Why Quiet Quitting Is Not A New Work Phenomenon

Quiet quitting has become all the rage as of late. However, the concept itself is actually nothing new to speak of.

By Charlene Badasie | Published

quiet quitting the great resignation

In recent weeks, quiet quitting has taken the global workforce by storm. The phrase, which refers to employees setting work-life balance boundaries by doing the bare minimum, gained popularity through TikTok. But the viral phenomenon is nothing new and has been happening for decades. Before the advent of terms like “mental health”, folks had a remedy for the occasional feelings of burnout we all experience. They would call in sick when they didn’t even have the slightest cough. While it didn’t have a name back then, the trend was essentially a way to limit one’s workload.

Now, the trend of employees choosing to not go above and beyond their jobs by refusing to answer emails after hours, or skipping extra assignments that fall outside their core duties, has resurfaced. As the Gen Z demographic talk about how they are participating in quiet quitting, it’s not as sinister as it sounds. It doesn’t even involve getting taken off the company’s payroll. The idea is to simply do exactly what your job asks – no more, no less. Checking out after 5 pm is not a bad thing if people have no incentive to do more, especially when feeling unappreciated is coupled with the current economic crisis.

Speaking to BBC News, Associate Professor at the University of College London’s School of Management, Anthony Klotz, discussed the resurgence of quiet quitting. “Although this has come from a younger generation and in new packaging, this trend has been studied under different names for decades: disengagement, neglect, withdrawal.” He added that workers have always looked to get by in a job for various reasons like having non-transferable skills, accrued flexibility, and benefits they can’t get elsewhere. They may also live in a small community without alternate opportunities.

Klotz also believes that quiet quitting is resonating at the moment because of the pandemic, and the increased conversations around mental health. In many instances, people are taking action to stave off burnout. “Quiet quitting is effectively redrawing boundaries back to the job description so that people aren’t thinking about work 24/7,” he told the publication. “Instead, they’re dedicating time and energy to other elements of their lives that are more meaningful, leading to improved wellbeing.”

Working through the pandemic also caused a spike in employee disengagement, fuelling the quiet-quitting phenomenon. According to Jim Harter, Chief Scientist for Workplace Management and Wellbeing at analytics firm Gallup, the trend is largely being driven by early-career employees. “Younger workers typically tend to report higher levels of engagement, but that’s now declining,” he explains. “Following Covid-19, they may now have a higher bar than older generations when it comes to working for an organization with purpose,” he continued.

Quiet quitting can manifest in a few different ways but there are things employers can do to combat the trend. Finding ways to make employees feel valued, respected, and appreciated is a great place to start. Other tips include allowing for an appropriate level of work-life balance, valuing employees’ physical and mental health, and encouraging these values in staffers to avoid burnout. Providing benefits like sick days and vacation days is also a good idea. Paying employees reasonable salaries above minimum wage would be the most important, according to CNBC.