Quiet quitting: social media craze or sign of the times?
The latest buzz on social media seems to be the quiet quitting trend: young professionals refusing to go the extra mile at work, celebrating their lack of enthusiasm for their job as a quiet form of resistance to the toxic ‘hustle culture’. Getting millions of hits on TikTok and Instagram and even making headlines in the United States and UK, you might wonder what everybody is talking about. Is it just a meme on social media gone viral, vanishing into thin air once a new hype pops up? Or is quiet quitting a cultural movement that perfectly captures the zeitgeist, offering a solution for employee mental health issues? Let’s see what all the fuss is about.
- What is quiet quitting?
- Where does the term come from?
- Is quiet quitting a new thing?
- What fueled the quiet quitting trend?
- Who are quiet quitters?
- Quiet quitting and burnout
- Quiet quitting backlash
- How to prevent employees from quiet quitting
What is quiet quitting?
In the past weeks, TikTok and Instagram have been full of videos of young employees – mostly Gen Z – talking about quiet quitting. On TikTok, #quietquitting got over 350 million views in August 2022 and by the time September arrived, even traditional print and broadcast media like the New York Times and BBC World News had featured a number of articles and news items on this phenomenon.
So what does quiet quitting mean exactly? The term itself is actually a little misleading. It’s not about workers quitting jobs in a quiet way, but rather means that they only do what’s in their job description and not much extra. To summarize, it boils down to the following:
- Not putting in extra effort: people do what is strictly necessary and no longer go the extra mile for their company by working overtime without getting paid
- No working outside office hours: employees are no longer willing to check their emails, work on reports or take business calls in the evening or on weekends
- No more voluntary work: employees no longer take up extra, unpaid responsibilities like being on a committee or doing other voluntary activities for the company
- No more waiting for false promises: people are fed up with waiting for a promotion or pay rise that will never come and just stop bothering
- Not taking work too seriously: workers realize that what defines someone as a person is not defined by their career only, and therefore they don’t take their jobs so serious anymore
- Focusing on a better work-life balance: especially younger generations want to be able to combine work with personal life goals like traveling, sports, and spending enough quality time with family and friends. Being over-ambitious and stressing over deadlines only gets in the way of that lifestyle
Where does the term come from?
What is the origin of the term quiet quitting, you might wonder? It all started in March 2022 when Aki Ito, a senior correspondent at Business Insider, took a deep dive into the subject of the changing world of work. She explains: “Over the past 2 1/2 years, jobs have undergone all kinds of massive changes. But none of them have been as fascinating to me as our changing relationship to work itself.” So Aki started writing about people who found a new way forward through a quiet form of resistance at the workplace. Not by quitting their jobs, protesting for higher wages, or complaining to their managers, but by taking their careers less seriously and just doing what they are paid for – nothing more, nothing less. These people figured that this attitude would improve their work-life balance, giving them less stress and more time to set healthy boundaries for themselves.
Her story took off on TikTok, boosted by a viral video published in July by the American TikTokker @zkchillin (now @zaidleppelin). In his post, he explains what the term quiet quitting means: “You’re still performing your duties, but you no longer participate in the ‘hustle culture’ mentality that work has to be your life. The reality is, it’s not and your worth as a person is not defined by your labor.” Zaid’s video struck a chord with many young, American professionals, sharing their experiences on the subject en masse – with one after the other hilarious TikTok-post as a result and the media picking it up, first in the US, then in the UK, and now in the rest of Europe.
Is quiet quitting a new thing?
Quiet quitting may sound like the latest craze on social media that is trickling into the workplace, but the concept actually isn’t that new. According to work experts and behavioral scientists, it has been happening for decades: people reduce their efforts and simply stop caring when they feel discontent or not appreciated at work. It doesn’t necessarily mean workers are quitting their jobs, they just decide to no longer join the rate race while still making the necessary hours and collecting their pay cheques.
Besides, a large part of the workforce is more than satisfied to get by without working too hard anyway. When it comes to their productive output, they do what is required of them. But building a successful career and moving up on the ladder no matter what personal offers they have to make? They really can’t be bothered. To them, being home on time for dinner, picking up the kids without rushing, spending lazy afternoons with friends, and enjoying a relaxed lifestyle with enough room for me-time is far more important.
