What Is ‘Quiet Quitting’ and Why Are Half of Us Doing it?

Employee dissatisfaction is the highest its been in almost a decade, and its changing the way Gen Zers decide to work.
Isobel O'Sullivan

According to a recent Gallup poll, at least 50% of US workers are “quiet quitting,” a phenomenon popularized by TikTok that describes individuals doing the bare minimum at work instead of going above and beyond.

While the concept has risen to fame through social media, quiet quitting is actually reminiscent of a very old workplace problem failing to keep workers satisfied. Yet, with the practice helping workers to achieve a healthier work-life balance, while softening the blow of the great resignation, is it really something to be scoffed at?

Whichever way you view quiet quitting, we discuss what the term reveals about Gen Z's experience at the workplace and address some ways businesses can improve employee engagement, so you're able to create a better experience for your workers.

Quiet Quitting — An Old Problem with a New Name

According to the World Economic Forum, quiet quitting means doing what's required of you at work, and then getting on with your life. It's also described as rejecting the concept that work has to take over your life and is understood to be about reinstating healthier work, life boundaries.

While the term was popularized by TikTok, it was actually coined in March by a 44-year-old Nashville native, Bryan Creely, who was laid off by his company in 2020. Posting regular videos on his YouTube and TikTok accounts, Creely was an advocate for the practice and its power in resisting toxic workplace culture and is still promoting the benefits of quiet quitting to this day.

And as results from the polling company Gallup show, Creely isn't alone. In the second quarter of 2022, the proportion of actively disengaged workers in the US rose to 18%, the highest figure in almost a decade (as shown below).

U.S. Employee Engagement Trend from Gallup

For most people, however, taking work less seriously doesn't typically result from being part of a toxic workplace. In fact, Gallup's finding reveals that this decline in job satisfaction is largely attributed to confusion around expectations, missed opportunities to learn and grow, and unclear connections between the organization's missions or purpose.

Is Quiet Quitting Highlighting a Generational Divide?

Quiet quitting also seems to be more prevalent among Gen Z employees and younger millennials — but this hasn't always been the case. Before the coronavirus upended the world of work in 2020, younger workers were significantly more invested in developing their career opportunities.

However, while the flexibility of remote working brought new opportunities for many, working from home throughout the pandemic actually led younger workers to feel less encouraged about their future development and connected to the values of their company.

This growing disillusionment with corporate life, paired with concerns over job security, provided fertile ground for the growth of the quiet quitting movement. But while those who subscribe to the term see it as a sensible antidote to burnout culture, it's not being viewed this way by everyone.

The movement has also been receiving heavy backlash from older generations who view the term as a waste of workers and a company's potential. The term has even been criticized by Arianna Huffington, founder of the Washington Post and vocal Baby Boomer, who promotes the practice of “joyful joining” over quiet quitting.

In a recent LinkedIn post (linked in Tweet below), Huffington acknowledges the movement has arisen from a toxic burnout culture, but also compares the practice to “quitting on life” and encourages switching professions over going through the “motions in a job you've effectively quit on”.

This generational divide is backed up by numbers too. Recent data from Statista revealed that 50% of 18 to 29-year-olds believe that employees should always go above and beyond at work, compared to 85% of those 65 and older. A similar discrepancy was found when different age groups were asked if “employees should do the work they're paid for – no more, no less,” suggesting generational opinions on quiet quitting couldn't be more divided.

How to Improve the Daily Experience of Your Workers

No matter which side of the fence you fall on, creating a more meaningful and enriching experience for your workers will only have a positive effect on staff wellbeing and workplace morale.

What's more, from an employer's point of view, managing a driven and engaged workforce is the most powerful way to keep productivity rates high — a major impetus in a time when rising inflation is placing extra pressure on smaller businesses to succeed.

According to Gallup experts, the root of quiet quitting starts at the top. Therefore, by tackling manager disengagement and reskilling managers to perform well in the new hybrid working environment, there's much less chance dissatisfaction will filter down to more junior ranks of the company.

Gallup also recommends educating yourself extensively on employee engagement, its meaning, drivers, and solutions, to best understand which strategies can successfully be implemented in your workplace.

Finally, when it comes to reaching out to disenfranchised Gen Zers and millennials, we recommend giving them greater opportunities to demonstrate their strengths, involving them in important conversations regarding the company's future, and creating and maintaining an open dialogue where feedback is actively welcomed.

Adopting a few of these strategies isn't likely to tackle the crisis of quiet quitting overnight. But by doing your best to make sure each of your employees feels valued, listened to, and capable of making changes in the workplace, this will only have a net positive effect on your company.

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Isobel is a writer at Tech.co with a wealth of experience covering business and technology news. Since specializing in Digital Anthropology at University College London (UCL), she’s been a regular contributor to Market Finance’s blog and has also spent time working as a freelance tech researcher. As a writer, Isobel takes a particular interest in issues regarding data security, social media, and emerging business technology.

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