Chase 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.

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, Cassine said, and sparked a movement dubbed “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.

What Is Quiet Quitting?

Quiet quitting is when employees perform the absolute minimum amount of work required by their job descriptions.

“Many of us have a firsthand account of viewing parents who worked extremely hard but were never recognized or valued for giving 100 percent,” said Cassine, who is now a mental health advocate and behavioral health specialist at DePaul Community Health Centers. “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.

 

What Is Quiet Quitting?

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

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.

“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,” he said. “Workers are no longer willing to feel taken advantage of.”

 

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 on March 4, 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 and has since accrued nearly 100,000 likes and more than 4,000 comments.

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 racked up nearly 5 million views and 5,000 comments, at the time of writing. The hashtag #quietquitting has been viewed 354 million times.

Nothing new, the concept of quiet quitting was championed by fictional everyman Homer Simpson in the early 1990s: “If you don’t like your job, you don’t strike. You just go in every day and do it really half-assed.”

Homer Simpson, quiet quitting icon. | Video: Lisa Simpson Liberal

As the Times notes, quiet quitting is also core to the plot of the 1999 film “Office Space.” After languishing in a gray, cubicle-ridden hellscape, anti-work-hero Peter Gibbons embarks on a carefree journey of giving up. With low morale and a crushed soul, Gibbons confesses that his “only real motivation is not to be hassled” and the fear of losing his job — a relatable sentiment to today’s intermediate achievers.

 

What Does Quiet Quitting Look Like?

Chronically disengaged, many quiet quitters will consistently score mediocre performance reviews. They’ll attend every meeting but never participate. These employees are often in total isolation or actively withdrawing from social activities and coworkers. 

Other team members may voice complaints about having to pick up the slack (read: assignments extraneous to the job description yet still assigned by higher ups) trailing the apathetic employee. Quiet quitting tendencies may also present as declining to engage with coworkers any more than is strictly necessary to get work done.  

“The root of quiet quitting is employee burnout,” said Cassine. 

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.”

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.”

More On What Burnout Looks Like5 Burnout Symptoms: How Employers Can Take Action

 

Is Quiet Quitting Real?

Depends on whom you ask. Ever since Khan’s video went viral, the alliterative buzzword made headlines everywhere. 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.”

 

What Caused Quiet Quitting?

Making its debut two years into a pandemic, quiet quitting slipped in just as talk about the preceding media fixation, the Great Resignation, during which workers left their jobs voluntarily en masse, 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. Latest reports show little change, counting 4.2 million quits in August 2022. 

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 decided to spend more time on things that weren’t work.

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. 

Now, workers know that they’re in demand. And it’s the same power play that pits companies in the pocket of quiet quitters that’s sparking ongoing calls to action among service workers.

Whether it’s empowerment, apathy or entitlement, workers should savor the moment before the imminent economic crash sets in. As President Joe Biden walked back half-hearted guarantees of a recession-free future he made in the summer — revising his forecast to anticipate a “very slight” downturn — experts at Bloomberg adjusted their recession projections from 60 percent to 100 percent in the next 12 months.

Know When to Go10 Good Reasons for Leaving a Job

 

What Can Companies Do About Quiet Quitting?

Quiet quitters are often misunderstood.

“This is not a group of employees who are truly underperforming or not doing any work,” said Tom Cornell, senior psychology consultant at hiring intelligence platform HireVue. “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.”

If that doesn’t seem feasible, it might be time for the employee to start looking for another job.

But of course, individual action can only go so far. Transformative change within a corporate culture trickles from the top down. Cornell, who holds a master’s degree in occupational psychology, has advice for managers looking to extinguish workplace burnout:

 

Address Company Culture

Now more than ever, employee mental health should be a top priority for talent leaders, Cornell said. Productivity, performance and long-term retention are directly linked to enthusiastic employees engaged with their work. 

If employers want their employees to go above and beyond, it’s important for them to understand what they’re working toward.

“Promoting transparency around clear career progression for employees is one way to keep them motivated and on track,” said Cornell. “When workers have clear benchmarks to hit, they are more likely to put in the work to reach those goals.”

 

Hand Out Gold Stars

A good rewards program can go a long way, Cornell said. Recognition helps employees feel valued by their company and that their contributions to the success of their team are seen. While some employee bonus programs require significant monetary investments, cultural mandates that take the time to recognize employees come at low cost. Never underestimate the gesture of a public shoutout in a slack channel, newsletter or email blast. On-the-fly time off, small gifts or free lunch can also go a long way for workplace morale.

 

Don’t Glorify Over-Work

Although there will be peak times when work requires more time than usual, constant hustle and grind at the expense of friends, family and hobbies is never worth it, Cornell said. 

“This isn’t something employers should expect from team members,” he said. “Rather, they should encourage employees to keep their schedules in alignment to prevent burnout.” 

Fostering an office where balance isn’t the exception but the norm is an example that needs to be set from the top down, Cornell advised: “This is how you create a culture where employees feel it’s truly acceptable to set these boundaries.”

 

Employ Half-Day Fridays, Flexible Paid Time Off or Company-Wide Shutdowns

Designing employee programs with a whole-person approach means thinking of employees as complex beings with physical, mental, social, spiritual and emotional needs in- and outside of the office. 

“Taking time off to recharge, be with family and do the things you love makes all of us better when we show up to work,” Cornell said. 

This can be as simple as respecting calendar blocks to reminding employees of their allotted vacation days. Company-wide shutdowns are particularly effective, Cornell added: “Most of us relate to the anxiety of thinking work is piling up while we’re out. If workers know that everyone else on the team is off recharging as well, it eliminates that tension.”

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