The story so far: If you are a social media user, chances are that you have seen the term “quiet quitting” while scrolling through at least one of your feeds.
The idea of quiet quitting has received an impetus from Gen Z videos on platforms like TikTok and Instagram, but the concept has been around for decades.
What is quiet quitting?
Contrary to what its name suggests, quiet quitting does not mean quitting one’s job. It only means that an employee performs the duties assigned to them and does not go above and beyond what their job description requires them to do.
Zaid Khan, a digital content creator from New York, posted a video about quiet quitting on his TikTok channel in July. Since then, his video has been viewed thousands of times and shared widely.
Mr. Khan has also made appearances on news platforms like Al Jazeera to talk about work-related stress during the pandemic and how his life has changed after he set boundaries at work.
Quiet quitting can be seen as a direct opponent to hustle culture – the practice of making every moment count towards working and making money. It shifts the focus back to setting boundaries at work and ensuring a better work-life balance for employees.
Some important aspects of quiet quitting include learning to say “no” to taking on additional responsibilities at work, and not checking emails outside office hours or while on vacation.
Impact of Covid-19 and economic challenges
The Covid-19 pandemic was instrumental in changing how people perceived work-life balance. Many early Gen-Z members (people born between 1997 and 2012) entered the workforce when the pandemic hit, and the sudden change from working in dedicated office spaces to working from home may have impacted work-life boundaries for both employers and employees. Studies have also shown that it greatly increased the burden on women.
As people settled into the “new normal”, and things started opening up, employees began to realise their disenchantment with dedicating most of their days to work and appreciated an improved work-life balance.
Once physical offices were back, many employees who had been working efficiently from homes realised that commuting to a workplace was an unnecessary addition to their day. Living through a pandemic also changed people’s expectations from a job. These factors led to the Great Resignation that began in 2021. The term Great Resignation was coined by Anthony Klotz, an associate professor at UCL School of Management, London. It referred to a phenomenon where people no longer willing to slog in jobs that pay less and didn’t ensure professional and personal well-being resigned in droves.
The Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with other factors, has also unravelled the world economy. Inflation is at a high in most countries, and prices of fuel, groceries, and housing have been rising steadily. Income stagnation is one of the major reasons younger millennials and Gen-Z workers are opting for quiet quitting.
Employee engagement and state of global workplace
Gallup’s 2022 State of the Global Workplace Report shows that the stress experienced by the world’s workforce reached an all-time high in 2021, even more than the 2020 level when the pandemic had just started. South Asia recorded the highest regional percentage of daily sadness and of employees who said they were not treated with respect.
According to the report, employee engagement (involvement and enthusiasm of employees about their work and workplace) for India stood at 26 per cent in 2021, while only 13 per cent of Indians said that they were “thriving”. Half of the Indian respondents said that they experienced worry “during a lot of the day, yesterday”, and 32 per cent said the same about experiencing daily stress. India topped the rankings among South Asian countries in daily anger and daily sadness. Fifty-six per cent of Indian respondents felt that now was a good time to find a job, based on the job situation in the city/area where they lived.
Bad bosses may also lead to quiet quitting— data published in the Harvard Business Review showed that the least effective managers had three to four times as many employees who were quiet quitting as compared to most effective ones. Only 20 per cent were willing to put in extra effort, as compared to 62 per cent of managers who balanced results with relationships. Ineffective managers had 14 per cent who were quietly quitting, as opposed to only 3 per cent under the “good” bosses.
Not everyone is on board with quiet quitting.
Canadian businessman Kevin O’Leary, also called “Mr. Wonderful” on the television show Shark Tank, called quiet quitting the “dumbest idea” he had ever heard. “If you’re a quiet quitter, you are a loser,” Mr O’Leary said, in an interview with CNBC.
In an article for Forbes, Professor Shaun Harper argued that quiet quitting “isn’t a thing among Black workers”.
Black workers often say that “their potential, talents, and contributions” are invisibilised by their white colleagues and managers. But they also feel that they “are simultaneously more scrutinized and surveilled at work. Mistakes they make have more severe consequences and are weaponized longer,” he writes.
“They would surely notice if (a Black female worker) did the bare minimum in her position and didn’t work as hard as everyone else. She’d likely be fired, demoted, or pushed out of the company,” he says, adding that rendering oneself susceptible to being fired “for doing too little isn’t something many Black workers can afford.”
He pointed out that unemployment in July stood at 6 per cent for Black Americans—almost double the 3.1 per cent figure for white Americans, per data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.