Quiet Quitting: Cop-Out or Constructive?

Quiet Quitting: Cop-Out or Constructive?

September 26, 2022

In the not-too-distant past, many of us were caught up in the whirlwind of ‘hustle culture’. Perhaps the mere mention of those two little words triggers your fight or flight response, violently jolting you back into an era of 18-hour work days, and nights spent sleeplessly plotting your path to promotion. Work on the brain, 24/7. Like a flock of sheep, many of us marched in unison up the corporate ladder, petrified by the thought of falling out of line and getting trampled by the herd. The buzzwords #ambition, #grit and #grind stoked the fire of this toxic trend on social media.

Entrepreneurship, success, money, prestige. The golden medals that everyone was aching to win in the ‘hustle’ Olympics. LinkedIn profiles became glittering halls of fame, decked out with proudly displayed trophies. The focus was on carefully crafting a public persona of workaholism. It wasn’t enough to be successful. You had to create the impression that you were head-over-heels in love with your career. Drunk on ambition and adrenaline. Your whole identity revolved around it.

But recently, many people seem to be snapping out of this hypnotic spell. ‘Quiet quitting’ is a recent trend that pushes back against ‘hustle culture’. According to a Deloitte study in 2015, at the height of ‘hustle culture’, 77% of workers experienced burnout at work, and thus many are walking away from the toxic ‘hustle’ mindset. Whilst ‘hustle culture’ was born out of the Great Recession of 2008, ‘quiet quitting’ comes in the aftermath of a pandemic that has dragged on for years, leaving many people disillusioned with their work, or else simply determined to lead a life beyond it.

So, what exactly is ‘quiet quitting’? Is it a trend that employers need to be worried about, or is it not as bad as we think?

What is ‘quiet quitting’?

In a video that has now blown up on TikTok, a young man called Zaid Khan coined the term ‘quiet quitting’ to describe his changing attitude towards work. Despite the misleading name, ‘quiet quitting’ doesn’t actually involve quitting your job at all. It simply means doing the job you’re paid for, without going above and beyond.

‘Quiet quitting’ entails following your job description to the letter. Khan rejects the notion that consistent hustling should be the norm. It doesn’t involve neglecting your duties, but rather setting clear boundaries that you refuse to transgress. ‘Quiet quitters’ are resetting the standard, refusing to make work the centre of their universe. According to a Gallup survey, at least half of US workers are quiet quitting their jobs. Post-pandemic, the trend is particularly evident amongst young people.

Should we be worried?

Whilst there are many potential reasons why someone may choose to ‘quiet quit’ their job, a toxic workplace culture may very well be one of them. Employers may need to take a look in the mirror when asking themselves why employees are not pushing the boat out when it comes to work. Some argue that ‘quiet quitting’ is, by its very nature, semi-confrontational. It could be seen as a way for employees to register the frustration and disconnect they feel with the organisation they’re working for.

According to Gallup data, workers below the age of 35 in particular are growing disengaged at work. The percentage of engaged employees in this age group fell by 6 percent from 2019 to 2022. Meanwhile, the number of young employees who feel cared for by their employers, or think that they have opportunities to learn and grow professionally, fell by 10 percentage points. In this respect, ‘quiet quitting’ appears to be a way for employees to pushback against neglect from their employers. If employers aren’t investing in employee welfare, why should they be going above and beyond for the sake of a company that doesn’t care about them? If managers want a strong work ethic pulsing through the company, they need to find innovative ways to make employees feel looked after and engaged in the company mission. When someone feels like they’re a crucial piece of the puzzle – valuable, and part of something bigger – they’re more likely to be a proactive team player.

And being a team player can actually benefit them on a personal level, too. ‘Quiet quitting’ may not be as liberating for employees as it may seem at face-value. By swearing off any work that does not fall under your job description, you may actually be making your work more arduous and uninspiring than it needs to be. If you’re clocking off at 5pm on the dot and refusing to build relationships with colleagues, you could be killing any chances of cultivating a workplace community. You could be missing out on some of the most exciting and enriching parts of your working life if you refuse to truly immerse yourself in it.

If you’re unhappy in your career, is ‘quiet quitting’ really the answer? To many, it feels like an intrinsically hostile approach to take. A lot of critics regard it as a form of silent mutiny. If you’re not content with your job, perhaps it would be wiser and more beneficial for both parties to have a candid conversation with your employer, to discuss pain points and potentially find a solution. Or else, to look for a more inspiring role elsewhere.

Or is it even a thing?

However, all of this is to suggest that there’s a problem with ‘quiet quitting’ in the first place. Is there actually anything fundamentally wrong with simply doing your job?

The fact that ‘quiet quitting’ is proving to be such a shocking phenomenon to many – one that is making headlines – shows that society is still very much stuck in the ‘hustle culture’ mindset. It suggests that workers simply performing their job without doing additional work, just doing what they’re paid to do, is some kind of sin. In reality, should we be moving away from this unspoken societal rule that puts a pressure on the individual to push themselves to the brink in order to succeed professionally?

Whilst it’s very easy to suggest that someone simply quit their job and go down a career path that grips their interest more, this isn’t always possible. Many people aren’t in the privileged position to be able to up-sticks and leave their job in pursuit of something more enjoyable and personally fulfilling. In times of economic uncertainty, it may feel safer to stay on in a secure role and simply do what is expected of you rather than seek a job elsewhere. Not everyone has the opportunity to find a job that they’re passionate about.

Ultimately, what matters more than anything is the reasoning behind ‘quiet quitting’. It’s not always meant as a passive aggressive protest against working hard. Sometimes, it’s a way for employees to take back their personal power. ‘Quiet quitting’ isn’t inherently a bad thing. So long as employees are performing as expected there’s no reason that they shouldn’t be dedicating more time to their lives outside the office. In fact, it could actually be a good thing. Creating a healthy work-life balance can improve the quality of your work, whilst excessive stress and workplace pressure can be detrimental to the company as well as the individual.

The only time when ‘quiet quitting’ could be concerning is when there’s a truly spiteful sentiment fuelling it. In which case, it’s worth having a candid conversation to resolve whatever issue may be causing it. When an employee wants to take revenge on a company, or sees ‘quiet quitting’ as a way of flaunting their entitlement, it should be addressed, both for the sake of the individual and the business. However, in the vast majority of cases, ‘quiet quitting’ isn’t a problem at all. As long as it’s not being done for the wrong reasons, it’s just a means of establishing healthy boundaries and taking back the agency to find an identity beyond the office walls.

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