If you’ve been on TikTok in the past month or so, you might have heard of ‘quiet quitting’, something that’s rising in popularity among Gen Z and millennial professionals in particular. With 11.3 million views across all videos with the #quietquitting hashtag, it’s erupted in popularity of late.
Despite the name, however, it doesn’t involve actually quitting a job. Rather, people are rejecting overachievement and endless hustle culture and choosing to set boundaries for themselves at work. That means doing less or simply doing the work that fulfills their job requirements and setting boundaries with their employers.
No longer are individuals subscribing to the neoliberal ‘hustle’ culture, which puts materialism and profits over human-centered values, such as compassion and self-development.MARIA KORDOWICZ, PHD
Maria Kordowicz, PhD, associate professor in organizational behavior at the University of Nottingham and director of the Centre for Interprofessional Education and Learning, describes it as “doing the minimum required to get by in one’s job without letting it seep into other areas of our lives”.
“It may be that employees wanting to find a better work/life balance will stop going above and beyond in their workplace, for instance, by not working outside of their allocated work times or no longer putting relentless productivity above their wellbeing,” she continues.
What Quiet Quitting Entails
Paula Allen, Global Leader and Senior Vice-President of Research and Total Wellbeing at LifeWorks, outlines the following as signs of quiet quitting:
- Saying no to tasks outside of the traditional job description
- Not replying to emails or Slack messages outside of work
- Leaving work on time
- Being less emotionally invested
- No more overachieving
- Reduced interest in going above and beyond to secure a promotion at the company
In some ways, it’s similar to the idea of working to rule, a form of industrial action in which rather than going on strike, employees do the minimum—this might mean not taking overtime, checking emails over the weekend, or doing any extra tasks to help the company.
Unlike work-to-rule, however, it’s more of an individual action that employees might take rather than anything organized by a union or group, but it’s definitely growing into more of a movement across social media.
Why Are People Doing It?
There are lots of reasons why people quiet quit. One big reason is to get some semblance of a work/life balance back, explains Dr. Kordowicz, who also suggests that it’s a sort of coping strategy we might adopt to “protect ourselves from overwork and burnout”.
It can be all too easy to get caught up in work to the extent that it affects the rest of our life, giving us less time to relax, practice self-care, see family and friends, exercise—the list goes on. And then, if people aren’t seeing wage increases—at least in line with inflation—while seeing CEOs getting richer, amid a cost of living crisis, it can be demoralizing. The mental health of young adults in the US is declining, and quiet quitting is a response.
People might not set out to quiet quit straight from the off. Rather, “for some people, there is a shift that occurs at some point in their job,” explains Elena Touroni, PhD, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, “They may have put a huge amount of effort into a job in order to fulfill work requirements but have experienced a real lack of acknowledgment. This may have led them to them feeling demotivated and mentally checking out and so the behavior shifts into quiet quitting.”
In a practical sense, maybe the past couple of years have made it easier to quiet quit. More people have been working from home—particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic started – if the boss isn’t there in the room, maybe quiet quitting becomes easier, or people get bolder.
“The early pandemic intensified the feeling that extra hours are needed,” says Allen, “Out of fear or requirement or even boredom, many people worked almost constantly and are now feeling the impact. This situation was extreme, and whenever we hit one extreme, the pendulum ultimately swings strongly in the other direction. As such, the response to feelings of overwork, burnout, and stress may be met with the hard boundaries of quiet quitting.”
The Impact on Employers and Employees
“Quiet quitting is about a conscious effort to uphold our wellbeing in the way we work and to become more boundaried in line with our developmental needs, rather than risk burnout through working long hours or defining ourselves simply through our work,” says Dr. Kordowicz, “I see people protecting time to reconnect with nature, travel and crucially with one another, helping to uphold their psychological and spiritual health.”
Indeed, when people aren’t overworking themselves, they have more time for everything else – whether it be spending more time with their families, looking after their bodies and minds, or simply taking part in their favorite activities.
We always need to strive to find a good work/life balance – making sure our job doesn’t dominate all of our waking time, alongside still being present and interested in our work.ELENA TOURONI, PHD
Businesses and workplaces are having to adapt to Gen Z entering the workforce too, in ways that have both advantages and disadvantages for businesses.1
While Gen Z is on average more highly educated than any previous generation, they’re the least likely to have worked when they were younger2, and have grown up through a global financial crisis, political turmoil, and a worldwide pandemic—it’s no surprise that they might be less enthusiastic about going above and beyond on a regular basis.
“The pandemic has had a huge impact globally on how we think about our connection to communities, our role in the world, and what constitutes meaning to us,” explains Dr. Kordowicz, “We also live in uncertain sociopolitical and environmental contexts, leading us to reconsider our relationship with our personal and professional lives and to seek a greater balance for our physical and mental health.”
Whereas previous generations were often brought up to believe that anything was possible with hard work and dedication, younger adults often don’t have that same sort of belief or faith that the system will work for them.
The Future of Work
So, what’s the future? Dr. Kordowicz compares quiet quitting to the ‘slow’ and ‘degrowth’ movements, which promote slowing or reversing economic growth. “No longer are individuals subscribing to the neoliberal ‘hustle’ culture, which puts materialism and profits over human-centered values, such as compassion and self-development.
“I would hope that it leads us to seeking organizational solutions to employee burnout and exploitation (for instance, appropriate workload and the enactment of employee-centered wellbeing policies) and societal ones (for instance, social security and the four-day working week).”
Allen suggests the employer should have a conversation with their employee when they notice changes, and make it clear that they’re ready to support them: “The first thing is to ask how you can help. It might mean reorganizing work demands for a period of time or it could result in positive problem solving about how work is done on an ongoing basis”.
There’s nothing wrong with working hard in your job, particularly if you’re working towards that dream role or promotion, and for many people, their career provides them with a real sense of purpose. As Allen says, “human beings need to have a sense of accomplishment, and the sense of accomplishment supports mental wellbeing”.
“We always need to strive to find a good work/life balance—making sure our job doesn’t dominate all of our waking time, alongside still being present and interested in our work,” says Dr. Touroni. “Quiet quitting sounds like an overcorrection to this. There is a way of still being engaged with your work while also having clear boundaries.”
Whether quiet quitting is the right move or not, it feels as if people are beginning to see their worth, and it’s difficult to ignore the wider conversation around mental health in influencing this. To put it plainly, something needs to change.
What This Means For You
Work can be stressful, and it’s no surprise that some people are deciding that quiet quitting is the way to go. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to work hard and go above and beyond in your job if you want to—particularly if you’re working towards certain goals – but it’s important to take time out for yourself too. Even if you enjoy your job, you shouldn’t neglect other aspects of your life and wellbeing.