Quiet Quitting is Not New

The notion of gradually cutting back on overwork has gained popularity. Although this “quiet quitting” has actually been occurring for years, its recent rise in popularity speaks a lot about the state of work today.

In a July 2022 video with 3.5 million views, Tiktok user @zkchillin made the word widespread, starting an online craze. He said, “You’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond, you’re still performing your duties, but you’re no longer subscribing to 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.”

Quiet quitting has drawn a lot of media attention, and the practice has been extensively covered. In many ways, it’s not a recent occurrence: coasting, or clocking in and leaving while completing the barest minimum, has long been a feature of the workplace. Disgruntled employees have always found a way to quit their jobs while still collecting their paychecks for a variety of reasons.

But the discussion about the recently coined idea of “quiet quitting” seems to have particularly resonated at this time. What does its widespread adoption reveal about our larger cultural views regarding labor and our careers over the long term, and why is that the case specifically?

A long-lasting phenomena

The term may be new, but the idea behind quiet quitting has long existed, says Anthony Klotz, associate professor at the University of College London’s School of Management. “Although this has come from a younger generation and in new packaging, this trend has been studied under different names for decades: disengagement, neglect, withdrawal.”

Workers have always looked to just getting by in a job for various reasons, he continues. “There are many people not in a position to leave their role: they may have non-transferable skills, accrued flexibility, and benefits they can’t have elsewhere or live in a small community with a dearth of other opportunities.” He adds that the economy can also play a role in keeping unhappy workers in their jobs. “Slowdowns increase the risk and cost associated with quitting, because of the weaker job market.”

In these cases, coasting can make sense for workers who feel they can’t progress, or no longer prioritize their careers. “Always going above and beyond the call of duty consumes mental resources and causes stress,” says Klotz. “And there’s little reward for doing so if someone perceives they’re stuck at a company. So, quiet quitting doesn’t just speak to younger generations – it’s anyone who has ever felt stuck in a job but has little reason to resign.”

However, unlike coasting, an employee who quiet quits may not necessarily slack every day at work. Instead, Klotz says workers tend to strip back the above-and-beyond aspect of a job to its core nine-to-five. “Arriving early to work and staying late, helping a colleague out at the expense of your own tasks, showing as much dedication to your role as possible – these are extra behaviors that go the extra mile for an organization, but can take a personal toll.”

Why quiet quitting” is so popular

Klotz believes that the idea of quiet quitting is particularly resonating at the moment because of the pandemic, and the increased conversations around mental health.

In many instances, says Klotz, employees are taking action to stave off burnout. “Quiet quitting is effectively redrawing boundaries back to the job description so that people aren’t thinking about work 24/7. Instead, they’re dedicating time and energy to other elements of their lives that are more meaningful, leading to improved wellbeing.”

Although this has come from a younger generation and in new packaging, this trend has been studied under different names for decades: disengagement, neglect, withdrawal – Anthony Klotz

Working through the pandemic may also have caused a spike in employee disengagement, fuelling the quiet-quitting phenomenon. Jim Harter, chief scientist for workplace management and wellbeing at analytics firm Gallup, based in Nebraska, US, believes the trend is largely being driven by early-career employees. “Younger workers typically tend to report higher levels of engagement, but that’s now declining,” he explains. “Following Covid-19, they may now have a higher bar than older generations when it comes to working for an organization with purpose.”

There is also the sense of a deepening disconnect between employees and managers, says Harter. He cites June 2022 Gallup figures that show only 21% of 15,001 US workers feel their organization cares for their overall well-being – as opposed to half of the employees during the peak of the pandemic. This sentiment may have become even more acute as real wages tumble in the face of soaring inflation. “We’re seeing a cultural rift that’s pulling workers away from their employers,” he adds.

In Gemma’s case, her quiet quitting arose from underlying issues with her employer and feeling her job performance was consistently overlooked. “I’ve been unhappy for a while,” she explains. “The work culture at my place is so poor and toxic. Although I was always working harder and longer than my peers, my pay has never reflected that.”

Rather than force her way out of the company and potentially find herself in another job she doesn’t enjoy, Gemma is content to pause for the time being. “I think it would take a lot for me to make a drastic move,” she adds.

The longer-term effects

While pulling back at work is not a new concept, Klotz believes the current quiet-quitting phenomenon taps into a wider shift in how employees are approaching their careers following the pandemic. Rather than a rebellion against work in itself, it’s a rejection of long workdays, unpaid overtime, and always-on presenteeism in service of an organization.

Instead, many employees are seeking to redefine the lines between their working and personal lives to benefit themselves. “We’re seeing a moment of reprioritization with quiet quitting: the shrinking of work in people’s lives to make room for family, friends, and hobbies,” says Klotz. “People want a career, but they want rich, healthy lives outside of work, too.”