It’s been like that for ages and there’s actually nothing wrong with that, as long as it makes people happy. However, the recent popularity of the quiet quitting trend does say a lot about the way we look at work in this day and age.
In a hustle culture that glorifies busyness, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype and compete for “the most overwhelmed.” However, the only thing waiting at the finish line will be burnout.
What fueled the quiet quitting trend?
Needless to say, the workplace is changing fast and will continue to do so over the next decade. Elements like the pandemic, cultural movements, and worldwide economical and technological developments help shape the Future of Work and interestingly enough also have an impact on the level of effort we want to put into our work. Let’s have a look at how that applies to the quiet quitting ‘hype’.
The impact of Covid-19
Since the corona pandemic, many people have started to question their work. In the United States, Covid-19 triggered ‘The Great Resignation’. Millions of Americans resigned and sought other work with more time off, better pay and many other benefits. The Great Resignation didn’t hit Europe that hard, but nowadays people here do feel empowered to take control of their work and prioritize their personal lives and relationships. In 2021, China witnessed a similar phenomenon like quiet quitting called ‘lying flat’, in which young, highly educated workers protested against the culture of working long hours. They chose to take a step back and no longer dedicate all their thoughts and time to their jobs. In other words, the idea of always being ‘on’ is being doubted on a global level.
In a recent article that the World Economic Forum published on the topic of quiet quitting, it’s stated that the rise of remote working and hybrid work models made employees realize that there are different ways of working, allowing them to enjoy their passions and take time off on a regular basis. This triggered the trend of quiet quitting as a way to achieve more flexibility in their professional and personal lives.
Lower employee engagement
For years, the magic word in many companies was ’employee engagement’ – and it still is, because there’s a lot to say about it. But in a post-covid world, where an inflation crisis and a climate crisis are looming, people are losing trust in their employers and big corporations in general. According to a study conducted by Gallup in January 2022, the percentage of engaged workers in the U.S. declined in 2021. Another Gallup analysis shows that Europe’s workforce has the least amount of engaged employees in the world. With such low employee engagement numbers, it’s no wonder that quiet quitting is on the rise.
Younger generations entering the workforce
The way Gen-Z and millennials relate to their jobs is different than the older generations that are active in the workplace. Young professionals do a better job at guarding their boundaries at work – and they don’t feel bad about it. They pay more attention to the balance between work, family, and free time and highly value their personal well-being. These young generations show that putting in between 50 and 60 hours per week just isn’t worthwhile anymore, and older colleagues are picking up on that. They’re realizing that it’s no use to have sleepless nights over work that is underpaid, and that there’s more to life than hitting your KPIs.
Job scarcity was a big thing in the past. Baby boomers and Gen-X were more than willing to go the extra mile for their employers and work long hours, just to keep their bosses happy. But with the current, strong labor market, with a demand for workers that are well above the number of available workers, people have the luxury of doing the bare minimum and still not getting fired. Quiet quitting is easy to pull off when you know that you can easily find a new job opportunity.
Who are quiet quitters?
Quiet quitting is especially popular amongst Gen-Z and millennials, at least if we want to believe social media. The quiet quitting TikTok meme that is going viral this summer certainly sheds new light on the way young workers relate to their jobs.
However, quiet quitting doesn’t speak to young professionals only. It’s happening across all generations. Social media may have launched the term and given it wings, but people who are bored with their jobs – without feeling the urgent need to resign – can be found at every career stage. So are employees who prioritize their personal lives over work.
When asked about the subject in a radio interview, Ignace Glorieux, Professor of Sociology and head of the Sociology department of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel said he’s not surprised about the philosophy behind quiet quitting. He does state that it’s something that happens below the waterline and therefore is difficult to measure. He explains that the group of people that are aiming for a better work-life balance is growing, but “there are still a lot of ambitious young people who work very hard at the beginning of their careers and do go above and beyond to reach their professional goals. There’s just a different context.”
