What is ‘Quiet Quitting’?

Eric E. Surbano

16 Sep 2022

A TikTok video made the term go viral, sparking debate. Don’t know about it? You may have already done it

Picture this: It’s Saturday. There’s a light drizzle outside, which means that the bed you’re lying in is ten times more comfortable than usual. You know you have absolutely nothing to do today. It’s a free day. It’s your day, and you’re going to spend it how you see fit. You turn over to look at your phone on your bedside table hoping to do some in-bed social media scrolling, only to be greeted by not one, not two, but three emails from your boss, all before 9am—on a Saturday. You feel like your weekend is ruined, but it only gets worse when your phone rings and you see the name of your boss pop up. But you decide, “No. It’s the weekend, and the weekend is mine.” Call rejected. Email notifications swiped away. That can all wait until Monday.

Congratulations, you’re a “quiet quitter”.

The term “quiet quitting” has been making the rounds these past few months after a video on TikTok went viral. In it, the term is defined as not quitting your job but “quitting the idea of going above and beyond”. Ever since it was posted, a heated debate has erupted on what the term actually means. Does it mean workers are slacking off or does it mean they’re placing healthy boundaries?

Though the term is new, the occurrence is not. Jim Harter headed the Gallup research on workplace analysis in the US back in June, and in an article published by Insider, he said that 50% of the workforce in the US are “quiet quitters”. However, in the latter half of 2021, the number of disengaged employees grew. Jaya Dass, managing director of Randstad, a global recruitment company, in Singapore, says that quiet quitting is the result of the pandemic and what has been dubbed “The Great Resignation”, the phenomenon of employees quitting jobs to find ones with higher pay and better security. Dass says in the CNBC article that employees are no longer asking for work-life balance—they’re demanding it.

Other people find “quiet quitting” strange. “I would suggest that if your staff turn up every day and do exactly what you ask of them, they aren’t ‘quiet quitting’, they’re ‘working’,” says Sarah O’Connor, associate editor at the Financial Times. She continues by saying that “above and beyond” is meaningless when employers expect their employees to do more than what’s asked of them. She cites the crunch culture in the video game industry as a prime example (a topic Koktail did a story in our third issue). 

In another piece by The New York Times, an HR specialist from Texas was confused as to why a phenomenon like this is, well, a phenomenon. “It means that the expectation is for you to do more than the company actually compensates you for, and that will work out well for you,” she said. “That doesn’t make sense to me. You do the work you are compensated for, and if you want to go above and beyond, good for you, but that shouldn’t be a requirement. This is the most worthless term,” she added.

However, Harter from the Gallup research said that “quiet quitting” isn’t a good thing for anyone in the long run. In the same Insider article, he said, “It is a problem for organizations because most jobs today require some extra effort to collaborate and meet customer needs. It is a problem for individuals because being involved and enthusiastic about work is foundational to having thriving wellbeing." He indicates that the problem is not the managers themselves but their roles, which have evolved to become too complicated and ill-defined. 

Some people are outright against “quiet quitting”. Pattie Ehsaei, a workplace decorum expert, said to the BBC, “Quiet quitting is doing the bare minimum required of you at work and being content with mediocrity. Advancement and pay increases will go to those whose level of effort warrants advancement, and doing the bare minimum certainly does not."

There are varying opinions on “quiet quitting”, but what seems to be clear is that everyone has been doing it for a long time now, and it seems to be on the rise. Will it have a great effect just like Harter suspects it will, or is it simply an unnecessary and ridiculous term for a non-phenomenon?