Quiet quitting in a post pandemic world

The term “quiet quitting,” also known as soft quitting or silent resignation, burst onto the corporate scene in 2022 amid the backdrop of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This peculiar workplace trend has garnered attention in the wake of the Great Resignation and the revitalization of labor rights in the United States. But what exactly does quiet quitting entail, and is it truly a novel phenomenon?

Quiet quitting can be succinctly defined as the act of performing only the essential tasks associated with one’s job, avoiding going “above and beyond” the job description. It occupies the middle ground between underperforming and overperforming, representing a subtle rebellion against the hustle-culture mentality that has long been synonymous with career success. From an employee perspective, it signifies a refusal to allow employers to extract more labor than what they are compensated for—a balance between professional expectations and personal well-being.

However, the term itself has sparked debates about its accuracy. The phrase “quiet quitting” might imply a voluntary departure from a job, but in reality, it translates to merely meeting job requirements without additional effort. Critics argue that this lack of overachievement could hinder personal and professional development, painting it as a dead-end career path. Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the Huffington Post, warns against the impact of quiet quitting, stating that it is not just about quitting a job but could be a step toward quitting on life itself.

Business leaders’ perspectives on the quiet quitting movement are varied. While some CEOs disapprove, viewing it as a hindrance to productivity and success, others see it as a positive shift in the corporate landscape. Steve Taplin, CEO of Sonatafy Technology, perceives quiet quitting as a movement where employees prioritize personal over professional duties, fostering a healthier work-life balance. On the contrary, figures like Elon Musk advocate for an intense, hardcore work ethic, pushing against the growing trend of quiet quitting.

Is quiet quitting truly a new phenomenon, or is it just a product of contemporary discussions? Data suggests that while the term may be relatively new, the act of quiet quitting is not. A Gallup poll on worker engagement reveals that between 2000 and 2022, employee engagement remained relatively stable, with a slight increase. However, a noticeable decline appears between 2020 and 2022, aligning with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. This implies that while quiet quitting may be a cultural phenomenon, its statistical impact is not entirely unprecedented.

The question of whether quiet quitting is beneficial or detrimental remains subjective. Proponents argue that it establishes healthy boundaries and a sustainable work-life balance, aligning with the principles of fair compensation for labor. On the other hand, critics label it as “checking out” and doing the bare minimum to collect a paycheck. The negative connotations in the media may stem from the potential impact on employers, as extracting more labor than paid for reduces costs and increases profits.

From a labor rights perspective, quiet quitting is viewed as an individual fulfilling the terms of their employment contract, receiving agreed-upon pay for specified tasks. Advocates argue that when employees go beyond their job description without additional compensation, they essentially give away their labor as an asset to the employer without a fair share of the resulting profits.

The origin of the term “quiet quitting” can be traced back to March 2022 when Gen-X career coach Brian Creely used it in reference to employees “coasting” at work. The phrase gained traction on TikTok, particularly among the younger, Gen-Z-dominated user base. Interestingly, discussions about quiet quitting often reference a similar movement in China known as tang ping, or “lying flat,” which emerged in 2021. This Chinese movement, like its American counterpart, rejects societal pressure to overwork, prioritizing well-being over excessive labor.

Quiet quitting, though a recently coined term, sheds light on a nuanced shift in workplace dynamics, shaped by the complexities of the modern world and the aftermath of a global pandemic. As employers grapple with adapting to evolving norms, the discussion around quiet quitting serves as a mirror reflecting the changing expectations and priorities of the contemporary workforce.

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