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There are better ways than quiet quitting to deal with a crummy workplace


THE NEWS: Yet another study says dissatisfied workers are “quiet quitting” by only doing the bare minimum because they feel underpaid and undervalued.

WHAT THIS MEANS TO YOU: Welcome to the working world. If this is you, there are better ways.

Yet another study has come out about how Americans are “quiet quitting,” because they feel overworked, underpaid and undervalued by their employer. Quiet quitting, if you haven’t been following this “trend,” means not putting in any more effort than what’s required on the job.

If you’ve been in the workforce for any amount of time, you’re probably saying, “This is a thing with a name now?”

Welcome to the club.

First, the latest study, a poll by Clever Real Estate, found:

  • 33% of workers consider themselves quiet quitters
  • 39% have quiet quit at previous jobs.
  • 78% say while they may not be a quiet quitter, they done things at work that constitute quiet quitting
  • 57% have not put in extra effort at work in the past year.
  • 55% don’t believe hard work will help them get ahead in today’s workplace
  • 39% say their manager hasn’t noticed their lack of effort 
  • 86% say they care about their company’s success
  • 39% say their company doesn’t care about them.
  • 68% spend less than 40 hours actually working, with average number of hours 34

This is what we used to call in the news business “dog bites man” information.

Leave it to whatever the generation younger than me – I can’t keep all the names and years for these generations straight – to put a positive, even heroic, spin on a negative workforce practice that’s been going on since the first cavepersons got together to gather sticks for the fire. That’s what happens when you give everyone on the T-ball team a trophy – they grow up to be workers who act like they invented, and are oddly proud about, slacking off at work.

I started in the full-time workforce 40 years ago, and the only difference between now and 1983 (and 1993, 2003, 2013) and the only difference it wasn’t given a name and considered news.

Workers have always felt underpaid, undervalued and overworked. Everyone in the workplace always knew which coworkers they could count on, and which ones were doing the bare minimum. 

And many of the bare minimum guys when in the breakroom, or at the bar after work, would complain about how undervalued they were and assert how they’re not doing anything extra because of it.

Let’s hash out quiet quitting, aka worker dissatisfaction, and the options with a little Q&A.

Q. But it’s worse for workers now than it was in the past, right?

A. If we’re talking money, “real wages,” which is how much buying power your income has, is up 32% over the last 30 years for production and nonsupervisory workers and 25% for all workers.

Still, women make 82.9 cents for every dollar a man makes. Workers of color make even less on the dollar.

One factor that may contribute to more workers feeling overworked and underpaid is the decline in union membership. In 2022, 10.1% of wage workers in the U.S. were members of a union, compared to 20.3% in 1983, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Being a member of a union makes it more likely you’ll be compensated at the same rate as your coworkers who do the same job, you’ll be paid more for extra work, your hours and other work conditions will be clearly established and there will be a grievance procedure when the rules aren’t followed by the boss.

Women, Black, Latino, Native and LGBTQ+ workers are all less overtly discriminated against and harassed in the workplace than they were decades ago. The key word being “overtly.”

Most workers in those groups who have been in the workforce for more than two decades will likely say that while overt harassment and discrimination has gone by the wayside, institutional bias and more subtle discrimination and harassment are still major issues.

In general, the workplace is a better place than it used to be. But people are now more aware that it is supposed to be even better, and that can lead to a lot of unhappiness.

Q. Why is that, when federal and state policies make discrimination and harassment illegal?

A. The short answer is that people are people. The longer answer is that policies don’t do any good unless they are taken seriously and enforced.

The people policies are supposed to protect often don’t feel safe or listened to, and may be reluctant to complain. When they do, sometimes nothing is done. Sometimes it backfires on them, particularly for women and Black, Latino, Native and LGBTQ+ workers who have to overcome stereotypes about asserting themselves or advocating for themselves.

Smaller businesses may not have the channels for workers to make complaints and have them dealt with. Even in companies with human resource departments, the perception (and often the reality) is that HR is more likely to protect management than workers.

And the people who are making the decisions and setting the tone often are not the same gender, race or ethnicity of those who the policies are supposed to protect.

Last year, 88.8% of C-suite executives, (CEOs, CFOs, COOs, etc.) were Caucasian and 88.1% were men, according to the annual Crist Kolder Volatility report, which looks at the Fortune 500 and S&P 500 companies (a total of 681 businesses).

