Amid the Great Resignation, workers whisper about another trend: “quiet quitting.” Quiet quitting is when workers don’t actually quit, but reduce their effort to give the bare minimum to keep their jobs. They’re feeling burned out, unappreciated and tired of being asked to do more than they feel they’re getting paid for. And so they don’t.
Predictably, the hashtag #QuietQuitting has millions of views on TikTok, where creators say going above and beyond for your job isn’t worth it. Here are some of the justifications we’ve seen in videos.
“We’re resisting wage theft.” (Responding to emails on nights and weekends, staying late to finish projects.)
“We’re basically cutting back to doing what we get paid for and no more.”
“We’re creating healthy boundaries because our employers don’t know how to or don’t want to.”
“We’re rejecting hustle culture – letting your whole life be absorbed by your job.”
“We’re putting our mental health above our performance goals.”
Not everyone is having it, of course. Gen X and Boomers are appalled; business owners are shaking their heads. TikTok comments from health care workers and first responders are scathing. “When your mom goes in the hospital, which nurse do you want on the job? I’m guessing not the quiet quitter.”
Many young workers who embrace the trend started their careers during the pandemic, which was a truly terrible time to be at work. Customer service, hospitality, retail and other industries went through enormous upheaval and uncertainty – and dealt with unruly and angry customers daily. It wasn’t a recipe for creating loyal and motivated workers.
A Wall Street Journal article said worker engagement is at its lowest in decades. Across generations, U.S. employee engagement is falling, according to survey data from Gallup, but Gen Z and younger millennials, born in 1989 and after, reported the lowest engagement of all during the first quarter at 31%. That means two out of three employees simply occupy a desk chair and do what they’re told (mostly.)
When workers feel disengaged, it’s often caused by a lack of meaning in their work. This has long been the case in middle management and administrative jobs, where rules and policies can obscure the purpose of what workers do. Technology is replacing many of these workers and whole office functions, so it’s no wonder humans feel less than enthusiastic about giving their all. They’re just a line of code away from becoming obsolete.
Labor shortages in almost every industry have made this attitude possible. Many people who become quiet quitters might not be expected to keep their jobs when the economy slows down – or be hired in the first place if things were different. Of course, when the economy starts heading south, these workers will be among the first to go.
But there is something to be said for just getting the job done. The science of the Bell Curve tells us that average workers greatly outnumber outstanding workers (and hopeless cases.) So being just “good enough” has always been with us. But most people become motivated when they have a goal: a promotion, a chance to start their own company, or strike out on their own in the Gig Economy. No one wants to hire a “good enough” independent professional.
For your own organization, it might be time to determine if you have any quiet quitters and reengage them. If there is a possibility of creating a dialogue with employees that helps deliver a two-way message that employers recognize the need for work boundaries while good work can be rewarding, then maybe things will be less quiet.