Help My Career: I tried ‘quiet quitting’ before it had a name — and I’ve regretted it ever since


For much of my 35 or so years in the workforce, I’ve prided myself on going the extra mile — such as trying to put in a solid 8-hour day that has sometimes stretched into a 10 or 12-hour day. And I’ve generally felt satisfaction in doing so, and earned some nice comments from employers along the way.

But I’ll never forget the time I “quiet quit” a job. It wasn’t a happy experience.

By now, you’ve probably heard about quiet quitting. It’s a buzz phrase that speaks to the idea of setting boundaries on the job, if not doing the bare minimum. The idea is that we often work harder than we need to — and we pay the price in terms of our mental, if not physical, health.

Read more: What is quiet quitting? Employees are setting boundaries for better work-life balance.

In my case, the idea of not giving it my “all” on the job came about three decades ago when I was in my late 20s and working in sales — something far removed from the career I had been building as a writer and editor. But it was an opportunity recommended to me by a friend at the company. I was uncertain if it would be the right fit — and I dreaded the nearly 90-minute commute to and from the office —but I frankly needed the money after the previous company I worked for had folded.

Once settled into the job, I quickly realized two things. First, it was as bad a gig as I had feared. Second, I could somehow stay employed without putting in that much effort.

“‘Even before ‘Seinfeld’ was a thing, I was auditioning for the role of George Costanza, the character who made a career out of avoiding work.’”

So, I took two-hour lunches, and used every excuse I could find to leave early. Even before “Seinfeld” was a thing, I was auditioning for the role of George Costanza, the character who made a career out of avoiding work. (Too bad I didn’t think of the napping nook that Costanza had built under his desk.)

Unlike George, I didn’t relish my on-the-job idleness, however. If anything, I was the most miserable I’ve ever been at any point in my professional life.

I get that for some quiet quitters, it’s about asserting their need for work-life balance and avoiding burnout. And I have little tolerance for employers who ask for more without providing proper compensation and having the necessary respect for their employees’ lives outside the office.

Related: ‘The backlash to quiet quitting smacks of another attempt by the ruling class to get workers back under their thumbs:’ Am I wrong?

But I think what’s being overlooked here is that work can provide purpose. And that being in a job where you’re satisfied to the point you’re willing — indeed, eager — to go above and beyond the call of duty is not necessarily a bad thing, assuming you can reasonably fit it into your schedule.

By contrast, to spend your days figuring out how to do as little as possible on the job, because your position holds no interest or because you hold some beef against your company, seems a recipe for a life less than fully lived. Wouldn’t it make more sense just to get a new job?

It turns out, I’m far from alone in thinking this way. I connected with several human-resource, financial and mental-health professionals who spoke of the potential pitfalls of quiet quitting.

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