​What is ‘Quiet quitting’?

Quiet quitting is a trend popular with millennials and Gen Z that prioritises mental health over on-the-job burnout. It’s not actually quitting, but instead means doing the bare minimum to keep your job without putting in any extra effort.

The idea of not going above and beyond and no longer subscribing to the ‘hustle culture’ is certainly not new, in fact, the entire plot of the cult film Office Space (1999) revolves around this idea. Depicting a character engaging in quiet quitting; in the film, Peter Gibbons abandons the concept of work entirely and does the bare minimum required of him.

However, the term ‘quiet quitting’ is new. Google Trends data shows that searches for the term were basically non-existent until just last month (August 2022), but now it’s everywhere. TikToks dissecting the concept have amassed millions of views, prompting many media outlets to publish explainers on the topic.

Why are people quietly quitting?

The term ‘quiet quitting’ has different shades of meaning depending on your perspective. While employees might think in terms of “workers setting reasonable boundaries”, their employers might see them instead as “lazy, unmotivated and willfully underperforming”.

It’s pretty straightforward from the quitter’s perspective: they’re fed up. Whether it’s poor working conditions or low pay combined with high bills, many people feel like they’re stuck in a situation with no way out. And in the context of a cost of living crisis, this feeling is only exacerbated.

According to ONS data, the average UK worker now carries out approximately 22 days worth of overtime a year. This is all happening against inflation hitting a 40-year high of 9.4 percent, pay on a real terms basis dropping 2.8% in the three months to May, which is the fastest decline since records began in 2001.

If working harder and harder doesn’t bring promised rewards because of the way the economy is structured – why bother? For many people, the answer is simple: they’re getting little reward so in return will give little effort, rather than work themselves to the bone for slightly more than little reward.

What’s this about ‘quiet firing’?

Before accusations of employees being lazy or lacking transparency, could employers be the instigators of this workplace strategy? The latest buzzword floating around social media firmly points the finger at employers with acquisitions of quiet firing. ‘Quiet firing’ is a new term but the concept has been around for years. In Japan, it’s referred to as ‘karoshi’, meaning death by overwork, and has been in the public consciousness since the 1970s.

Much like a cowardly ex-partner afraid to break-up, quiet firing refers to a phenomenon in which employers demoralise unwanted workers to the point that they decide to quit. Unlike quiet quitting this is less about protecting your peace of mind and is more likely to make people lose their minds. Some telltale signs to look out for that you might be experiencing quiet firing:

  • Documenting everything is your new mission in life – You are asked to start documenting everything you do at work in minute detail. This can be a way of building a case against you and will be used as ammunition in future.
  • You are suddenly left out of the loop – You are being left out of key decisions or meetings and no longer copied in on emails. This is a way of making you feel isolated, unimportant, and dispensable.
  • You are consistently given the worst tasks – You are being given impossible tasks or tasks with impossible deadlines. This is a way of putting you in a position to fail so that you can be let go.
  • Your boss never gives you positive feedback – Your boss never has anything good to say to you, no matter how well you do your job. This is a way of making you feel devalued and unappreciated.
  • You are being micro-managed – Your boss is suddenly interested in every single detail of your work, no matter how small. This is a way of putting you under unnecessary stress and making you feel like you can’t do your job properly.

If you’ve been in your job for a while and feel like you’re stuck in a rut, it might be time to have a conversation with your boss about your career development. If they’re not receptive to the idea of helping you move up within the company, it might be time to start looking for a new job.

Who is to blame and what can we do about it?

The term “quiet quitting” can have different connotations depending on your perspective. For individual contributors, it might represent a way to set reasonable boundaries while still remaining engaged at work. However, employers might see it as a sign that workers are willfully underperforming. In either case, quiet quitting comes down to a lack of communication and can be a difficult thing to navigate.

If you’re an employee who is thinking of quietly quitting, it’s important to consider your motives and objectives carefully. Are you looking to disengage from your work entirely, or are you just hoping to set some healthier boundaries? If it’s the latter, there might be some other options worth exploring before you make your decision. But if you’ve made up your mind to quietly quit, then the best thing you can do is to communicate your intentions clearly to your employer. That way, they can’t say they weren’t warned.

On the other hand, if you’re an employer who suspects that one of your employees is quietly quitting, the best thing you can do is to have a conversation with them. It’s possible that there’s a misunderstanding, or that they simply need some help setting healthier boundaries. But if it turns out that they are intentionally disengaging from their work, then at least you’ll have a better understanding of the situation. And that’s always better than being in the dark.

It has been said that if you want to know what a company’s culture really looks like, just watch the employees. Here are three questions to ask yourself if you want more insight into the culture of your company:

  1. Are our communication channels clear and transparent?
  2. Is there a steady, consistent, and strategic approach to change?
  3. Do leaders trust team members and vice versa?

Quiet quitting can be a difficult thing to navigate, but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re an employee who is thinking of quietly quitting, or an employer who suspects that someone on your team is quietly quitting, the best thing you can do is to communicate openly and honestly. That way, you can figure out what’s really going on and find a way to move forward.