It’s often difficult for people who are a member of the group that’s traditionally held the power and privilege to recognize that they are discriminating. They often think they’re not. Or assume the managers below them aren’t, since there are policies in place.

Aside from discrimination, studies show that employers also don’t see value that workers who have a different perspective or background bring. They look for workers who fit a certain rigid type, and whatever value those outside the type bring, it’s missed by the supervisor because they don’t have the experience or insight to recognize it.

A recent PEW research study found that 61% of women believe they’re treated differently in the workplace than men in ways that often result in lower pay. Yet 37% of men say women are not treated differently. That’s called the “perception gap” and it’s one reason the gender wage gap hasn’t risen in 20 years.

One great example is nursing. In 2022, female nurses with the same or better qualifications made an average $14,000 a year less than male nurses. All the perceptions about why women make less than men – They take time off for kids! They aren’t good negotiators! Etc.! – aren’t factors. They simply are paid less.

All this isn’t to say things are suddenly awful in the workplace – things are better than they used to be. Just not better enough.

What’s changed is that while there are laws and policies designed to force companies to treat people fairly, they are not an instant fix. When they’re ignored, perceived to be followed when they’re not or not enforced properly, they’re useless while at the same time allowing a perception that there is no discrimination or harassment.

Meanwhile workers expect to be treated fairly because of the policies and laws. Companies post them on their websites and bulletin boards, require training, make earnest vows about DEI goals – workers believe they wouldn’t be saying all these things if they weren’t true. When it turns out, in many cases, that the company has no follow-through, employees get disenchanted. 

Q. Are you saying it’s pointless to complain about discrimination or harassment?

A. Not at all. The more people do, the more it will be taken seriously and the more things will change. If you have a harassment or discrimination complaint at work:

  • Be sure to save any documentation that can support your case. 
  • Familiarize yourself with your company’s policy, as well as state and federal employment law, so that you have all your ducks in a row before you take action.
  • Bring the complaint to the right person. Understand your company’s chain of command. If there is an HR department, that’s where you may want to go. If you feel comfortable bringing it to a supervisor, start there. But have some understanding about where to bring it, so it doesn’t get swept under the rug.
  • Have specifics. If someone got a promotion you should have, be sure you can make specific points about why you were the right candidate. If someone is harassing you, the more specific you can be, the better.
  • If your company has a complaint procedure, follow it. If it doesn’t, make your complaint in person, don’t text or email. Texts and emails have a way of devolving into a back and forth, or getting lost or ignored. Go to the appropriate person and make a proper complaint.
  • Be as professional and businesslike as possible. 
  • Don’t apologize. You are bringing a work issue to your company’s attention.
  • Bring someone with you. Bringing a coworker makes it less likely that you’ll get jerked around, and there will also be a witness to what’s said. Have them take notes, so you can focus on the conversation. Their role is not to intervene, but to be a helpful observer. 
  • Be prepared to be gaslighted. Managers may discount your complaint, tell you that you you’re wrong, and more. If you’ve done your homework, you know you’re right and can bring it to the next level.
  • If you are threatened, retaliated against, or fired, document everything and don’t let it just go.
  • Bring it to the next level if you aren’t happy about the response. This may mean calling an employment lawyer. Don’t be afraid, at worst they can give you good advice about your case.

Q. But let’s say I don’t have an issue that rises to that level. I’m just overworked, underpaid and unappreciated. It sounds like quiet quitting is really the best defense, right?

A. No. Statistics are one thing, but reality is another. If you decide to protest the fact you’re underpaid and undervalued by doing less work, it’s not going to get you better pay or make your employer like you more. At best, it’s passive-aggressive. At worst, it can cost you your job.

Q. The poll says that employers don’t notice.

A. No, the poll says that 39% of quiet quitters say their manager hasn’t noticed. How do they know that? 

My dad, who used to be a management consultant, always said that if you want to get a job done, give it to the person with the most work on their desk. The clever management takeaway is that you should give more work to someone who you know works hard. The subtext, though, is that managers know who’s working hard and who isn’t, and often are just too  busy/lazy/conflict-adverse or whatever to ride herd on the people they can’t count on.

That doesn’t mean though you won’t get written up, “counseled,” reprimanded or fired out of the blue with no warning.

Q. So what are we supposed to do if we don’t quiet quit?

A. Another thing they’re not doing studies on, but I can say anecdotally from 40 years in the workplace: if a company doesn’t value its employees, has a history of low pay and long hours, hires managers who aren’t good at their job, doesn’t understand discrimination or take it seriously, and is doing anything else that makes you hate your job, they’re not going to change. 