Quiet quitting and burnout
It’s no secret that Covid-19 has fuelled stress, burnout, and less engagement amongst workers. On top of that, there’s a lot going on in the world right now that makes people feel restless and anxious. Many people worry about the continuous bad news and uncertain future, the rising costs of living give them the feeling they need to work harder and even take side jobs to survive. Other factors that play a role in the rising number of people with burnout are high levels of work pressure, long working days, or changes within the organization. To better understand this, Lepaya surveyed 1,322 European workers regarding their stress tolerance. As it turns out, the majority of workers across Europe experience unhealthy levels of stress, especially in Germany and the UK.
People who have burnout or are at risk of it are often advised to set their limits and focus on the essence of their job. Is quiet quitting a solution for them? Professor Ans de Vos of the Antwerp Management School does not think so, she says in a recent interview. “Perhaps in the short term, but certainly not in the long term. Quiet quitting is done in silence. The manager is not involved in the process, so you cannot come to a sustainable solution.”
On the other hand: employee mental health is improved when people let themselves off the hook a bit more, HR experts say. When taking downtime makes you feel guilty all the time it can wear you down, both mentally and physically. Quiet quitters no longer struggle with that feeling of guilt. Some say it’s actually a good way to ensure well-being at work, rather than employees risking burnout by being emotionally exhausted and stressed out.
Quiet quitting backlash
Ever since it went viral, quiet quitting has received both a lot of backup and a fair share of backlash. Advocates say the term is a case of terrible framing, as it has a fairly negative connotation. But it’s actually only about doing exactly what you’re required to do. You make your hours, but you just don’t do any extra, unpaid work. Welcome to the modern way of working, they say.
Opponents find it a passive-aggressive way of taking ‘revenge’ on the company or boss you work for because you’re unhappy in your job. If there’s something on your mind, just take your responsibility and talk about it with your manager, they say. This is what TikTokker Ioannis Koumbis has to say about it.
Besides, there is a risk of quiet quitting. The job market may be booming right now, but people who are slacking at work may be more likely to be fired if the economy goes down.
I’d prefer people to say that this is ‘rational living’ as opposed to ‘quiet quitting’. It’s being rational: not being irrational and burning yourself out, but it’s also not preventing yourself from being your best. It’s about prioritization, not quitting.
Paula Allen, Global Leader of Research at LifeWorks in a Euronews interview
How to prevent employees from quiet quitting
What are ways to avoid quiet quitting? Should employers be worried about this trend? Not if organizations get to work, talk about it and connect with their employees. People don’t always dare to bring up the fact that they are overburdened or that they no longer see the point of their work. Therefore, employers must create a safe environment and a healthy feedback culture in which this can be discussed.
- Feedback serves as a guide to help people understand what they and others think of their performance. It has strong links to employee productivity and satisfaction, it stimulates growth and can be highly energizing and motivating
- Smart companies know that they will become more attractive by offering work that allows people to have a meaningful and positive impact, not only by paying higher salaries. A great way to do this is by stimulating them to take responsibility and develop initiatives. Lepaya empowers your team to do this, for instance with our training on Taking Ownership
- An attentive focus on managing stress has a positive effect on the level of engagement. If employees are engaged, they will be more committed to their jobs. That’s where Lepaya comes in: we support young professionals by providing training on stress management skills, driving employee sustainability along with it
Stress has multiple causes and preventing a high workload is not always the only solution. Sometimes it simply has to do with the expectations between employer and employee. It is therefore important to properly map out the underlying reasons. Get to the root of the problem and also focus on stress-reducing tactics and training.
Rene Janssen, Founder of Lepaya
One thing is clear: the way people define the role of work in their lives has fundamentally changed in recent years. Setting your boundaries to create a healthy work-life balance is not necessarily a Gen-Z thing, it’s part of a shifted mindset we see across all generations.
Quiet quitting generated intense media attention, with mass coverage on social media and even making the news on Good Morning America. But, no longer accepting a toxic work culture is nothing new. When we see it as part of a changing attitude and a means against stress and burnout, it might even be a positive thing. And for sure, it does capture the zeitgeist. However, if you don’t feel valued at work: talk about it!
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