The Internet is abuzz about “quiet quitting”. While summer of 2021 saw “the great resignation”–large numbers of mid-career professionals and those in their twenties quitting jobs to freelance, launch startups, or take a career break–this summer resigning has given way to the quiet quit. Quiet quitting refers to “opting out of tasks beyond one’s assigned duties and/or becoming less psychologically invested in work.” Quiet quitters continue to do their primary jobs, but are less willing to engage in activities above and beyond their core role–“no more staying up late, showing up early, or attending non-mandatory meetings.”
Quiet quitting may be new to the workplace–or at least newly-trending online–but I have a hunch that it’s been happening in the Church for a while now. And, specifically, among women in the Church.
Are Women Quiet Quitting Church?
I will fully admit that I don’t have any data whatsoever to support this. It’s a tricky thing to measure, anyway, because I’m not talking about resignation. I’m not talking about women taking their names off of Church rolls. So while a lot of people have been talking about declining membership (or at least slowing or flat growth), and about resignations, I’m talking about engagement. Engagement is in fact quantifiable–employers run engagement surveys all the time (these have replaced “employee satisfaction” in many places)–but I don’t know that the Church or anyone else has done any engagement studies. While I have seen Church surveys that ask for information like how many times a month you attend Church, the temple, etcI think those are really directed at creating a profile with which to associate data (i.e., what is the correlation between a person’s Church attendance and beliefs about Heavenly Mother?) rather than actually measuring and trying to improve engagement.
That being said, my personal observation is that over the last five or so years I’ve seen a major shift in the way women around me participate at Church. Yes, I’ve seen plenty leave. And yes, I see many who remain the most stalwart defenders of even the most sexist of Church policies and teachings. But I’ve seen many who continue to participate on some level, but on radically redefined terms. While this varies, some of what I’ve seen in my own circles, among prominent Mormon influencers, and in various social media and other forums includes:
- No longer wearing garments all of the time, or at all, and openly speaking about discomfort around garment-wearing.
- No longer holding a temple recommend, or at least no longer attending the temple.
- Less willingness to go above-and-beyond for callings and a de-prioritization of Church service, meetings, and activities.
- Choosing to donate money to charities instead of tithing to the Church.
- Swearing & watching R-rated content (this makes me laugh, but still, it’s a thing!).
- Openly criticizing Church leadership, past and present, and being much more open and comfortable about things like working outside the home and supporting gay marriage.
- Following a much looser interpretation of the Word of Wisdom (anything ranging from Kombucha to coffee to alcohol to psychedelics).
- Investing time and energy into alternative spiritual pursuits, and paying more attention to religious or spiritual thinkers from other faiths than to general authorities within the LDS faith (people like Glennon Doyle, Ekhart Tolle, Richard Rohr, and Rachel Held Evans).
I’m probably missing some, and feel free to add your own observations in the comments. But what’s also striking about this is that for many of these women, their husbands and families remain active (and in many cases, the husbands are more active and engaged in Church than the wives). That is the exact opposite of the pattern I saw most growing up, where “Jack Mormons” (remember that term?) were men whose stalwart wives brought the kids to Church every Sunday and prayed that one day dad would come back to Church. I’m seeing a role reversal here. That’s not to say that there aren’t couples where the woman is the more active of the two, or that both are equally disengaged, or that both are equally engaged–that may very well still be the majority. I’m just saying it’s a trend I’m observing that was hitherto unknown and even unfathomable to me.
Is the Church Paying Attention to Quiet Quitters?
What’s particularly interesting to me as well is that I don’t know if the Church has a clue this is happening. One of the very causes of disengagement—the fact that the Church undervalues and underutilizes women–also makes it more difficult for the Church to notice their disengagement. Women don’t have the same trackable markers of advancement and activity than men have (no priesthood advancement). The way the Church defaults to men as “head-of-household” means they may be unaware of women who no longer pay tithing. And although the Church seems to be trying to cut down on the number of male leaders required to run a ward (eliminating YM presidencies and high priest groups), a ward and especially a stake and region still require far more men to run them than women–so they may not feel the pain of losing good candidates for callings quite yet.
That said, the Church is certainly aware of temple recommend status and I have heard many reports of ward council meetings and initiatives focused on the new problem of ward members letting their temple recommends lapse and not renewing them. One person I know was even given a list of everyone in the ward without a temple recommend to prayer over and decide how to reach out (!!!). And there have been many recent talks at General Conference and at a stake and regional level emphasizing the need to have a temple recommend, as well as concerns about staffing Nelson’s 100 to-be-built temples.
