Have you heard of quiet quitting?

I came across this trend a few weeks ago when it was hard to escape it – featuring on the morning shows and social media channels, and dominating headlines in publications such as HuffPost, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian etc.

If you’re not familiar, the term relates to the decision made by employees not to go above and beyond in their roles, as in, they’re meeting but not exceeding expectations… It’s not about actually quitting your job but being focused on not letting work taking over your life.

Zak Chillin, who shared a video on TikTok (which has had over 3 million views), describes the term as “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 labour.”

After seeing the clip, I wrote a post on LinkedIn seeking people’s thoughts on the trend. And it caused quite a reaction… Some called it a lazy act, several attributed it to Generation Z, and others saw it as putting your wellbeing first.

So, is quiet quitting something to be feared or embraced?

What is quiet quitting?

Even though ‘quit’ is referenced in the title, the act itself isn’t about you walking off the job quietly. It’s about following your job description to the letter, rejecting the idea of continuously overworking (for no extra pay) or work controlling you. I don’t see it as ‘taking it easy’, being lazy or putting your feet up whilst on the job as it has been described by some.

So what does quiet quitting look like in practise?

  • arriving and leaving work on time
  • taking a lunch break
  • not checking or responding to messages outside of working hours
  • saying no to additional work or projects
  • not feeling guilty for taking annual leave.

These all seem like good habits to me and share a lot of commonalities with achieving harmonious passion (a topic I covered in a recent blog), improving wellbeing and reducing the risk of burnout (which can be caused through over-work).

For some however, rather than it being about action, it’s more about a mindset shift. When you make the decision to not give everything to your work, and your self worth isn’t defined by your job. Therefore, it seems to be about subscribing to the ethos working to live, not living to work.

Is it new?

Although it’s currently trending on social media, I don’t see quiet quitting as new.

Some have suggested that the trend may have started in China a year ago, where workers have been embracing what’s been called the ‘lying flat’ movement, where they take a break from relentless work and literally lie down with a book or watch some TV. 

I believe however, that this concept started many years ago in organisations when some made a conscious choice to put themselves ahead of their work. When many of us had seen how constantly over-extending ourselves doesn’t pay off. Either you’re given more work (because that’s how you reward hard-workers), you’re left with a bad taste from feeling undervalued, you get sick, or at worst, you burnout. Although of course, a small few might receive a promotion or some recognition of their efforts.  

But the recent pandemic has certainly seen a rise in this trend, and it might have kick-started the correction we needed to have.

Since 2021, the demands on workers have significantly increased. As a result, some have been putting in an additional six hours more of work per week, so people are over-worked, exhausted and stressed, and perhaps over that. Additionally, this period encouraged some to re-evaluate what was important to them, and if they were putting in too much effort and at what cost or benefit. Consequently, they found confidence to redefine their work and not return to life as it was.

More recently, the shortage in the labour market has seen workers under greater pressure to put more in to cover the roles that are vacant. Yet at the same time, this tightening of the market has shifted the power somewhat to employees, who now may be more able to push back on their employers and still keep their jobs.

So you could argue that quiet quitting isn’t new but now there’s a term to describe an old pastime.

Is it a generational thing?

Many have attributed this trend to the Gen Z-ers and their recent entry into the corporate world. There are suggestions that this group are known to show less work ethic, that they’re cynical, apathetic, and have little interest in ambitious projects… But perhaps this isn’t true, and you could argue that those early on in their careers just have different priorities to some of those that have come before them.

SEEK recently undertook a study of 11,000 job candidates in Australia to find out what current workers value. Interestingly, Gen Z are looking for work life balance and career development ahead of salary. This differs from Gen X and Y, who are driven by salary and then work life balance. Yet prioritising work life balance is also highly valued by Baby Boomers.

So perhaps both these younger and older generations have their priorities right. And rather than judging, the rest of us might learn a thing or two from them. Because it can take courage to put boundaries in place to protect your wellbeing, in environments where being busy, staying late, working when sick and skipping holidays are seen as proof of commitment.  

Will quiet quitting impact performance?

When people adopt the idea of quiet quitting, they still achieve what’s required of them but they don’t always go the extra mile. And that’s not to say they won’t ever put in extra, because there are times when we need to do that, but it shouldn’t become the norm.

The interesting thing is that when these people choose to take a step back and ‘meet’ expectations, some of them are probably still doing more than some of their peers.

Quiet quitters accomplish what’s expected but they don’t burn themselves out in the process. Because they prioritise rest and recovery and their wellbeing, they’re more likely to be motivated, have better energy, be more engaged and have higher-quality connections, which all result in greater productivity and performance.

Additionally, having less worn-out workers will create a much healthier workforce with increased presenteeism, and less sick days, compensation claims relating to mental health and burnout.

So perhaps quiet quitting is a win for both the individual and the organisation overall!

What should leaders do to address quiet quitting?

For the past few years, employee engagement has been on the decline (with only 17% of Australian’s engaged according to Gallup’s latest workplace survey), and at the same time burnout has been rising. So leaders should already be working on addressing these challenges given the negative impacts they have on workplaces overall.

If leaders recognise that some of their employees are quietly quitting, this might be another opportunity to do better. When changes in behaviour are noticed in team members, leaders should see this as a chance to find out what might be going on, what’s important and what would support them to be more engaged, rather than reprimanding them in any way.

Additionally, leaders can:

  • Make sure employees are engaged by playing to their strengths, setting goals and providing feedback
  • Consider how they’re meeting their employee’s needs such as connection, autonomy, training, wellbeing and purpose
  • Make values clear – if you expect people to do more than what’s required of them then you might need to make that well known
  • Ensure that their growth strategy never relies on workers putting in extra effort.

Yet aside from leaders, there’s also some responsibility that sits with the individual to find a role where they’re challenged, inspired, engaged, stretched and able to thrive. And the timing to do this perhaps couldn’t be better.

In the words of Ariana Huffington, “We have, after all, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to redefine how we work and live. Let’s not settle on quiet quitting.”