Published in Nov-Dec 2022
These days one of the hot topics of debate is the phenomenon known as quiet quitting. Quiet quitting refers to people who are just doing what their job demands. When I first heard about it, I felt it was a bit like making a mountain out of a molehill. Aren’t people only supposed to do what their job demands? Can a company expect more from an employee?
Of course, much like what Shrek said about ogres and onions, quiet quitting has different layers and complexities. According to the New York Post, quiet quitting started in China, when an online article, published in April 2021, challenged the notion that work should define our lives and went viral. It began as a resistance to long working hours and became known as ‘tang ping’ (lying flat). This trend became so popular among young Chinese, that the country’s leaders labelled it as shameful. Eventually, the president himself warned young people in October 2021 that “a happy life is achieved through struggle, and common prosperity depends on hard work and wisdom.” The movement is still alive and well in China.
How did this resistance to work in China end up becoming a global phenomenon? The answer is TikTok. A video by Bryan Creely in March 2022 introduced people living in the West to the movement. Creely highlighted an article in Business Insider by their correspondent Aki Ito, who profiled a recruiter Justin (not his real name) who was cutting back on his working hours. Another TikToker who made a video in July is credited with making the term go viral, with 3.5 million views. The spread of quiet quitting proved how TikTok can be a powerful force to disseminate information and influence change.
Today, we are still experiencing the consequences of the Covid-19 lockdowns. The rise of the lying flat movement can be linked to the pandemic when people were left with a lot of time on their hands. This led young Chinese to re-evaluate what they were doing, where they were heading and what they wanted in the future. These sentiments were echoed by young people around the world, who refused to accept the treatment previous generations experienced in their quest to rise up the corporate ladder. The attitude means that there is a widening gap between the current generation and the previous ones. Both sides feel that the other is being unreasonable and selfish and wrong in their attitudes to life and work.
Is quiet quitting something new or just the latest iteration of something we know about and have seen in TV shows like Seinfeld and Friends? The reality is that it probably is partly something that has existed for years as people, although disenchanted with their careers, settled rather than quit and pursued their dream job or life. However, previously, people did not consciously not give their best at work. They settled into a routine, hating their bosses, their colleagues, and their lives and going through the motions. Let’s face it, a large proportion of people do not love or even like their jobs.
People need a transformation, not a motivation to change the way they behave. It seems that the quiet quitting movement is about people having enough of workplace toxicity and striking back in a less emotional and more planned way, by consciously dialling down their efforts. The behaviour seems more reactionary than proactive. Workers deciding to do the bare minimum or avoiding volunteering for extra work is a sign that there is a chasm between them and the management. Who will cross it is something that is not decided.
My initial view was that quiet quitting was a misnomer. Why call it quitting when people are still working? However, according to Amelia Nagoski who wrote a book about burnout, by becoming less involved in their jobs, people were quitting as an alternative to burning out. She also tackled my misconception about the name being a misnomer. In her opinion, quiet quitters are people who previously were highly invested in their jobs but changed their approach due to disillusionment and not getting the outcome they wanted. Nagoski argues that a single person can make efforts but it is the prevailing toxic work environment that is leading to burnout and quiet quitting. When asked if we are due for a recalibration in the workplace she said that we are due for a revolution. In her view, to prevent burnout, we need to encourage people to care for each other. To do that we need to foster collaboration, not competition, and I agree with her that this calls for a seismic shift. Time will tell whether companies are ready for it, or quit halfway.
Tyrone Tellis is Marketing Manager Bogo. firstname.lastname@example.org