Sooner or later, quiet quitting will catch up to the Church and impact numbers. While I don’t have any data, it’s not hard to believe that a quiet quitting mom will be less likely to focus on sending kids on missions or even pushing activity onto children. A cynical view may be that the Church would just prefer these quiet quitters quit altogether. That’s how many companies feel about quiet-quitting employees: many employers would prefer a quiet quitter to resign so that they can be replaced rather than performance-manage underperformers out, since that takes time and resources. When it comes to quiet quitting in the Church, I can see the Church being concerned that a more laid-back approach to Church participation (and outspoken opposition to Church policies or culture) may go viral and infect other members. On the local level, I’ve seen a lot of support for less-engaged members–with leaders preferring that people stay at least somewhat engaged on their own terms if the alternative is complete withdrawal. But I imagine that some local leaders feel otherwise and would prefer an up-or-out approach, and I think many regional and general authorities are likewise all-or-nothing when it comes to participation.
What Causes Quiet Quitting & How Can It Be Addressed?
When it comes to employee quiet-quitting, experts are evaluating root causes and suggesting solutions. Three covered in a recent Harvard Business Review article include:
- Burnout and job creep. One cause of quiet quitting is that, while the gradual expansion of an employee’s duties over time is natural, some employees felt a particularly large expansion during the pandemic. This expansion was taken for granted by employers, who did not reward employees with promotions, acknowledgement, or compensation increases. The suggested solution is to recalibrate employees’ job responsibilities to make sure they are clear on expectations, that they are compensated accordingly, and they are not taking on too many non-essential / outside scope tasks.
- Not feeling heard or empowered to drive change. Another cause of quiet quitting is that employees do not feel listened to or invested in. Solutions to this include collecting quantitative and qualitative data around what employees need to feel engaged at work, conducting “stay” interviews to provide insight into employee experiences, creating an environment where employees feel safe speaking up and in which they feel confident that leadership will hear and address their concerns. Finally, employers need to recognize that not all employees are the same. Instead of creating one-size-fits-all solutions, find out what employees really want. Some may value career development, some may want a flexible schedule, and some want higher pay. Targeted investments depending on what employees value can help with retention and engagement.
- Less busy work, better-crafted assignments. The reality is that in many workplaces, creating an inclusive, fun, engaging, and successful culture requires employees to go above and beyond their core jobs. That might be mentoring other employees, participating in resource groups for underrepresented minorities at work, having team activities, or putting on educational seminars. But not all employees will be equally interested in these extracurricular activities. Finding out what kinds of projects employees are energized by and then empowering them to work on those can create a better match between employees & extracurricular work.
- Lack of connection and community. I have one more to add to the list, but it’s just another theory of mine. I think remote work is making people feel less connected to their workplaces and colleagues and so less interested in going above and beyond to create a company culture. To the extent that kind of connection drives engagement, I think it may be contributing to quiet quitting. I don’t know how you fix that in a remote world, but many companies are working (quietly or loudly …) to get people back in-person at regular intervals or otherwise figure out how to build a culture remotely.
I think the connections between these causes & solutions and women at Church are fairly self-evident:
- Women are the workhorses of the Church and yet, paradoxically, nonessential: while a ward could not exist without men (because there would be no priesthood holders), it could not function without women (because they tend to do the bulk of the work when it comes to teaching children and youth, and I am even referring to Young Men since in my experience the Young Women’s leaders keep both programs afloat).
- Women do not have a forum to give feedback or input, and often are not even empowered to make decisions that impact the organizations they are supposed to be running.
- Women’s skills are underutilized at Church. Many women have excellent leadership and professional skills, but those skills tend to be overlooked in favor of more traditional roles and skills like caring for children, music, decorating, etc.
- Covid hurt women’s sense of connection to Church, particularly women who weren’t able to take the sacrament during Covid. (Many of those women simply stopped taking it, and realized they didn’t miss it. This is a problem for the Church.)
As far as solutions, easier said than done. While I appreciate strides the Church is making to be more inclusive of women in leadership and represent more diversity (like the General Relief Society Presidency including a lawyer, a single woman, and PANTS WEARERS), the gulf between how women expect to be treated in the workplace and world and how they are treated institutionally by the Church remains wide. I can’t think of anything more demotivating than feeling like I don’t matter to an organization and I can’t influence it–and continued institutional sidelining seems a perfect recipe for quiet quitting.
- Are you sick of hearing about quiet quitting on LinkedIn? What are your thoughts on it?
- Have you observed quiet quitting at Church? What other behaviors would you include as “quiet quitting”?
- Do you think women are quiet quitting in increasing numbers lately, or do I just live in an echo chamber? Are there other populations or types of people you observe quiet quitting? Do you think this is having a positive or negative impact on wards?
- Do you think Church leadership is paying attention to quiet quitting? Why or why not? How do you think they are addressing it? Are those efforts fruitful? How would you address it?