Culture   //   February 2, 2023

Quiet quitting, quiet hiring, quiet thriving: Are all of these new workplace terms helpful?

Quiet quitting, quiet hiring, quiet promotions, quiet firing, quiet thriving – the list of seemingly endless buzzwords that have emerged over the past year or so, to describe either new workplace dynamics, or highlight longstanding bad culture practices – have left us reeling.

And don’t forget all the greats: great resignation, great acceleration, great rebalancing, great reshuffle, (an email PR pitch came through for the “great disengagement” while writing this article) and everything in between like rage applying and rage quitting.

At WorkLife, we continuously update our glossary of what all of the terms mean and take a deep dive into a handful of them as a part of our “WTF is” series. But as the list of adverbs (great, quiet, rage) continues to decorate existing nouns or verbs (hiring, applying, firing, resignation), perhaps it’s time to consider how helpful these trendy workplace terms really are.

On one hand, these terms help people better define what they might be experiencing at the workplace and allows people to dive into a nuanced topic in a faster way. And there are some workplace dynamics which very much need an uncomfortable spotlight shined on them in order to correct them, like toxic positivity for instance. However, like most things, if overused, these buzzwords may be rendered meaningless. We spoke to a number of workplace experts to see what they think about using these phrases. 

“I’m not going to go on TikTok and listen to somebody talk about quiet quitting,” said Alexandria Brown, a human resources consultant and founder of The HR Hacker. “It’s just setting appropriate boundaries at work. Boom, done. Why does it have to have some stupid hashtag? There’s nothing wrong with what you want to do, but everyone is getting so caught up in the hotness and newness of it.”

“It makes it easier for people to bring it up. Like, let’s just start putting quiet or great in front of everything and get more media hype. It’s annoying, but it does help people talk about it.”
Coreyne Woodman-Holoubek, founder of Progressive HR.

But, in today’s world, it seems like having something that fits nicely for a hashtag is what gets people to talk about things. In the quiet quitting example, it helped spark conversations about what it means to do just your outlined job responsibilities and when someone might do more if they’re aiming for a promotion. For quiet promotions, it got people to talk about the act of a manager slowly piling more onto an employee and the impacts that has. For rage applying, both workers and CEOs were able to debate whether or not it’s worth it to look for other jobs after a bad day at work. This list continues. 

“Sometimes I read a headline and it’s like ‘oh, just another great this,’” said Coreyne Woodman-Holoubek, founder of Progressive HR and a 2022 LinkedIn top voice in company culture. “It makes it easier for people to bring it up. Like, let’s just start putting quiet or great in front of everything and get more media hype. It’s annoying, but it does help people talk about it.”

And it’s true that it seems like the media loves it too. There are headlines like: “Remember ‘quiet quitting’? ‘Quiet hiring’ is the new workplace trend of 2023,” “You’ve heard of ‘quiet quitting.’ Now try ‘quiet thriving,’” and “Is ‘rage applying’ the new quiet quitting? Here’s what experts say.” Keeping up with it all starts to get more difficult.

For Woodman-Holoubek, it’s important to take the time to figure out what is a real trend versus one that makes a clickable headline. That might mean figuring out where the term originated from. Was it workers themselves or a workplace expert? Or, was it from a PR firm or someone looking for a catchy headline?

“It’s something sticky and easy to grasp in terms of where things are right now,” said Bonnie Dilber, recruiting leader at cloud integration software company Zapier. “But, it certainly makes good marketing.”

"It certainly makes good marketing.”
Bonnie Dilber, recruiting leader at Zapier.

While that’s true, these are complex topics, so it can be helpful to have a succinct way to talk about it.

“People hear the simple phrase and they understand a lot of the nuances of what that means,” said Dilber. “It’s useful from that perspective, but I’d caution people from buying into it too much.”

She also said while some of these workplace terms might be representative of macro trends, it’s important to understand it’s maybe not reflective of every job. John Barrios, assistant professor of accounting at Washington University in St. Louis’ Olin Business School, agrees. He encourages people to think about trends more objectively by looking at what data tells you to ensure that the message fits the actual evidence. When we take quiet quitting for example, research from Gallup found quiet quitters “make up at least 50% of the U.S. workforce — probably more.” It’s about taking the time to figure out what it is really going on with more research past our social media feeds.

“You need to be cautious from a reader’s perspective,” said Barrios. “You might end up desensitized to all the different terms.”