Quiet quitting: what is it and what does it mean for the worker?

The term, sometimes referred to as "silent resignation", can promote work-life balance, although it is not without risks. For companies, it is an opportunity to reconsider some of their procedures or possible causes of employee demotivation.

Quiet quitting and its work/life balance.
Reading time: 4 min

It is known as quiet quitting, but in reality only the term is new. This work practice already existed, even if it didn’t have a name. It was first coined by a career coach named Bryan Creely in a TikTok video. Later, tiktoker @zkchillin made it viral in another video on the same social network.

Quiet quitting is about working just the right amount, or, in other words, performing only the tasks and hours agreed in the contract. It is about people fulfilling their duties and objectives satisfactorily, but doing the minimum to get the job done. It does not mean that they perform their responsibilities badly. Some have criticised the term “silent resignation”, calling it inappropriate, because in reality these employees are working what they should, neither too much nor too little.

While some people have adopted this way of working without an expression becoming fashionable, in the wake of the pandemic it gained momentum and has become a trend, especially among young Generation Z employees (born between 1995 and 2000). Why does it happen? What does it mean for the employee?

Market and work culture changes after the pandemic

The phenomenon of the Great Resignation refers to the millions of people who voluntarily left their jobs after the pandemic. They realised they were unhappy with their jobs and a mass exodus took place. The reasons? According to the Pew Research Center, mainly because of low wages, lack of promotion opportunities and not feeling respected.

For other experts, it is due to the search for a work-life balance, for a greater dedication to priorities, the possibility of opting for a position that allows teleworking or exhaustion (physical and/or mental) as a result of quarantine.

In a context of recession and soaring inflation, those who do not want to lose their jobs are opting for quiet quitting, for setting work limits to regain balance in their lives. But it can be a sign that employees lack purpose, are not doing well in that job (or are unmotivated) or are even already looking for a new one. For advocates, quiet quitting is normal and should not cause controversy. They are guided by the popular expression: “working to live and not living to work”. They reject a culture of putting work at the centre, they do not feel bad about taking holidays.

Pros and cons of quiet quitting

Quiet quitting behaviour allows employees to maintain a work/life balance and promotes mental well-being because they do not sacrifice it. Thus, they do not become “burnt out”, exhausted or stressed. Those who do not want to give away their time and effort set healthy boundaries. Once they finish, they switch off and, of course, do not take their work home with them. They are very clear about their priorities, such as spending more time with their family or taking care of themselves by going to the gym, for example.

On the other hand, giving up extra effort increases the risk of being fired (before other colleagues), of not being promoted to a higher position or of not getting a pay rise. At the same time, they risk losing the trust of the company.

Some companies are concerned about this trend: it can be negative because it means disengaged and less productive employees. When someone decides to disengage, it is time to ask why they have taken the step, review the conditions to see if they can be improved and address the needs.

Elon Musk is one of the detractors of quiet quitting. He has not said so expressly, but it is clear from the ultimatum he gave to employees by email. The message can be summed up as “either work hard or leave the company”. “In the future, to build a Twitter 2.0 breakthrough and succeed in an increasingly competitive world, we will need to be extremely tough,” Musk’s tweet reads. He adds, “This means working long hours at high intensity.” Musk gave them two days to make their decision, and more than a thousand opted to quit their jobs and receive three months’ severance pay.

This stance by the owner of Twitter fits precisely with what some experts argue: quiet quitting is not about a bad employee, but rather a bad boss. Thus, this trend should be understood as an opportunity to observe, analyse, reflect, evaluate and delve into the weaknesses and strengths of the company. And to know the reasons for this behaviour, on an individual basis, in order to understand it and be able to make changes. And to take advantage of it to perhaps create a new culture or model in line with the times.


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