- Gina Cobb was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disease last year.
- It’s a disability that can be both mentally and physically debilitating and interfere with her work.
- That’s why she quietly gives up, only doing her job as described and nothing more.
When Gina Cobb was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disease last year, it completely changed her life — and transformed her relationship with work.
Cobb, 26, is a senior marketing strategist working remotely at an international marketing firm based in Toronto, where she has worked for the past two years. She asked that her real name, exact autoimmune disorder and company remain confidential, but all were verified by Insider.
Cobb told Insider that her autoimmune disease and co-diagnosis of ADHD make her a completely different type of employee. While she previously regularly worked overtime without complaint and took on heavy workloads, she said, the realities of her condition meant it was time to make a change.
That is why she decided to join the league of workers who “quietly quit”.
Sometimes called “acting your paycheck,” the practice involves doing your job as written for the pay you receive, and no more. It may not seem new or controversial, but it shines a light on how workers are seeking better work-life balances and changing perceptions of the 9 to 5 – especially during the Great Resignation and especially for young people seeking to heal their personal life as a career and their work as a side hustle.
For workers like Cobb, leaving quietly is more than just a philosophy: it’s a matter of survival.
“The job was definitely a thorn in my side that really affected my whole life,” she told Insider. “Because when I neglected my health, which bled into my personal life… It became unclear to me where my illness stopped and the stress of my job began.”
“It was so hard to distinguish between what was caused by the anxiety from this job and what was caused by my illness”
Cobb first became ill when she started work, and said her mental health issues were exacerbated by the stress of trying to juggle both.
When he started in marketing, Cobb said he was “the guy who worked longer hours, trying to impress his bosses, things like that.”
But now that she is often in physical pain, she said she needs to make a change.
“When you’re in the middle of an attack, sometimes you can’t get out of bed because you’re in so much pain,” she said.
“From your brain, to your stomach, to your skin, it’s something that’s an all-out attack on your whole immune system and body,” she said, adding that she also experiences brain fog. She is also very sensitive to sunlight during bad flare-ups, making it difficult to work in person when she needs to.
Cobb said she initially attributed the symptoms of her illness to the stress of the workplace, given that she worked long, distant hours, sometimes 12 hours a day. There was also a mass layoff at her company last year, which Insider confirmed, meaning other employees like Cobb are expected to take on the remaining work.
“It was the cycle of getting up, working evenings, working weekends and the combination of stress and fatigue I felt. And it got to the point where I was just getting sick,” she said. “It was so hard to separate what was caused by the anxiety from this job and what was caused by my illness.”
“I’m willing to do more if you want to make it up to me”
After receiving her diagnosis, Cobb took a month’s sick leave, which helped her reorient her approach to work. She said the rest helped her manage her symptoms and reduced the pain and brain fog she was experiencing.
When she returned to work, Cobb set boundaries: Her employers denied her request for a raise and a promotion, she said, so she began doing only the tasks that were clearly outlined for her role.
“I said it out loud,” she said. “I said, ‘I just want to be clear that I’m not going to work beyond this role at this level of pay’ and when they later started asking for more, I said to myself, ‘No, I’m not doing any more.’ And I’ve found ways to make sure I’m out at 5pm by making sure I do these quiet opt-out things. I had a conversation with my team and even said, “Look, I’m willing to do more if you’re going to compensate me.”
With more money comes more accommodations, she said — she can pay for a house cleaner or get window shades for her car to help with her sensitivity to sunlight, meaning she can drive to the office more often .
“It’s going to be worth it because there are little things that can give you raises that allow you to maybe put more of yourself into your work life,” she said.
Cobb emphasized that she doesn’t actually do less work, but rather “I speak up when things aren’t getting done or when there’s a problem,” such as a co-worker turning in an assignment late.
“And now when I send emails, I say ‘hey team, if it comes ahead of time, I’ll send it. If not, we will do it tomorrow.”
That’s a big difference from earlier in her career, she said, which she attributes to being young and not wanting to back down. Likewise, Cobb said that being a woman of color in a majority white workplace makes her feel like she’s being watched too closely to get away with saying no to things.
“I don’t want to say that young people are setting themselves up to take advantage of them, but we don’t know how far we can go,” she said. “That’s something I’ve had to learn. I have to fulfill my role as defined, but also not apologize for who I am.”