WTF is quiet quitting (and why is Gen Z doing it)?
This article is part of WorkLife’s Quiet Workplace Guide, that delves into the quiet working trend, and why leaders need to look beyond the buzzwords to the deeper people-engagement challenges behind them. More from the series →
Move over rage quitting, “quiet quitting” is the latest workplace phenomenon.
It may sound like the act of someone silently resigning, but it actually refers to the rejection of “hustle culture” — the expectation to go above and beyond in your job, rather than simply doing the requirements of the job.
It’s a term that has gained traction since a wave of TikTok posts recently emerged from people who consider themselves quiet quitters. TikTok creator Zaid Khan, @zkchillin, posted on TikTok about his own discovery of the term in late July — a video that went viral. In the video he described quiet quitting as “not outright quitting your job, but quitting the idea of going above and beyond.”
But what exactly is quiet quitting, what’s inspired it and what does it signal for how Gen Z shows up at work in the long term? Here’s an explainer.
What is quiet quitting?
Going above and beyond simply meeting the bare minimum requirements of a job has long been the working norm. This supercharged work ethic — dubbed hustle culture — has been a way workers have made themselves stand out to their employers, and over time has become standard.
But like most things in the world of work — this too is now being upended.
It might be because of the great resignation trend, which empowered employees to demand more from their work experiences and work-like balance. But it’s also likely a byproduct of the psychological fallout from living through the coronavirus pandemic, and the subsequent burnout that affected millions.
Regardless, giving 110% is out the door because workers want to avoid exhaustion and ditch stressful jobs that expect them to do more than what’s in their job description. And it’s Generation Z workers — those aged up to 24 years old — who seem the keenest to embrace it.
“The generational influences that were paused during the two years of Covid are now back and they have accelerated because of the options that this workforce has,” said Joe Galvin, chief research officer at Vistage, a CEO coaching and peer advisory organization. “The generational drivers behind that place value on things more so than just career, income, career, income.”
The result is that more employees are strictly sticking to their job descriptions and aren’t staying on the clock past 5 p.m. in an effort to avoid burnout and make time for things outside of work.
“It’s an important message to amplify that we’re all deserving of having a work-life balance and for work to not be all consuming and inflicting so much stress upon us,” Khan, who works as an engineer, told WorkLife. “I thought there must be people out there who feel the same way. Going above and beyond at a company, they won’t remember the effort you put in a few years down the line, but what you will remember is those sleepless nights you had. Why can’t you shift that focus to prioritizing your life and your hobbies and nurturing more of the things that matter?”
Khan said he’s made a personal shift to make sure he has the time and energy for things outside of work. But that doesn’t mean he will slack off during his work hours, he stressed.
“In essence what this quiet quitting movement is reinforcing is that doing just your job is enough,” said Khan.
Deloitte Global’s “2022 Gen Z and Millennial” survey found that these generations are striving for balance and advocating for change like never before. The report revealed that good work-life balance and learning and development opportunities were the top priorities for respondents when choosing an employer. It also showed that 45% of Gen Zers feel burned out due to their work environment and 44% have left jobs due to workload pressure.
“Your worth as a person is not defined by your labor,” said Khan in his TikTok, which received nearly 500,000 likes and was viewed over 3 million times.
The Deloitte survey found that 40% of Gen Zers would like to leave their job within two years, and 35% would leave without having another job lined up.
Cathy Acratopulo, co-founder of HR consultancy Lace Partners, said that given the hiring challenges most businesses are facing, employers may find it’s easier to take the productivity hit and retain someone who’s operating at minimum levels than carry the cost of job vacancies.
That said, it’s not something employees are likely to be rewarded for either. “While an employee may feel quietly quitting helps them to achieve a better balance in the short term by not going the extra mile at work, the likelihood is they will be impacted by lower performance-related incentives and reduced opportunities for alternative roles and progression,” said Acratopulo.
So is quiet quitting a new concept?
Not entirely. But it’s only now gaining real steam. The pandemic has shifted how people — across all generations — think about their work-life balance. According to PwC’s “Global Workforce Hopes and Fears” survey, one in five workers worldwide plans to quit their job in 2022.
Meanwhile, Gallup’s “State of the Global Workforce 2022” report found there is a 21% global employee engagement rate. In the U.S. and Canada, it’s up to 33%, however 50% of workers experience daily stress and 41% experience daily worry. In the U.K., only 9% of workers are engaged or enthusiastic about work.
