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What is Quiet Quitting and How Can You Prevent It?

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Move over “Great Resignation” … meet “Quiet Quitting” the latest labor force zeitgeist that is trending on TikTok and across virtual water coolers this summer.

“In the wake of the Great Resignation, we now have quiet quitting,” reported Houston’s KHOU (channel 11).  

While the much publicized Great Resignation continues with 4 million-plus U.S. workers voluntarily leaving their jobs each month for the past 13 consecutive months, quiet quitting is not actually quitting one’s job but the antithesis of the “hustle culture.”

“As explained in one viral clip, it involves “not outright quitting your job, but … quitting the idea of going above and beyond,” reported (ironically, enough) The Hustle.

The trend, reported The Washington Post, is resonating strongly with millennial and Gen Z employees fighting to rewrite the rules of the workplace from baby boomer and Gen X managers.

The Definition of Quiet Quitting

As a new term in the workforce way of life, quiet quitting means different things to different folks.

KHOU explained it thus: “Despite the name, it doesn’t mean actually leaving your job. Instead, quiet quitting means doing your job requirements and nothing more. No overtime, no sacrificing your personal life and relationships. Just do your job and go home.”

Kathy Kacher, founder of Career/Life Alliance Services, told The Washington Post that quiet quitting is a new term for an old concept: employee disengagement.

Some employees on message boards and comment sections have said that quiet quitting is simply “doing what you are paid for.”

Joe Grasso, senior director of workforce transformation at Lyra Health, told The Washington Post. That quiet quitting looks like “classic indicators of diminished motivation and low engagement” and that signs could include:

  • Withdrawing from their work team

  • Limiting communication at work

  • Limiting interaction at work to the bare minimum required


Origins of the Quiet Quitting Concept

While the origins of quiet quitting are likely as old as man – there no doubt was always someone in the cave clan quietly not pulling their weight! – the modern term “quiet quitting” may have materialized in China.

Beginning in April 2021, a lifestyle and social protest movement started in Asia called “tang ping”, roughly translated into “lying flat” or taking a break from relentless work.

“The tang ping movement took off during 2021 as many felt they were coming under increasing pressure to work even harder and outperform their peers,” reported the BBC in February. “The background to this trend is a shrinking labor market in China, which means younger people are now under pressure to work much longer hours and they burn out.”

Much like the Great Resignation, the “lying flat” and “quiet quitting” movements are an answer to issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People feel so apathetic now they're having to deal with the coronavirus and feel exhausted. They literally just want to lie down with a book, or sit and watch some TV, rather than keep the momentum going by working hard," said Kerry Allen, the BBC's China media analyst.

For the record, Know Your Meme reports that the term quiet quitting made its first appearance on March 24, 2022 in a tweet.

Though the term really took off last month as it zoomed through the TikTok stratosphere with millions of #quietquitting views of various videos.

Is Quiet Quitting Really Another Term for Work-Life Balance?

There are those that argue quiet quitting is really another term to describe setting a healthy work-life balance.

“Whatever the definition [of quiet quitting], the goal is the same: untangling employees’ identities from their jobs and leaving them with more time and energy to invest elsewhere,” wrote Taylor Telford in The Washington Post.

Elise Freedman, senior client partner at consulting firm Korn Ferry, told CBS MoneyWatch that “People see 'quiet' and 'quitting' and they think it's about quitting, but really what quiet quitting means is someone who has decided, 'I want to prioritize my well-being overall and things outside of work.’ This is different from someone who is disengaged.”

Work-life balance comes into play when advocates of quiet quitting say it’s a protest against the idea of working at nights and on weekends, typically unpaid, on projects that cannot be finished during their normal work hours.

“To some extent, quiet quitting may represent an evolution of the Great Resignation, with Americans pushing back against blithe employer expectations that they'll obediently put in more hours each week without additional compensation,” reported CBS.

NPR said that some experts say quiet quitting is a misnomer if it describes carving out time to take care of yourself.

“Closing your laptop at 5 p.m. Doing only your assigned tasks. Spending more time with family. These are just some of the common examples used to define the latest workplace trend of 'quiet quitting,' " said NPR.

Addressing Employee Burnout Key to Stemming Quiet Quitting

Some see quiet quitting as a direct consequence of employee burnout, with 86 percent of U.S. employers saying that mental health, stress, and burnout are a priority in 2022.

“Not everyone sees [quiet quitting] as such a bad thing. Some employment experts say short-term quiet quitting can be a good solution for burned out workers. But others say if you are thinking about quiet quitting it might be time to start talking to your bosses about job expectations,” said KHOU. “If it is not possible to perform all the duties they want done during your normal work hours there needs to be a larger conversation.”

What can employers do to dampen the fires of quiet quitting? Have a company plan in place to combat employee burnout in the following categories:

  • Physical Well-Being: There are programs and apps that can help your employees focus on their physical well-being as well as targeting specific conditions such as diabetes, depression, and heart disease. Programs can help employees tackle unhealthy lifestyle choices such as tobacco use, frequent alcohol consumption, poor nutrition, and physical inactivity.
  • Emotional Well-Being: Implementing company-wide behavioral health strategies and action plans can combat employee burnout. Employers are improving employee assistance plans to include expanded services and increasing the number of visits. Some companies are now adding on-site yoga, meditation, and stress-reducing options.
  • Social Well-Being: Remote and hybrid work have forced companies to reimagine social support programs. Benefit programs are also being tailored to incorporate diversity and inclusion concerns.
  • Financial Well-Being: Some companies do not address financial well-being programs for their employees, but financial insecurity can contribute to burnout. Programs are being added that can help employees track and set objectives for key life decisions such as an impending birth, adoption or first-time home buying.

"The organizations that most effectively move the needle are those that develop a comprehensive strategy that supports all aspects of their employees' well-being. It's also important to articulate that strategy to employees, conduct manager training and measure effectiveness," WTW senior director, health and benefits, Regina Ihrke, told the Society for Human Resource Management.