Quiet quitting – what it is and how it exposes broken work culture

Zane Franke 9.09.2022
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Quiet quitting has become a popular topic of discussion among Millennial and Gen Z workers on TikTok, but it is more than just a social media trend. It is a way of workers telling employers that going above and beyond at work is unsustainable and that they’ve had enough. Let’s unpack what is quiet quitting really and what to do about it.

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What is quiet quitting and why are employees doing it?

Quiet quitting is a strategy that employees use at a workplace by only doing what is within their job description. It is a direct rejection of hustle culture and is not about quitting or doing “the bare minimum” at all, but rather doing exactly what the job requires. 

Quiet quitters are setting firm boundaries when it comes to doing their job in order to avoid work seeping into their personal lives. This means not going the extra mile to potentially get a raise or earn respect from supervisors, not signing up for additional work that is outside of their job responsibilities, and not staying at the office until late night hours to get more work done. 

In other words, workers are quiet quitting by only doing what they initially agreed upon doing. Data shows that half of workers in the US are quiet quitters, according to a recent Gallup survey, and a mere one-third of employees are engaged at work. In Europe, the situation is even worse – just 14% of European workers are engaged at their workplace.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a big role to play in the rise of quiet quitters. Particularly, having to shift to remote work and blurring the lines between work and personal life has led to burnout and a stronger desire to set boundaries. For some, on the other hand, it has given a chance to spend more time with their loved ones or focus on taking care of themselves and has enabled them to no longer see work as a number one priority. No matter the experience, the result is the same – people are no longer ready to sacrifice their life for work.

Not everyone can afford to quit quietly

A 2021 Gallup poll found that women are more likely to experience burnout at work than men (34% vs. 26%), and the chances of burning out increased even more for women in minority groups, according to a 2022 Deloitte report.

While quiet quitting seems like the obvious answer to deal with burnout, these groups already come up against more challenges to begin with – from women being underestimated at work and less likely to get a promotion to people of color having to work twice as hard due to racial bias from supervisors.

Moreover, not all employers appreciate quiet quitters, and some employees simply cannot afford to risk losing their jobs due to the soaring cost of living crisis. As a result, they feel like there is no other choice but to take on extra work.

How do we solve this? Before exploring the possible solutions to avoid the need for quiet quitting, let’s look at the very thing quiet quitters are rejecting – the hustle culture.

The opposite of quiet quitting – the hustle culture. What is it?

Hustle culture, as opposed to quiet quitting, requires us to be always striving for maximum productivity and willing to put in extra work in order to be successful. 

This mentality comes from the implication that taking on additional work might lead to a possible promotion or career advancement, and doing what is within your job description is simply not enough. 

According to a 2021 survey published by ADP Research Institute, workers in the US work 8.4 extra hours of unpaid work per week, similarly to Canadians who put in 7.4 extra hours of free labor on a weekly basis. Quiet quitters, on the other hand, are rejecting the idea of working extra and seeing work as their number one priority. They are not letting work become their whole identity

This hustle culture mentality is not only present in workplace environments. The expectation to do extra work can be traced in education as well – students are rewarded for doing extra homework, taking extra classes, joining student organizations, and taking unpaid internships to get ahead of their peers and be more valuable to potential employers after graduation. 

Students feel the pressure to be overworking themselves because they have no other choice – a 2021 analysis showed that 35% entry-level jobs posted on LinkedIn require at least three years of experience. If you want to get any decent job after graduation, you’ve got to hustle.

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What should employers do about quiet quitting?

Undoubtedly, more and more employees are subscribing to the idea of quiet quitting, and this movement indicates that there is a problem with job satisfaction and a need for a better work-life balance. What should employers do about it? The answer is simple – what the employees are asking for.

First of all, it’s necessary to get to the bottom of the issue. Regularly issuing surveys on job satisfaction and ensuring an effective process for exit interviews might help employers better understand arising concerns in the workplace. 

A 2021 AllVoices survey found that only 47% of workers are fully honest when giving feedback to HR due to fear of dismissal, so it is important to ensure ways for employees to feel comfortable being candid with their feedback. Anonymous surveys can be one way to gather such feedback.

Employers should also encourage taking breaks and paid time off. Taking regular breaks increases productivity and employee engagement, as well as encourages a healthy relationship between employees and their supervisors who understand that time off is as important as time “on”.

Speaking of time off, employees should have a right not to be disturbed outside of working hours. Several European countries have even codified this right into law. That means no emails during the weekend, no asking for a quick favor at 9 p.m. on a Thursday night, and no expectations to show up to work early. If there is an agreement on 40 hours of work per week, that’s where it should end.

Lastly, employers should offer more resources for professional development that don’t include working extra hours. Growth is what keeps employees engaged and motivated, but when it’s about the company, not the people working at it, there is little reason to feel passionate about the work you’re doing. These resources might include opportunities for acquiring new skills within the role, attending networking events during work hours, or ensuring proper achievement recognition. 

Quiet quitting is not about quitting

As we have discussed, quiet quitting is not about quitting, but rather about refusing to go along with the mentality of hustle culture. It’s about the idea that people don’t need to overwork themselves at a job to be successful. Employees are in need of a shift in thinking that prioritizes personal well-being and a better, healthier work-life balance. Until employers start understanding it, quiet quitting is here to stay.

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