Quiet quitting: Are workers taking advantage or taking control?

·Senior Editor
·7 min read

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

Over the past few weeks, the term “quiet quitting” has suddenly emerged to the center of debate about the American workplace. Thanks largely to a series of viral posts on TikTok, the phrase has evolved from an online discussion point to real-life controversy that has drawn the attention not only of workers but of the executives who manage them and the companies that employ them.

"Quiet quitting" is a bit of a misnomer, since it doesn’t actually mean leaving one’s job. Instead, the term describes a variety of ways in which workers reduce the time and energy they commit to their jobs.

In a post that now has more than 3.4 million views, TikTok user zaidleppelin described quiet quitting as a rebalancing of expectations. “You’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond at work. You’re still performing your duties, but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle-culture mentality that work has to be your life.”

Unlike the so-called Great Resignation, which featured record numbers of workers leaving their jobs over the past year, there’s no way to track how many people are quietly quitting at their jobs — or even if quiet quitting is a real phenomenon beyond a few attention-grabbing anecdotes. There is some evidence, however, to suggest that workers’ commitment to their jobs is very low. Recent polling from Gallup found that a large share of the U.S. workforce — including more than half of workers born after 1989 — can be classified as “not engaged” while on the job.

Why there’s debate

The emergence of quiet quitting as an ethos has been celebrated by some as an overdue correction to historic workplace trends and also derided as a risky trend that could harm individual workers and the economy as a whole.

Supporters of the movement say quiet quitters are merely fulfilling their duties as laid out in their job description, something that only seems remarkable in the context of exploitative workplace culture that is so pervasive in the U.S. Some economists argue that the current tight labor market and lingering resentment from the pandemic have given workers the power and motivation to wrest back control of their professional lives and free themselves to find fulfillment outside the office. Others say that even employers will benefit from having a workforce that is less prone to burnout — a problem especially pronounced in younger workers.

The most vocal critics of quiet quitting say it's nothing more than laziness. But even among those who are sympathetic to concerns about overwork, there are some who argue that quiet quitting is the wrong response. Many say quiet quitters risk not only hurting the companies they work for, but also undermining their own careers, by denying themselves the chance to advance to a place where they can find more fulfillment in their work. “You have to go beyond because you want to — that’s how you achieve success,” “Shark Tank” star Kevin O’Leary said in a video for CNBC. Others, including the founder of HuffPost, Ariana Huffington, say dissatisfied workers should take the initiative to seek out more worthwhile employment, either in their current job or elsewhere, rather than choosing mediocrity for themselves.

Another group rejects the idea that there’s anything new or remarkable about quiet quitting, if it’s even really happening on a widespread scale. They argue that it’s simply a new way to describe a tension between management and labor that has existed as long as work itself.

What’s next

Workers’ power to control their professional lives may start to erode if the labor market begins to loosen and unemployment begins to rise, something most economists expect to happen in the near future as a result of policies designed to temper inflation.

Perspectives

Quiet quitting is about workers putting their jobs in the proper place

“Quiet quitting does not mean skiving off. … It doesn’t even mean only doing exactly what’s in your job description. It means not letting your job become bigger than you or the things that matter to you: family, friends, downtime, our favorite childhood hobbies that we drop when we begin our working lives.” — Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch

Quiet quitters may be robbing themselves of the chance to eventually find more fulfilling work

“All jobs are meaningful. If someone pays you to do something it has value. And if a desire for a job with a big mission that will give your life meaning prevents you from working hard or staying in a job long enough to develop skills, you will not only earn less money, you will never find what you are looking for.” — Allison Schrager, Bloomberg

Quiet quitters are still doing their jobs, they’re just skipping the things that grind people down

“What quiet quitting refers to is really just quitting the crappy parts of your job. … People are tired, and they’re really just realizing that they can do their job, do it competently, work 9-to-5 or whatever their boss asks them to do — and no more.” — Allison Morrow, CNN

Workers stand to gain a lot more by being proactive about their concerns

“I think ‘quiet quitting’ is a bad idea for most workers, though not for the reasons cited by bosses. … What I object to is the ‘quiet’ nature of the movement, when what we need right now is an assertive and noisy discussion of the appropriate boundaries between our home and working lives.” — Jessica Irvine, Sydney Morning Herald

Businesses will benefit from workers setting manageable expectations for themselves

“Research shows that going beyond the call of duty at work can lead to work-family conflict, stress and fatigue related to nonrequired tasks. Further, sometimes taking on nonrequired work can be distracting and potentially undermine employees’ efforts in their required duties. Managers need to be willing to recognize that there exist potential costs for employees who take on extra work and be willing to discuss this with employees.” — Thomas K. Kelemen, Deseret News

Quiet quitters make things harder on their colleagues and undermine culture

“Whether people feel like their coworkers are committed to quality work can affect the performance of the organization and cause friction inside teams and organizations.” — Jim Harter, workplace culture researcher, to Time

Quiet quitting isn’t new, but it’s good to have a name for a long-standing practice

“I’m glad someone gave it a name. It gives us the vocabulary to both discuss and normalize it. Success isn't exclusive to career success, and knowing what success is to you is absolutely crucial.” — Jennifer Brick, career strategist, to Newsweek

Companies that expect workers to go above and beyond without any rewards are kidding themselves

“Just because we need to do something for a living doesn't mean we need to love what we do. And anyway, workplaces that insist you love every banal element of your job simply out of gratitude are deeply out of touch.” — Pema Bakshi, Refinery29

It’s a mistake to treat workers simply doing their jobs as an act of rebellion

"The term 'quiet quitting' is so offensive because it suggests that people that do their work have somehow quit their job, framing workers as some sort of villain in an equation where they're doing exactly what they were told. … It's part of an overwhelming trend of pro-boss propaganda, trying to frame workers that don't do free work for their bosses as somehow stealing from the company.” — Ed Zitron, labor market writer, to NPR

There is nothing new or noteworthy about quiet quitting

“Putting a name to the phenomenon doesn’t make it any more real. Disaffected workers have always found ways to stick it to the Man, within limits. There’s no evidence that an unprecedented wave of such behavior is upon us, especially given that job creation is at the strongest level in years.” — Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times

Radical change, not subtle acts of resistance, is needed to fix America’s exploitative labor system

“Debates over remote work or ‘quiet quitting’ are distractions and tend to deal in euphemisms. The suggested problem is burnout, for example, or anything to avoid pointing the finger at work itself. Yet it would be far more honest to admit that work is the problem.” — Sarah Jones, New York

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