Query: What is “Quiet Quitting?”

Acting your wage in the workplace

By Vona Weiss

You grab your phone charger, desk photos, and, of course, your favorite stapler; make sure the coast is clear; then tip toe out the back door, leaving behind only a note of resignation thumbtacked to your cubicle. No more unpaid Saturday work assignments for you!

“Quiet quitting,” right? Wrong!

In fact, “quiet quitting” isn’t quitting at all. The phrase became a TikTok sensation this past March when a career coach named Brian Creely posted a video about an Insider article entitled, “My Company is Not My Family: Fed up with long hours, many employees have quietly decided to take it easy at work rather than quit their jobs.” There is no resignation, no relinquishing of duties, no vacating of the premises. It is simply the personal — and private — decision to stop taking extra, unpaid assignments, with an end to doing anything except exactly the job you were paid to do — refusing, without blatantly saying so, to do anything more. It’s similar to what was once called “phoning it in,” and is a deliberate way of loosening up at work and letting your life outside of your job become your primary focus.

As it turns out, many employees, especially those under the age of 35, have been quietly quitting before the term was a term. A June 2022 Gallup poll, surveying a random sampling of 15,091 employees, found that 50 percent — 50 percent! — admitted to not being fully committed to or actively engaged in their jobs. The remaining participants were either working full tilt (32 percent) or were “loud quitters” (18 percent). Loud quitters aren’t necessarily people who throw their company laptop across the room and stomp out of the building. They are simply people who have let it be known that they are only doing the bare minimum and/or are actively looking for another job.

Extrapolate those statistics, and it means that more than half of America’s workforce has not embraced the Baby Boomers’ entirely-on-board, give-it-your-all, work ethic mentality. And perhaps, by watching their parents adopt this code of “all work and no play” — which didn’t seem like all that much fun — the next generation decided to view employment in a whole new light. The current labor market where companies are fighting to hire and retain employees can certainly be said to be enabling the trend.

But even if more workers are engaged in — and now admitting to — quietly quitting, the phenomenon is by no means a new one. As far back as the 1930s, ventriloquist and radio star Edgar Bergen was credited with saying, through his ventriloquial figure Charlie, “Hard work never killed anybody, but why take a chance?” And before moving on, please note that Edgar Bergen was a ventriloquist … on the radio. He may have been the ultimate quiet quitter.

Thirty years before “quiet quitting” became a thing, evidence existed of this aversion to a prior generation’s work ethic commitment. In the 1989 movie Weekend at Bernie’s, Larry, a young employee at a large insurance company, is told that if he sacrifices and works hard, one day he too could have a spectacular house with pool overlooking the ocean — hopefully without the dead boss in the lawn chair. He responds by saying, “My old man worked hard. All they did was give him more work.”

Nothing epitomizes the extreme backlash toward doing more but getting less at work quite like the 1999 cult classic movie Office Space. The internet is filled with memes depicting main character Peter’s slow-talking, passive-aggressive, coffee-mug-carrying boss saying, “Yeah … I’m gonna need you to come in on Saturday,” then starting to leave before turning to add, “Oh, oh, and I almost forgot. Ahh, I’m also gonna need you to go ahead and come in on Sunday, too.”

The entire movie is a tribute to not selling your soul to “the man,” making sure you have a life outside of the office, and seeking revenge on bosses who insist their employees give everything they have to a job they don’t like, with only a vague promise of being promoted to a job they will probably like even less.

When Peter decides he just isn’t going to buy into it anymore and actively stops working while at work, his oft quoted line is: “I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything I thought it could be.”

So, no, “quiet quitting” isn’t new or as extreme as depicted in Office Space, but it did get a lot of momentum during and immediately following the pandemic. The labor force experienced what is called the “Great Resignation,” with more than 47 million workers leaving their jobs in search of a better life-career balance, which means the job market currently favors the employee and not the employer. Not enough people are willing to work, so employers hesitate to fire anyone, knowing that replacing them will be extremely difficult. And employees, knowing more jobs are out there than people to do them, aren’t afraid to be fired because they know they can easily get hired elsewhere.

However, as tempting as simply skating by may be, employees everywhere should know a recoil response to quiet quitting has been happening as of late. Employers, not to be left out of any TikTok-ing phenomena, have taken to “quietly firing” apathetic and clearly unmotivated personnel. Using tactics such as reducing the scope of their jobs — making them increasingly more and more boring — or removing any hope of advancement, they are actively trying to get their employees to quit rather than openly firing them.

Experts suggest that if you are feeling so burned out that you no longer fully immerse yourself in your job during work hours and take no pride in a job well done, you should discuss it with your boss and find a solution together rather than simply suffering through each day. If that doesn’t work, it may be necessary to leave that place of employment and go where you do feel a sense of motivation and commitment to your chosen career.

And truly, a good balance between home and office should be attained. With good communication between you and your employer, you can still be passionate about your job without allowing it to eclipse completely everything else that is important in your life. Try to avoid Peter’s illustrated disdain of his job when his other boss, Bob, says, “Looks like you’ve been missing a lot of work lately,” and Peter replies, “I wouldn’t say I’ve been missing it, Bob.”

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