sneakily. “We have to do it loudly and clearly because it’s good for everyone—companies, employees, and the culture at large.”
In fact, she sees it as a responsibility to society. “This generation, especially Gen Z and millennials, are working to change the world around social justice. So why not also continue to work to change workplaces?” Huffington asks.
Huffington offers a three-step process to help employees leverage the attention quiet quitting is getting:
Be clear on your boundaries at work. This can be challenging in an always-on world of technology, but Huffington believes now is our chance. She cites a recent Deloitte survey in which 95% of executives agreed they should be responsible for employee well-being, and 83% said they’d increase their responsibility to it over the next two years. This added attention brings a “big cultural opening to be direct about your boundaries,” Huffington argues.
Audit your life’s alignment with your job. This is difficult for those who struggle to find meaning in their work or define what they want most from a job. Huffington suggests asking questions like “Is this a job that engages me for eight hours?” (The answer might not always be obvious. As Huffington notes, “a customer success employee can find meaning in their job by solving problems for the people they talk to, or you can see it as drudgery as you can’t wait to finish your shift.”) Once we find our purpose and determine whether our jobs engage us in that sense, we can stand up for ourselves more easily and set better boundaries.
If you can’t find joy or purpose in your job, move on. Over 47 million Americans quit their jobs in 2021. Not all of them went on to find joy in new roles, but many did build awareness of what they were—and were not—looking for in a role or company.
Huffington says there are numerous tools and strategies companies can use to create a culture where people can be engaged in their jobs and their lives. Here are four ways she says Thrive Global nurtures its own employees and teaches companies like Walmart, Accenture, and CVS how to establish a culture of well-being:
Entry interviews: Setting the tone from day one is vital. In their first one-on-one meeting with a new employee, each leader asks, “What is important to you outside of work, and how can we support you?” Huffington believes this opens the door to bringing your whole self to work and establishes a connection for ongoing interactions.
Compassionate directness: Thrive Global practices compassionate directness, a form of feedback that, according to Huffington, empowers employees to speak up, disagree, surface problems, and offer constructive criticism. Compassion comes into play by speaking up quickly, consistently, and with clarity, in an empathetic way.
Thrive time: While absenteeism is tracked closely, presenteeism, showing up for work physically but not fully functioning, is often ignored. According to a study by Global Corporate Challenge, employees may miss an average of four days annually, but they’re unproductive almost 58 days each year.
While it’s often caused by illness or other medical conditions, stress and burnout also can trigger presenteeism. If employers are willing to make sure employees have better healthcare options for culprits like allergies and depression, should they not also rethink the effort needed to complete, and recover from, a project?
Giving breaks, or what Huffington calls “thrive time,” acknowledges that getting results often requires extra time and effort. More importantly, it reinforces that recovery isn’t separate from work; it’s essential to high performance. Some employees may need a few hours, whereas others may take an entire day or more. At Thrive, thrive time doesn’t count against any other categories of time off.
Follow the leaders: Before CVS brought Thrive Global’s wellness platform to the U.S. drugstore chain’s 300,000 employees, it first launched the program with 2,800 company leaders. This micro-step, says Huffington, helped leaders model new behaviors of setting boundaries and protecting their health and well-being differently than before.
The premise underlying any of these steps, Huffington notes, is that employee experience is the company’s top priority. And that starts, Huffington says, when a company understands that “employee well-being and mental health improve business metrics like retention, attrition, productivity, and healthcare costs.”