No one is going to say, “Look, Steve is quiet quitting! I feel bad he’s underpaid and undervalued. Who knew?! Let’s change our culture!”

Your workplace likely isn’t going to change. The only thing you can change is you. If you’re unhappy with your job, you should consider whether any of these solutions are appropriate:

  • Dig deep about what is making you unhappy and what about it is in your power to change.
  • If you think there’s a hope of things changing, talk (in person) to your manager about why you’re unhappy and see if you can find some solutions.
  • Consider career counseling to determine whether something else is a better fit and will make you happier.
  • Invest in further education, certificate programs or training that can get you a new career or boost the one you have.

If you decide to change jobs, consider these options:

  • Find a better-paying job. Even if the new workplace also makes you unhappy, at least you’ll be making more money.
  • Consider living in another part of the country. Research your career and see what people who do what you do make in other places. 
  • Fully vet a workplace before applying for or accepting a job there. Read reviews on Glassdoor, see if you can ask around and find people who worked there. Put that job through the same hoops a hiring employer would put you through and figure out if it’s the kind of place where you can be happy.
  • Find a job backed by a strong union. Your employer will be required to pay everyone according to a scale, not all the subjective reasons people are paid what they are at non-union workplaces. There will be a grievance process for complaints. The amount of work you’re required to do is spelled out, and if you work overtime you get paid for it. Yes, that’s an ideal situation, but if people don’t work by the rules, there are ways to go about making sure they do.

Q. And until I do any of that, I continue to quiet quit?

A. No! First of all, even with employers so careful about references these days, you don’t want word to get out to a potential future employer or new manager that you’re lazy, not a team player, have no work ethic, and all the other things that quiet quitting can be called.

Second of all, if your workplace is such that if you start doing less, someone else will have to do more, then you’re causing someone else a problem.

Third of all, not to sound like a Boomer, but have some pride in yourself and what you’re doing. In the end it’s you that you have to answer to. Do your job and do it well, because that’s what grownups in the workplace do. 

The poll said 86% of respondents care about their company’s success. I call BS, because if they really did, they’d look for solutions that had a positive outcome.

Q. Wow, you’re really hard on people who don’t want to be taken advantage of at work. #OKboomer.

A. Actually, I’m not.

Don’t let yourself be taken advantage of. If your version of quiet quitting is refusing to work extra hours without the extra pay that goes with it or to not do work someone else should be doing but they’re not because they’re quiet quitting too, I’m all for it.

If your employer expects you to respond to phone calls, texts and emails at all hours, or on weekends or vacations, turn off the phone and quiet quit that. Unless you’re paid to be on call, you’re allowed to have life outside of work.

If your employer is consistently asking you to do things that aren’t part of your job description, you should (in a professional way) address the topic with them and either say you shouldn’t be doing the work, or you want to be compensated for it. If they give you pushback or say you’re not a team player, find a new employer.

Don’t do something 40 hours a week (or more) that you don’t enjoy doing. Don’t allow your job to stress you out or mess up your life. Don’t be mistreated, harassed or the object of discrimination. Don’t do work that’s boring or makes you miserable.

On the other hand, don’t be the guy that no one can depend on, because sometimes at work things happen and people need to depend on others to step up their game.

Don’t expect a trophy for just showing up, because work isn’t T-ball. There will be times, no matter what the job, when you have to work harder than you’d like to. There will definitely be times that no one will appreciate it. Quiet quitting to protest a really bad job situations or just job unhappiness is not a solution. We’ve looked at some of the things that make a workplace bad, and some of the options.

Figure out how to be happy at work, then find a place or situation that will come as close as possible to meeting that goal.


About this Contributor

Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken is a contract reporter and content producer for consumer financial agencies. She has worked for northern New England publications, including the New Hampshire Union Leader, for 25 years, and most recently at Mainebiz in Portland, Maine. She can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.

1 thought on “There are better ways than quiet quitting to deal with a crummy workplace”

  1. In the last ten years I’ve especially noticed how others say I’m such a good, hard worker. I’m definitely blue coller (construction), but rarely break a sweat. Naturally, it leads me to believe that the overall attitude that traditionally goes with employment has soured. Because if you work hard and are loyal to your employer, you should be able to afford a decent place to live. Have a quality of life you can be proud of. This is simply no longer the case.


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