Quiet Quitting: What's causing the silent rebellion?

Delve into the world of 'Quiet Quitting.' Is it a trend or a cry for change?

Quiet Quitting: What's causing the silent rebellion?

Tuesday November 14, 2023,

7 min Read

‘Word of the year’ and ‘phrase of the year’ tend to be quirky, and offbeat, generating a lot of buzz in the world. One such chosen ‘phrase of the year 2022’ by The Morning Brew, the daily newsletter for dynamic young business professionals was 'quiet quitting'. 

Amidst the extensive discourse surrounding the Great Resignation, a new term has surfaced to characterise a prevalent alternative to traditional resignations. Quiet quitting, driven by many of the same underlying factors as overt resignations, might not seem troublesome at first. However, going above and beyond, quiet quitting can take a toll on both the organisation and the employees. 

The question arises: Is quiet quitting a vexatious trend, or merely a stylish rebranding of employee dissatisfaction?

A flurry of questions is surely popping into your head! Don’t worry; we’ll delve into the bottom of quiet quitting, find its relevance in the Indian market, and see if it’s an evil in disguise. Read on to know more!

quiet quiting

What is quiet quitting?

‘Quiet quitting’ refers to the phenomenon where dissatisfied employees strategically disengage from tasks beyond their assigned duties. While they continue to fulfil their primary responsibilities, they become less inclined to invest additional time or effort, such as arriving early, staying late, or participating in non-mandatory activities like responding to emails beyond work hours. Essentially, quiet quitters adhere strictly to their job requirements and nothing more.

This trend gained prominence in the early 2020s, propelled by social media, with some questioning its prevalence. The Los Angeles Times credits Bryan Creely, a Nashville-based career coach, for throwing light on this term in a March 4, 2022, video on TikTok and YouTube. “The reality is, it’s not, and your worth as a person is not defined by your labour” – said the viral TikTok video.

However, Wikipedia suggests an earlier origin in 2009, attributing it to economist Mark Boldger. Interestingly, the movement might trace its roots to China, where the hashtag #tangping, meaning “lie flat,” was used to protest against the rat race.

The term, thereby, encapsulates the rejection of the pervasive ‘hustle culture,’ where work dominates life and self-worth jumps out of the window.

Who are the quiet quitters– Millennials or Gen Z?

According to Gallup's latest findings from the 2022 State of the Global Workplace study, a mere 21% of employees were actively engaged at work, with 33% thriving in overall well-being. Additionally, a concerning 44% of employees reported experiencing stress throughout the workday.

In a study, it was revealed that ‘quiet quitters’ constitute at least 50% of the U.S. workforce, with a pronounced presence among workers under the age of 35.

However, Derek Thompson noted in The Atlantic that Gallup's engagement numbers for 2022 were similar to those spanning back to 2000. Thompson argued that the term ‘quiet quitting’ gained traction not because it represents a new phenomenon, but rather as a response to the yearning for ‘fresh vocabulary’ among workers experiencing burnout or boredom. Very GenZ, isn’t it?

Ankita Dabas, Chief Growth Officer at Veative Group, elucidated that, “Quiet quitting is a kind of employee disengagement where an employee carries out only those responsibilities specified in their job description.”

A separate study conducted by Slack which focused on the Indian employment scenario, revealed the highest occurrence of quiet quitting in defence and government sectors. This underlines the pervasive nature of this phenomenon and its impact across diverse professional domains.

What’s making them quit?

Quiet quitting is gaining momentum amid the widespread burnout triggered by the pandemic, particularly among the younger demographic, who has borne the brunt of these abnormal times.

Considerations include the potential for continued remote work, shorter workweeks, and, in some cases, a complete departure from the workforce during the Great Resignation. This movement is centred around self-preservation and the principle of “acting your wage.”

At the heart of the issue lies a reluctance to exceed the standard Call of Duty. Organisations gain a competitive advantage when their workforce goes above and beyond stated responsibilities. In today's business landscape, where most companies operate beyond a traditional 9-to-5 schedule, results hold more significance than adherence to a fixed timeframe.

One challenge is the misconception among corporate executives that losing employees who voluntarily resign is acceptable. However, those exhibiting signs of quiet quitting but not officially resigning, can exert additional strain on their colleagues.

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In India's corporate parlance, where extended holidays are often frowned upon, there is an acknowledgement of unfamiliar and pressing issues. A Human Resources head at a Bengaluru-based consumer tech startup noted “From leave for menstrual cramps to recuperation of emotional health, to quiet quitting, we are grappling with topics that are still unknown. We are still struggling with raising the basic diversity bar.”

Several underlying causes contribute to the rise of quiet quitting, including a skills gap in the job market, limited prospects, lack of motivation, and insufficient investment in employee development programs. The confluence of these factors has propelled the quiet quitting movement to the forefront of contemporary workplace dynamics.

Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post and CEO at Thrive, has however highlighted in a widely shared LinkedIn post that quiet quitting transcends the professional realm, “it’s a step toward quitting on life.”

What do leaders and managers say?

According to Jim Detert, a professor at the University of Virginia, labelling someone a ‘quitter’ isn’t at all a compliment; rather it’s negative as we are essentially implying laziness or a lack of commitment. This leads to detrimental effects for an organisation. 

When one employee observes a colleague avoiding responsibilities without facing consequences, he/she can adopt the same tactic, fostering a cycle of reduced productivity and profitability. 

Leaders often react negatively to this trend. Some argue that while losing employees who wish to depart is challenging, it's even more problematic when they don't quit. This is because their reluctance to go the extra mile often results in increased workloads for their colleagues, creating additional challenges within the team.

Managerial responses vary, with some showing tolerance due to the tight labour market, while others take more assertive actions, including termination of the underperformers.

How can organisations take a call?

Detert suggests reframing ‘quiet quitting’ as “calibrated contributing”. This entails– instead of labelling employees as “lazy”, a more constructive approach involves addressing the core issues and taking proactive steps to ward them off.

Managers can take ownership by recognising that calibrated contributions often stem from the terms of employment offered. This acknowledgement can be put into action by increasing pay and benefits or reevaluating the job role. They can also provide more autonomy in work schedules, making tasks more engaging by expanding their variety or increasing the scope of responsibility.

Studies consistently emphasise the profound impact of the boss-employee relationship on job satisfaction and employee retention. Ankita Dabas notes “Skilling, reskilling and upskilling have a huge role to play in career dynamics. When employees have the opportunity to learn and grow, they are more likely to feel engaged and fulfilled in their work.”

Consider investing in personal and professional development through training programs, job rotations, workshops, cross-functional assignments, and skill development initiatives to foster a more engaged and happy workforce.

For India, rather than dismissing quiet quitters, there may be long-term benefits in accommodating or collaborating with this group. However, challenges arise in balancing the needs of individual employees with revenue targets and team dynamics. Nonetheless, in a competitive landscape, boosting talent retention becomes imperative for sustained success.