And yet, while all generations have reassessed their work-life balance, Gen Zers are known to have radically different views from all older generations when it comes to careers and how to define success in life and in the workforce. So the quiet quitting movement is likely to take hold in this generation especially.
More than 4,300 comments were made on Khan’s TikTok video post, including: “I do just enough to not get fired or noticed,” “I did this when I asked for a raise and they told me no,” “I’ve changed my work motto to ‘strive to be mediocre,'” “my above and beyond requires an above and beyond salary,” and “that’s how normal work should be.” Others admitted participating in quiet quitting for years already.
What is Gen Z saying?
“Gen Z is less afraid to speak up and be vocal about this,” said Khan, 24. “We are realizing that our overworking — we don’t see that leading us down the same fruitful path as it did for older generations. Some of my friends and I joke that we’ll never be able to afford a house. Gen Z have this fire under their bellies that something needs to change.”
Twenty-four-year-old Rebecca (a pseudonym WorkLife agreed to) who works at an environmental consultancy in New York told WorkLife that she now only does what her job description outlined after she spent her first year there doing tasks that weren’t discussed during the interview process.
“The most important thing for me is work-life balance,” she said. “If they expect me to not have a life outside of work or lose sleep or sacrifice my breaks or free time or have my hair fall out from stress it will never be worth it.”
While millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) began to bring some change to the workforce, she finds that some of her millennial colleagues or bosses still have the mindset of a boomer (born between 1946 and 1964) that working hard will pay off.
“I think Gen Z has realized that our time outside of work and our mental health will always take priority and going above and beyond for a company that doesn’t do that for you is not worth it,” Rebecca said.
“We’ve seen a shift for requests by millennials and Gen Zs prior to Covid,” said Vistage’s Galvin. “They were requests, now they’re demands. The reason they can demand it is because the employment market, despite having cooled, it’s only now red hot.”
The power that Gen Z holds in the workforce could be the same reason that they’re able to partake in quiet quitting to steer clear of burnout and ensure they have a work-life balance. Gen Z will account for 30% of the workforce by 2030.
“You see more boomers every day stepping out, fewer [generation] Xs [born between 1965 and 1980] ready to step up, and the millennials and the Zs are now the dominant numbers in the workforce,” said Galvin.
Galvin said that Vistage is focused on developing managerial competencies, coaching capabilities and leadership disciplines so that veteran workers can truly manage the new millennial and Gen Z workforce.
So rather than adopting this quiet quitting, should an employee just talk to their employer about how they feel?
Yes. In theory, if an employee is quietly quitting it’s likely a sign that they should appeal to their boss or move on from their role.
However, the young workforce is overall increasingly disengaged.
“I couldn’t care less about what happens to my company,” said Rebecca. “This is a resume builder for me to go into something that actually helps our climate and environment and doesn’t care about profit.”
While some Gen Zers might do more with better compensation, this generation cares more than ever about whether their company is making a difference. According to the Deloitte study, only 18% of Gen Zers and 16% of millennials believe their employers are strongly committed to fighting climate change. Rebecca said her perspective would change on the effort she puts into a job if she felt she was making a positive difference to good causes.
She plans to quit by the end of this year, and won’t necessarily line up another job beforehand.
The quiet quitting phenomenon may signpost how employers need to prioritize different qualities when hiring new employees, like being a curious individual. Building a talent pipeline of professionals who are curious, love learning and are motivated might help avoid creating a staff of quiet quitters.
“We really need to find people that are a good cultural fit who are motivated to learn,” Stacey Force, ManpowerGroup’s innovation strategist and vp of product marketing, told WorkLife last week.
Lace partners’ Acratopulo suggested employers try to prevent quiet quitting by taking the employee pulse regularly to understand how people are feeling and to track engagement. By doing this, an employer could either encourage the employee who is quiet quitting, or ensure they move on to a role that they really want to do.
Pat Ashworth, director of learning solutions at AdviserPlus, recommends that human resource departments focus on how to empower managers with data and tools to identify issues early and deal with underperformance effectively.
“Employee engagement is more than routine one-to-ones and work-focused check-ins; it’s about making employees feel valued and recognized for who they are so that they have a more emotional connection to the organization,” said Ashworth. “Enabling managers to focus on building more personal relationships and empathy with their teams should help to avoid widespread issues of employee disengagement.”