The Great Resignation made waves, then came “quiet quitting.”

Despite the misnomer, the practice is not about quitting at all, at least not yet. The buzzword seems to have first surfaced in a July TikTok post. While there is no consensus on the official definition, many people describe quiet quitting as doing the bare minimum to keep a job without going above and beyond. For some, this could mean limiting time working to 40 hours per week and minimizing after-hours emails and calls. Their motto: “act your wage.”

“You’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond. You’re still performing your duties but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life.”

– TikTok user @zaidleppelin

The trend sparked a fierce debate on social media among newspaper columnists, business leaders, and knowledge workers. Are quiet quitters the new crop of wise workers who embrace and protect their right to work-life balance? Or are they simply coasting through work under a new name?

Or are they burnt-out workers who are better off simply quitting their job?

Why Employees Are Quiet Quitting

While life has mostly resumed to its pre-pandemic status, work has not. Over two years of working from home with constant household distractions, sub-optimal home workspaces, blurred work-life boundaries, and longer hours have left people feeling overworked and burnt out.

A Gallup poll found that job stress rose from 38% in 2019 to 43% in 2022 as Covid-19 changed everything about the way we work. Those in the caregiving roles were even more affected as schools and other care options were not available. 

It seems that quiet quitters’ underlying goal is to draw clearer boundaries between work and life. It is a healthy and understandable ambition that starkly contrasts with the hustle culture that promotes constant overperforming and exceeding expectations. Additionally, as the pandemic showed that life is fragile and unpredictable, many employees might find that they would like to devote more of their time and attention to their families and personal lives.

There is already a strong backlash against the phenomenon. Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post and health and wellness startup Thrive Global, panned the phenomenon as “a step toward quitting on life.” Investment mogul and Shark Tank star Kevin O’Leary calls quiet quitting “a really bad idea.”

“People that go beyond to try to solve problems for the organization, their teams, their managers, their bosses, those are the ones that succeed in life,” he explains on CNBC. “People that shut down their laptop at 5, want that balance in life, want to go to the soccer game, 9 to 5 only, they don’t work for me.”

How Companies Can Help

However, simply naming and shaming the coping mechanism doesn’t address the root cause of the problem: companies might be overworking and under-appreciating their employees.

Here are some ways organizations can productively address the problem:

  • Having clear and reasonable job expectations: When hiring, paint a precise and accurate picture of the position. Be descriptive about the unique company culture, job responsibilities, work environment, and any career development opportunities. Go through this exercise for existing positions as well to make sure all employees and positions have a good understanding of what is expected of them.
  • Conducting stay interviews: Reengage employees by learning about what makes them happy and, ultimately, what they need to stay on the team. Periodic stay interviews are a great way to help ensure employees feel supported, equipped to do their job well, and have a say in their experience at the company.
  • Respecting employees’ lives outside of work: Understand that at the end of the day, most people have jobs so that they can fund other parts of their lives. Wanting to have time to relax and pursue other hobbies is not a sign of slacking off – it positions individuals for sustainable success. Respect employees’ lives by avoiding after-hour communications (when possible) as well as having clear expectations of when they are supposed to be on-call.

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