What Is Quiet Quitting?

Quiet quitters put in the minimum amount of work required to keep their jobs.

Written by Brooke Becher
What Is Quiet Quitting?
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
UPDATED BY
Jessica Powers | Feb 28, 2023

Quiet quitting means doing the minimum amount of work necessary to maintain a job — and that’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.

What Is Quiet Quitting?

Quiet quitting is when employees perform the basic or minimum amount of work required by their job descriptions. These employees focus on maintaining their assigned responsibilities without going above and beyond. 

Without actually resigning, quiet quitters “act their wage,” bidding adieu to the above-and-beyond work ethic. These anti-workaholics go through the motions, performing essential tasks on autopilot while staying on payroll.

 

What Is Quiet Quitting?

In short, quiet quitting refers to an employee’s active decision to take a step back from work, putting in only the necessary amount of effort to keep the job without going above and beyond.

“The ideology behind quiet quitting has become popular because workplaces have deprioritized what’s important to so many employees when it comes to how, where and why they work,” said Adam Weber, senior vice president of community at performance management company 15Five

Quiet quitting is about workers setting personal boundaries amid increasingly invasive work conditions, Weber said, pointing to the wide spectrum of tracking software surveilling remote workers as one example. Quiet quitters refuse to be guilt-tripped into going the extra mile.

“New generations in the workforce come with priorities beyond pay and benefits, and have less tolerance for directives that are counter to their values,” Weber said. “Workers are no longer willing to feel taken advantage of.”
 

Free Calculator: Employee Retention Rate

Use our template to seamlessly calculate your own employee retention rate.

 

Is Quiet Quitting Real?

Articles about quiet quitting frequently spotlight the same Gallup study, asserting that quiet quitters make up half of the U.S. workforce. But as pointed out by The Atlantic, the poll showed only a slim disparity in employee engagement between those deemed “quiet quitters” and their peers. In fact, the survey reported higher levels of active disengagement of a 15,000 full-and-part-time sample from 2007 through 2014. Instead, The Atlantic suggests, quiet quitting might be a “nothing new” concept: a new phrase used to describe “having a job.”

Know When To Go10 Good Reasons for Leaving a Job

 

Where Did the Term ‘Quiet Quitting’ Come From?

The first known use of the term “quiet quitting” was shared in a TikTok posted by career coach Bryan Creely in March 2022, as documented by the Los Angeles Times

“Hate your job but don’t want to quit? Try being lazy instead,” Creely opens the video, which was originally inspired by an Insider article.

But the term wouldn’t go viral until four months later, when Zaid Khan, an engineer from New York, posted his interpretation. Over split city scenes and jazz piano, he defines the concept as “not outright quitting your job, but quitting the idea of going above and beyond.” 

Khan’s TikTok has since racked up nearly 5 million views.

 

What Does Quiet Quitting Look Like?

Quiet quitting typically describes employees who are OK at their jobs and remain in good standing with their employers.

Perhaps the posture is best personified by fictional everyman Homer Simpson, who said: “If you don’t like your job, you don’t strike. You just go in every day and do it really half-assed.”

Indeed, some characteristics of quiet quitting include:

  • Doing exactly what is required of you to keep your job
  • Consistently scoring mediocre performance reviews
  • Attending every meeting but never participating
  • Only interacting with coworkers when necessary
  • Withdrawing from work-related social activities

Human relations specialist Caitríona McNamara underscored the “quiet” aspect of workers simply getting by. They’re unhappy, unfulfilled and — most importantly — they don’t feel safe enough to voice their discontent.

“People will only come to leaders with a problem if they feel that they can,” said McNamara, who has garnered more than 15 years of experience in strategic HR work. Most recently, she left Google to join &Open, a corporate gifting marketplace, as the company’s head of people. 

“If people are not having these conversations … it generally means that they do not feel safe enough to,” she said. “There is no trust built between them and management.”

Find out who's hiring.
See jobs at top tech companies & startups
View All Jobs

Quiet quitters are often misunderstood, according to Tom Cornell, senior psychology consultant at hiring intelligence platform HireVue.

“This is not a group of employees who are truly underperforming or not doing any work,” Cornell said. “They’re just not motivated to do more than is required.”

For employees, quiet quitting isn’t necessarily a first choice. It’s a passive means to an unfulfilling end. Cornell suggests a more active course of action for quiet quitters: speaking up.

“Really, employees should be looking to re-engage with what they do by trying to influence their role into being something that they are energized by,” he said. “A conversation with their manager or employer is more likely to lead to longer-term success than quietly quitting.”

Read Next: 15 Employee Retention Strategies for Keeping Top Talent

 

What Caused Quiet Quitting?

Prioritization of Life Over Work

Watching past generations herald a work-first mentality only to be treated as disposable assets amid tough times has led many to re-evaluate their relationship with work, said Chase Cassine, a mental health advocate and behavioral health specialist at DePaul Community Health Centers.

Cassine remembers watching his mother race to her full-time job before sunrise every day, like clockwork. Even when she tested positive for breast cancer she clocked in the next morning, outfitted in scrubs. She went while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and the day after her surgical recovery period completed, she was back on the job. Then, after 30 years of service, Cassine’s mother was laid off in 2013.

“Many of us have a firsthand account of viewing parents who worked extremely hard but were never recognized or valued for giving 100 percent,” Cassine said. “Although this gave us a deep appreciation and love for our parents, it also showed us how some employers don’t care about their employees and are only concerned about the bottom line.”

As Cassine sees it, quiet quitting is a renaissance for the working class. Employees are making a conscious choice to set healthy boundaries with their employers, putting themselves first in the work-life balance calculus. It’s self care.

Related Reading: A Guide to Transitioning From Manager to Individual Contributor

 

Shift in Worker Power

Quiet quitting made its debut approximately two years after the COVID-19 pandemic began, and slipped in just as talk about the preceding media fixation, the Great Resignation, was cooling off. An estimated 4.5 million people parted ways with their employers in November 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported, after months of continuously increasing voluntary departures.

For this reason, quiet quitting is understood by some within the context of a broader shift in worker power. Conditions such as job security as a result of record-low layoffs and discharges alongside ample job openings and a labor shortage afforded American workers leverage over their employers in ways unseen since the ‘70s.

Taking advantage of the times, workers are using this newfound agency to reconfigure their careers. While some negotiate for better positions, others have taken the opportunity to work for themselves or pivot to a new industry entirely, better aligned with their earning potential and personal values. And some have decided to spend more time on things that aren’t work-related at all.

Some believe the decision by workers to detach their identities from professional titles and recalibrate quality-of-life standards has everything to do with how companies treated employees as expendable in response to the global pandemic, when mass layoffs and downsizing hit an all-time high totaling 13 million discharges. Too afraid to leave and too fatigued to move on, quiet quitting could very well be correlated to an anxious workforce still collectively reeling from a traumatic event. 

 

Burnout

Others believe the cause of quiet quitting is more emotional. “The root of quiet quitting is employee burnout,” Cassine said. 

Contributing factors to burnout — life stressors, chronic job stress, lack of support from management and low pay — can exacerbate mental health disorders, like depression and anxiety, and result in symptoms including procrastination, physical illness, loss of motivation, distancing from friends and family as well as exhibiting a fear of failure, Cassine said.

“Keep in mind,” he said, “this is a coping mechanism people utilize to protect themselves from being overworked.”
 

Free Guide: Mental Health In The Workplace

Explore how you can take action to support the mental well-being of your employees and in turn, help your workforce thrive.

SHARE