By Elizabeth Exline
You don’t have to be an influencer on social media to know what quiet quitting is. Although Gen Z may have learned the term on TikTok, millennials and Gen X will recognize it as the adage “working to live, not living to work.”
Boomers may just know it as “settling for mediocrity.”
Whatever you call it, quiet quitting refers to doing just enough at work to stay employed. No working weekends, no checking emails after the kids are in bed, no signing up for unpaid committee roles, no staying late to meet a deadline or finish a project. In a way, “no” sums it up best — and many are saying yes to exactly that.
It can and has been argued that quiet quitting is a net positive because it means employees are mindfully choosing to maintain healthy work-life boundaries. NPR even likens it to choosing coasting over workaholism.
Others, especially companies, see quiet quitting in a different light. Job descriptions often include the generic catchall “and other duties as needed” as a necessary caveat. After all, companies have to be agile to succeed. So, by extension, do their employees.
Whether as a labor union or a white-collar workforce, employees who embrace a “we’re in it together” mentality tend to understand that helping your employer succeed translates to desirable trickle-down benefits. (Think employment, compensation and career growth.)
But this is increasingly failing to resonate with a changing workforce. According to a June 2022 Gallup survey, at least half of U.S. workers fall into the quiet-quitter category, and the percentage of “actively disengaged” employees (kind of like “loud quitting”) grew in the second quarter of 2022 to 18%. This jump came from quiet quitters: Actively engaged employees remained steady at just 32% of those polled.
According to Jamie Johnson, a career advisor at University of Phoenix (UOPX) and a National Certified Counselor, quiet quitting usually involves some combination of the following:
1. Only doing what is required — not working beyond your scheduled hours or taking on projects that would require additional work
2. Withdrawing — not communicating with managers or co-workers and feeling disconnected from the company mission
3. Underperforming on occasion
The Gallup survey pinpoints the second half of 2021, when the Great Resignation was underway, as the rise in quiet quitting, but Johnson points out that the practice has been with us far longer than that.
“I was reading an article the other day in The Atlantic that was written back in September , and I was laughing, because the author was saying, ‘Well, that’s just the way people looked at the world of work in the past.’ And one author actually quoted The Simpsons from back in the 1990s.”
What’s different this time is, in a phrase, social media. With catchy videos and anthems-to-action, everyone from influencers to regular people have managed to pull a reality of working life out of the shadows, dust off its shameful attributes and rebrand it as something to aspire to.
Of course, not everybody is buying it. (Remember that 32% of the engaged workforce?) But quiet quitting seems particularly endemic among younger millennials and Gen Z (the under-35 crowd), according to the Gallup poll.
The natural question then is why. Why are younger employees so dissatisfied and disengaged when working conditions are arguably better than ever with remote work and companies that are trying to be better corporate citizens?
That answer is complicated.
“Many factors have brought this together,” Johnson says. In her view, the following events have all contributed in some way to quiet quitting:
“We just went through an ending,” Johnson explains. “We went through a major loss of who we were, what we did and how we did it.”
And Gen Z was watching. “We have an upcoming generation who are digital masters of everything but, emotionally, their relationship and communication style has not developed in the same way as that of past generations,” Johnson explains. “You’re bringing together a collision of worlds that have to face each other now because we’re all in the workplace.”
One of the best ways to move through life may be to look for the good in everything and everyone. When it comes to quiet quitting, the good is in seeking a healthy work-life balance. That can help prevent burnout and improve productivity and just make us happier.
But is there a better way to strike that balance? Johnson says yes.
With quiet quitting, she explains, “you’re not being up front, honest or dealing with things as they are.”
And if quiet quitting is the passive-aggressive approach to expressing job dissatisfaction, then communication is the more ideal method of being assertive.
According to Gallup, managers have to tackle quiet quitting head-on by engaging with employees on a regular basis. Just one 15- to 30-minute conversation a week between manager and employee can make all the difference, Gallup notes, so long as it’s meaningful communication.
That means the manager has to make a point of getting to know employees as people. Their strengths and life situations all affect their work performance. Understanding these things on an individual level not only builds engagement, it also creates accountability with regard to performance.
NPR noted that the “unprecedented job security” enjoyed as recently as September 2022 gave people license to “shirk.” Employees had their choice of jobs, and companies were loath to lose employees since replacing them was difficult.
The job landscape looks very different today. Big Tech is undergoing extensive layoffs, and other sectors may be affected as the course of the U.S. economy remains uncertain. Many economists see a recession as likely.
So, even if you don’t object to quiet quitting from an ethical perspective, it may be time to rethink that strategy from an economic one.
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