The Covid-19 pandemic, and the institutional responses to it, have reshaped our society in ways we may only just be starting to understand. The world of work is no exception, with the giant shift from offices to working from home just one example of a potential change in what up to a few years ago was considered the norm. But, as well as practices, there are also changes in mindset – in particular, there is a trend currently dominating social media that advocates a new attitude to work among young people. This is quiet quitting.
Despite its name, quiet quitting does not actually involve leaving your job. It actually means doing only what your job demands, and nothing more – you’re working to the letter of your contract, and quitting doing anything extra and nothing more. Rather than helping out with additional tasks, or checking emails outside of work hours, a quiet quitter will do only what their job requires.
It has found popular acceptance with young workers, especially since the pandemic, who are tired of not getting the recognition and compensation for putting in extra hours
The idea started trending after US TikTokker @zaidlepplin posted a video about it, saying that “work is not your life”, though there are suggestions the overall movement has Chinese origins – a now-censored hashtag #tangping (literally, ‘lie flat’) was circulated in protest against a culture of working long hours. It has found popular acceptance with young workers, especially since the pandemic, who are tired of not getting the recognition and compensation for putting in extra hours. Quiet quitting is, then, a way to prevent burnout and focus on work-life balance, with its proponents encouraging people to “act their wage”.
Indeed, Jaya Dass, Randstad’s managing director for Singapore and Malaysia, notes that quiet quitting is a “residual impact” of the pandemic and the Great Resignation, which has seen employees feeling empowered to Tke Take control of their work and personal life. She said: “What used to be a passive aggressive challenge of work-life balance is now becoming a very direct request. It’s not a request anymore. It’s a demand.” Career coach Kelsey Wat said that quiet quitting was a way for employees to respond to companies who see them “as another cog in the machine” and nothing more.
There have been multiple stories of workers who have been expected to go above and beyond in their jobs, and have received no compensation for it. Emma O’Brien, a 31-year-old PA in the retail sector, was turned down for a pay raise despite her workload increasing substantially during Covid, and so opted to quiet quit: “That was why I literally ended up doing what I was supposed to do to get the job done and nothing more. I felt empowered and motivated because I had mentally checked out of that job a few weeks before.” Hers is a story that brings out something Harvard Business Review identifies as key to the trend – it’s not that employees aren’t willing to work harder or be more creative, but rather than that management fails to shape and encourage positive working practices and balance the needs of their employees with their perceived roles.
The quiet quitting trend is not necessarily new, but it is reflective of a shifting desire in work
Not everyone is a fan of the quiet quitting phenomenon, with workplace decorum expert Pattie Ehsaei suggesting the mentality is actively hostile to advancing at work. She said: “Quiet quitting is doing the bare minimum required of you at work and being content with mediocrity. Advancement and pay increases will go to those whose level of effort warrants advancement, and doing the bare minimum certainly does not.” Wat suggested that it may also dilute our engagement with our jobs: “Quiet quitting removes any emotional investment you might have from your work, which is sad given the fact that most of us spend so much of our time at work. Most of us want to be proud of the work we do and the contributions we make. We want to see our impact and feel good about it. Quiet quitting doesn’t allow for that.”
The quiet quitting trend is not necessarily new, but it is reflective of a shifting desire in work – employees want to give their energy, time and enthusiasm to organisations and jobs that deserve it, and they expect to be compensated appropriately for the things they do. It is, as Wat observes, about “combatting the long-held belief that the only way to get ahead professionally is to work far beyond your limits and to take on a ‘yes man’ mentality.”.