How to Set Boundaries at Work Instead of ‘Quiet Quitting’

The idea of quiet quitting has been getting a lot of attention on social media recently, and could be more widespread than you think—around half of American workers are quiet quitters, according to a recent survey by Gallup. This is often a response to being overworked. Proponents have commandeered the phrase “act your wage” to encourage workers to do just what they are paid to in an attempt at setting boundaries at work. Company executives and some careers experts warn that checking out at work could have serious long-term consequences for employees’ careers, as well as their employers.

Anita Williams Woolley is an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University of organizational theory and behavior. She encourages employees to be more involved in their workplace lives than being passive. “If you’re really upset about something, you can often overestimate how unsolvable it is,” she says. “I don’t think you need to quiet quit to get out of a situation.”

These are some ways Wooolley and other experts suggest that you set boundaries at work before you start disengaging.

Be vocal about what’s not working and what is

Sometimes employees who are unfocused at work make the difficult decision to shift their pace. This suggests that they won’t communicate their feelings with their employers. It is important to communicate your boundaries with the workplace. Speaking to your manager about what isn’t working and what your personal goals are can make all the difference, says Jim Harter, Chief Scientist for Gallup’s workplace management practice. Harter recommends having these deep conversations to create a culture of accountability. “That builds some equity into the culture. That feels good for you, your well-being and it’s good for the company.”

It may be time to have a discussion about how your salary is set up. Mary Nice is a career and workplace coach. She suggests that you have a dialogue with your boss to advocate for a higher salary. Make sure you clearly state your reasons for wanting a raise. “Conversations about money are going to be uncomfortable, but they are also completely expected and deserved,” she says.

Make time for yourself

Many people find it difficult to request time off, even if paid time off (PTO), days are included in their work contracts. The U.S. Travel Association reports that Americans left 33% less than their scheduled paid time off in 2020. Don’t neglect to take a break from your work. This can cause burnout, stress-related problems and more. “It’s tough to gain perspective when we’re in our normal routines,” says career advisor Nice. “PTO allows us the chance to break our routine and get through our stress cycle.” Prioritizing yourself means rightfully requesting your days off (with advanced notice to your manager) so that you can rest and come back to work recharged. You have the day to use!

You can limit notifications beyond work hours

Remote work, which has been a growing trend in recent years, blurs the line between work and personal life. This leads to frustration with each Slack or after-hours message. Ana Goehner is a career strategist who has nearly five years of experience in human resource management. She suggests that limiting your work hours may help to clarify those lines. Goehner says that communicating these boundaries with your team is key. “Managers are not mind readers, so you need to communicate your availability.” If you plan on setting your phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ or are limiting your time-frame of answering emails after a certain hour, be sure to clearly relay that to the rest of your team to manage their expectations of you.

Your mental and physical well-being should be prioritized

Your mental and physical well-being is crucial to how your work performance and your overall wellbeing. Teachers are the most affected by this imbalance. A Gallup poll recently revealed that K-12 students and college and university workers are suffering from the worst levels of burnout, compared with other sectors.

The rise in burnout within the journalism profession is a growing problem. This has caused many journalists to quit due to increased stress and anxiety. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, journalism jobs are expected to decline by 4.8% in 2030.

These are just a few steps that workers can take in order to reduce stress. Leslie Rangel, an anchor at FOX 7 Austin, also known as “The News Yogi,” is combating burnout of the news industry by leading over 500 journalists in yoga and meditation sessions to help manage their stress levels. Rangel says that by making small changes in your daily life, like practicing yoga and doing thought work, you can dramatically improve the quality of your work environment. “There’s a common misconception that yoga means you have to roll out a mat and do this whole thing, but in reality yoga can be as simple as intentional breathing,” says Rangel. “Sprinkle that throughout your day.”

Your work should have meaning.

One of the main factors contributing to burnout at work is increased mental distance or negativity related to one’s job, according to the World Health Organization. A great way to make an impact is to feel passion, purpose, and diversity in your job. “It’s meaningful when you feel like you’re doing something that has an impact, that you care about, or that feels important to the company,” says Carnegie Mellon’s Woolley. That mindset can be difficult to embrace when your work feels mundane, but Woolley argues that even the simple task of filing cabinets “plays a role in a company’s bigger outcome.” Nice says that finding meaning at work can go beyond your contributions for a company. You can also find motivation in things that make your life better, such as building relationships with others, getting financial stability and gains, or having access to health care.

So before “quiet quitting” your job, or flat out quitting, try making your current workplace work for you and your goals. “If you haven’t set boundaries and communicated what you need, when you go to another job you’re just taking all of that lack of clarity into a different setting,” says Rangel. “You can get rid of the stressor, but not get rid of the stress.”

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