Creating Excellence Through People

Could Protean and Boundaryless Careers be the Solution to Quiet Quitting?

Let's consider what happens to quiet quitting when unsatisfied employees embrace the concepts of protean and boundaryless careers.

The buzz term “quiet quitting” has calmed down a bit, but it continues to be used to describe the consequence of poor management, a less-than-desirable work environment, feeling unappreciated and bored on the job, among other things. But consider what happens to quiet quitting when unsatisfied employees embrace the concepts of protean and boundaryless careers. Stay with me on this…

I teach BUS-234, Training and Development, at a local community college. One of the final modules discusses career management and development. The terms protean and boundaryless careers are included in the terminology. Protean career theory refers to the self-direction, psychological success, and responsibility an employee takes for managing their own career. Boundaryless career theory focuses on the fluidity of career, including identifying with more than one job or profession, and beyond one employer. (Noe, 2022) The two concepts go hand in hand.

I asked the class of mostly working adult students what they thought about the idea of boundaryless careers. One student responded by asking if it had to do with loyalty. Genius question, and it does, but possibly not in the traditional way that employers define loyalty. The student then said that he agreed with not putting all our eggs in one basket when it comes to managing career.

To some employers, loyalty means showing up and sticking around. Unfortunately, that perspective of loyalty can promote putting all our eggs in one basket and, potentially, quiet quitting. In theory, the thought of an employee owning their own career path should not be a threat to the employer. In reality, it may very well be perceived as a threat because companies are striving to retain top talent. They need a qualified workforce to operate and thrive. An employee managing their own career opportunities and direction may sound like a flight risk waiting to happen.

Employers should be doing all they can to retain employees through fair and competitive compensation, benefits, work environment, development opportunities, and more. On the flip side, the reality is even if an employer is doing all these things and doing them pretty well, some employees may still not be satisfied. This is the moment of truth in determining who ends up a quiet quitter and who is taking on the responsibility of actively seeking career satisfaction through protean and boundaryless career mindsets.


  • Remember employees can be reliable, dependable, impactful, and represent the company very well, in addition to actively embracing protean and boundaryless career concepts. Viewing loyalty in real-time and not what may happen tomorrow, next month, next year, or beyond can help you avoid making assumptions about the employee’s next move while capitalizing on the value they bring in the present moment.
  • Provide career coaching and development opportunities for employees. A career coach can work with employees by objectively identifying strengths, gaps, and help create a plan forward. This doesn’t mean employees will leave your company, but it does mean they will have an increased awareness of career and development goals with their current employer. The company should be prepared to respond with an open mind and provide options and opportunities within reason. Investing in employee development increases retention and performance and helps to avoid exorbitant replacement costs.


  • Be honest with yourself, how are you showing up in work and career? When I hear the word “quit,” I equate it to feeling defeated. Are you feeling defeated because of the job, or are there other factors? Many times, there are other variables contributing to dissatisfaction beyond the workplace, but it’s easy to point fingers at the job. However, if you are feeling defeated strictly because of the job or company, applying the concepts of protean and boundaryless careers could potentially change the tides instead of resorting to quiet quitting.
  • Economic shifts, pandemics, and other unexpected occurrences will impact business and industry. Are you up for the challenge of directing yourself, managing your career development, and exploring new jobs or industries? These are tough questions that require a great deal of self-awareness and intrinsic motivation to act on, but facing such challenges head-on by being in the driver’s seat of your career will support you in times of uncertainty.  Taking on a challenge doesn’t always mean taking on a risk.

While jumping feet first into a protean or boundaryless career orientation isn’t for everyone, there are important takeaways that can circumvent getting to the point of quiet quitting. Increasing self-awareness about the space you are in with your current work, how you are feeling in your current work environment, and how you are showing up will open your eyes and mind to opportunities and solutions that you may not have been able to see before. This is not only a part of your work and employment, but an aspect of your own well-being.

Citation is included so if any of my students are reading, they won’t dock me points for not citing the textbook! 😊

Noe, R. A. (2022). Employee training & development (9th ed.). McGraw-Hill Companies.

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Terri Cummings

As Owner & Senior Consultant at Level Up Solutions HRD LLC, Terri Cummings is an advocate of lifelong learning who fosters bridging the connection between personal and professional development. Through strategy and proactive development, her aim is to align students, members of the workforce, and employers with continuous growth and opportunity that achieves sustainable success.

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