Moms Have Been Quiet Quitting for Decades—Will Executives Hear The Wake-Up Call?

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Here’s a question for you: when 5 p.m. hits, do you mentally clock out and focus on life outside of work, or do you succumb to grind culture, answering the calls and emails that slip into your “off” hours? Your answer may reflect your age—or your caregiver status.

While every generation and demographic has experienced burnout, Gen Z is the first to publicly reject the “rise and grind” mentality and embrace the seemingly rebellious act of “quiet quitting.” As TikTok user Zaiad Khan said in a video that went viral, “you’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond.”  But shhh—here’s a secret—this is something moms in the workforce have been forced to do for decades.

The fact that “quiet quitting” is seen as a modern act of boundary-making reveals just how much moms have mastered the “quiet” component. Make no mistake, our quietness has not been a product of passivity, but an approach born of necessity. Moms in the workforce haven’t had an equal voice in creating workplace culture; instead, we’ve had three choices: One, bend to a hustle mentality that promotes personal sacrifice at the expense of family and well-being. Two, we can opt out, but is that really an option when the alternative leads to burnout and imbalance? Or three, we can quiet quit and risk being mommy-tracked.

To survive and maintain some semblance of sanity (although we can see this waning), we’ve been choosing option three for years, allowing us to keep our jobs…but not our opportunities for advancement. When we’re no longer willing to give 24/7 to a job, to tolerate grueling hours and the endless networking events that creep into our evenings, weekends and time with friends and families, we’re seen as less-than-ideal employees who are no longer committed to our careers. We’re pegged as an unworthy investment because we’ve “decided” to get off the leadership track.

The cost of being a caregiver with responsibilities and interests (in our families, no less) is high. And sadly, some executives and leaders are equating quiet quitting with giving up. Arianna Huffington made waves with a LinkedIn post saying, “Quiet quitting isn’t just about quitting on a job, it’s a step toward quitting on life.” And if a successful entrepreneur and influencer such as her (who touts the value of rest and healthy boundaries) doesn’t get the perils of silent compliance to a system that churns and burns (and why it’s silent), what can we do?

From a practical and economical perspective, mothers and caregivers can bring unparalleled value—we’re ambitious, innovative and extremely resourceful (we all know the saying if you want something done, give it to a busy mom). But because we hold our boundaries and shut down work at 5 p.m. to pick up our kids, we are pushed to the side—and a huge resource of talent and skill is left on the table. It doesn’t take long to connect the dots to see how organizations lose. Gallup’s 2022 “State of the Global Workplace” report determined that employee wellbeing is the new workplace imperative. This comes dovetailed with the finding that job dissatisfaction is at an all-time high and that unhappy, disengaged workers cost the global economy $7.8 trillion.

At its core, quiet quitting is the response to burnout and depletion of work-life balance combined with disconnected management that glorifies a hustle mentality and doesn’t leave space for employee needs. Hence the “quiet” resistance. As burnout builds—and employees feel burned through—people are no longer willing to sacrifice their whole life (or mental health) for work.

Desiree Pascual, chief people officer at Headspace Health, believes quiet quitting should be a wake-up call for employers to do better. “When your work practices lead to employee satisfaction, psychological safety and engagement,” Pascual says in an interview, “there’s no such thing as quiet quitting because you have created pathways to meet your employees’ needs as well as your own.”

In truth, quiet quitting isn’t giving up on life—it’s an effort to take life more seriously through boundaries that uphold a healthier way of living.  In this Time article, millennial software developer Shini Ko suggests we rethink our wording. “It’s negative and dangerous that we frame a healthy work-life balance as quitting,” says Ko. “Can we just call it what it is? It’s just working.”

I would challenge executives to open their eyes to what moms and caregivers have been saying for decades—we simply want to be able to care for ourselves and our families while also growing in our careers. We want to dig in, to lead, to innovate—we just don’t want to do it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and at the expense of our ability to care for our families.

Posted In: Mothers & Work, Work & Family

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