The way Americans work has changed drastically over the last couple of years. First, there was the rise of the gig economy. Then the rapid shift to remote work took place in 2020. Along the way, a movement dubbed “The Great Resignation” began to grow in popularity as worker dissatisfaction, combined with a job market that’s friendlier to seekers than employers, led droves of people to rethink the concept of work altogether.
The latest trend is “quiet quitting,” which could have far-reaching consequences.
What Is Quiet Quitting?
Quiet quitting doesn’t involve handing in your notice. Instead, it’s a commitment to doing the bare minimum at your job. Instead of hustling for a promotion—or just doing your best out of professional pride—you clock in, complete your assigned duties, and clock out again the moment that your shift is over.
Quiet quitting flies in the face of “hustle culture,” emphasizing a better work-life balance. It also questions how much, if any, loyalty employees owe to their employers. Advocates of quiet quitting point out that in at-will employment states, you can be let go from your job with no warning or reason. Why, they ask, should workers give everything to companies that see them as expendable?
Like many recent trends, this one started on TikTok. In a massively viral video, TikTokker @zaidleppin explained the concept of quiet quitting, speaking in a gentle voiceover as images of a beautiful day in New York City played in the background along with soft piano music. The message couldn’t be more clear: There are more important things in life than your job.
“Your worth as a person is not determined by your labor,” he concludes.
It seems that plenty of people agree; while there are no available statistics on how many employees have decided to stop going above and beyond at work, the concept of quiet quitting is gaining traction.
Burnout Is a Serious Problem
One possible reason that this trend is growing in popularity? The very real issue of workplace burnout. The World Health Organization recently added burnout to its diagnostic manual, giving the all-too-common complaint equal footing with other illnesses.
Chronic workplace stress can take a significant toll on your health, affecting everything from your sleep habits to your organ functions. According to the WHO, burnout involves three distinct symptoms:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- increased mental distance from one’s job or feeling negative towards one’s career
- reduced professional productivity
If that sounds familiar, you are far from alone. Burnout is a worldwide problem, and it’s particularly difficult to grapple with in America. Workplace culture in this country tends to value effort and loyalty above all else. Workers in the U.S. are not guaranteed vacation time, even if they work a full-time job. That’s unheard of in other parts of the world.
Even worse, most workers who receive vacation time don’t use all of it. A study found that 55 percent of people who accrued paid time off didn’t take all their days. In several European countries, getting 25-30 guaranteed vacation days is standard. Canada and Japan lag behind with just ten guaranteed days—but that’s ten more than American workers can count on receiving.
Read More: This Is Why You Can’t Afford a Vacation
What Does Quiet Quitting Look Like?
For some people, avoiding burnout starts with setting boundaries at work. In many workplaces, it’s a given that you may be asked to do things outside your job description and “pitch in” to help out. There’s an unspoken expectation that doing so will earn you brownie points and eventually lead to better opportunities at work.
Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that you’ll ever be rewarded for going above and beyond. That’s why people who quietly quit have stopped agreeing to stay late, come in early, pick up the slack, or do tasks that aren’t explicitly outlined in their job description.
It’s also about changing your mindset. Instead of trying to climb the corporate ladder, many people are shifting the focus to other areas of their lives. When the clock strikes five, these folks are done with work. They don’t answer emails or respond to Slack messages. They certainly don’t take work home with them for evenings and weekends.
The idea is that while the company might be paying you 40 hours of your time each week, they don’t own the other 128. Quiet quitting questions what career success looks like, with Gen Z employees valuing their free time more than a chance to get a promotion.
Not Everyone Is Thrilled About Quiet Quitting
According to the Wall Street Journal, “business leaders, career coaches and other professionals [are] lamenting what the shift away from hustle culture means for Americans’ commitment to their jobs.”
Business leader Arianna Huffington is one of the most vocal opponents of the quiet quitting movement. Huffington—who admitted to collapsing from exhaustion at her job in an interview with Fortune—thinks that Gen Z workers just don’t get it. She warns that checking out at the workplace “robs the quiet quitter of ever finding real joy or purpose in their job.”
Huffington expanded on her ideas in a blog post on Thrive Global:
What we’re seeing is the breakdown of a model of working that goes back to the Industrial Revolution. We’re living through a time of profound disruption and transformation, so it’s only natural that there are going to be a range of responses when it comes to what should replace the old model.
She encourages anyone who is considering quiet quitting to rethink things before it’s too late. Huffington advocates for a healthy work-life balance that doesn’t sacrifice workplace engagement. She also worries about the impact this movement will have on workers who don’t subscribe to it; will those people have to pull the weight of coworkers who are doing the bare minimum?
Is Quiet Quitting Bad for Workers, Too?
It seems clear that a widespread trend of doing the bare minimum could have a disastrous impact on nearly every industry.
“The problem with the Great Resignation is that it assumes everyone has somewhere else to go,” Randstad managing director Jaya Dass told CNBC. “But for individuals who feel they don’t have alternative jobs to go toand need to stay employed, quiet quitting has become the next available option.”
Dass worries that quiet quitting might have more to do with a “general sense of hopelessness” rather than worker empowerment. When workers feel trapped in a job but also don’t feel safe enough to look for another opportunity, their morale inevitably drops. In the current uncertain atmosphere, driven by rising inflation, changing jobs is risky.
However, it’s also risky to be viewed as a “slacker” by your employers. If they notice that your productivity and engagement have fallen off a cliff, there’s a real possibility of being written up or losing your job. Even if the consequences aren’t quite as dire, there’s also the long-term impact on your career.
If you want to get ahead, then quiet quitting is certainly not the way to go about it. But even if you have no interest in climbing the corporate ladder, feeling detached from your labor could have troubling repercussions on mental health. The chronic stress of being overworked is bad, but a pervasive feeling of purposelessness could be worse for some people.
Read More: The Real Cost of Working from Home
Workplace Backlash: Quiet Firing
As the term “quiet quitting” began trending, some people on social media pointed out that “quiet firing” is a problem in the workplace, too. They described employers that failed to give promised raises, overlooking hard workers for promotion, and adding additional tasks without mentioning additional compensation. Employers may also leave certain employees out of the loop on meetings, exclude them from key projects, or deliver harsh performance reviews.
As Michelle Butterfield explained it for Global News, the goal of quiet firing is to “demoralize workers enough that they decide to leave on their own.” Firing an employee often involves a multi-step procedure and a lot of paperwork. Subtly encouraging that employee to quit, on the other hand, is a lot easier. In corporate terms, this strategy has also been called “constructive dismissal.”
Setting Healthy Boundaries at Work
The American workplace seems to be at a tipping point, and only time will tell if quiet quitting becomes the new normal. In the meantime, there are steps you can take to improve your work-life balance without completely checking out.
First and foremost, you need to understand your priorities. Some examples might include:
- Spending more time with your loved ones during the evenings and weekends
- Exercising or meditating during your lunch break
- Taking vacation days to travel, visit family, or engage in hobbies
- Having a flexible schedule to accommodate childcare
Everyone’s list of priorities will be different, but once you know what’s truly important to you for a work-life balance, you can start setting boundaries.
If you don’t need to be available after work hours, turn off notifications and leave your email closed until the next workday. When your boss asks you to take on an extra project that you don’t have the bandwidth to complete, don’t automatically say yes. Instead, have a conversation about how you might take on only part of the project or move something else off of your plate.
And whatever you do, don’t forget to use up your PTO by the end of the year.