#QuietQuitting. In July 2022, a US-based engineer stirred up a storm on TikTok.
In a video, filled with urban montages, he says in a voiceover, “I recently learned about this term called quiet quitting, where you’re not outright quitting your job but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond. You’re still performing your duties, but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle-culture mentality that work has to be your life. The reality is it’s not. And your worth as a person is not defined by your labour.”
This message spread across TikTok like wildfire, and soon it was accompanied by trending hashtags. TikTokers rushed to put forward their views in agreement, in the face of much backlash from many media outlets. One annoyed TikToker by the name of Hunter Ka’imi shared a video and said, “I’m not going to put in a sixty-hour workweek and pull myself up by my bootstraps for a job that does not care about me as a person.”
Some millennials are surprised and are trying to understand why ‘quiet-quitting’ is now a TikTok trend. Thirty-eight-year-old Joanna Clement, a Canadian public relations professional from Abu Dhabi says. “I can’t keep up with Gen Z. But quiet-quitting has always been around, hasn’t it? It’s not some new fad or concept, to be disinterested in work. Isn’t that a normal human trait,” she asks. On the other hand, 32-year-old Amanda Gardner, a former corporate manager says, “Isn’t it basically about keeping boundaries between your work and personal life? I thought it was just doing your work quietly, and going home,” she says.
But is that it?
What is quiet quitting?
As it turns out, there are many layers and nuances to the concept; it’s not as simple as setting boundaries or merely being dissatisfied with a job. Neither, should it just be seen as a fad. The TikTok discourse aside, it also sheds light on changing generational attitudes and evolving ideas of mental well-being.
A recent poll conducted by Gallup, an American advisory and analytics company, found that the main ‘quiet quitting’ energy was emerging from the younger generation, or Gen Z, which means those born in the late 1990’s and early 2000s. Quiet quitting occurs when someone psychologically disengages from work. They may be physically present or logged into their computer, but many of them don't know what to do or why it matters. They also don't have any supportive bonds with their coworkers, boss or their organisation. Apart from this, there is also a strong disconnect between the managers and employees.
According to the survey, since the COVID-19 pandemic, younger employees do not feel significantly ‘cared about’, and feel that they haven’t received enough opportunities to grow. They are not going above and beyond what’s demanded of them at work; they’re just about meeting their work requirements. This decline was connected to lack of clarity regarding expectations. On the other hand, the ‘loud quitters’ are those are those who spread their dissatisfaction, as evident in viral TikTok videos.
A term borne out of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Emma Burdett, a Dubai-based transformational coach and wellness expert, explains how the pandemic was instrumental in shaping the ideas of quiet quitting. People began to reassess their priorities: Had they really been putting work before themselves?
The pandemic compelled everyone to be locked up in our homes for weeks on end, unable to go to the office, she says. This meant, as a population, we had a rare opportunity to take pauses. “We came off the hamster wheel and reflected on our current life choices. This pause meant people took stock of their careers, people realised they wanted more than the 9am to 5pm grind,” she says.
After the pandemic, we came off the hamster wheel and reflected on our current life choices. This pause meant people took stock of their careers, people realised they wanted more than the 9am to 5pm grind...
Subsequently, when we all returned to the new normal, people had mentally checked out of their daily jobs with an over-riding sense of, 'Is there more to life?' “This lead to people feeling apathetic, demotivated and essentially, quitting in their mind and motivation levels, yet, stuck in the role. Hence, quitting quietly, but still in the role,” she explains.
Why do people become quiet quitters?
There are several reasons why people choose to ‘quietly quit’, explains Dubai-based psychologist Devika Mankani. For one, there’s now a shift in attitudes as employees are becoming more aware about being ‘consumed’ by work, and want to be firmer with boundaries at the workplace. There’s now a stronger desire to seek balance, as well as the need to ‘give as good as you get’.
A lot could do with financial reasons as well, where the employee feels that they are not earning enough for the amount of work that they’re doing. This leads to a sense of disillusion and disengagement with work, and fuels disinterest. For example, 28-year-old Dubai-based journalist Nina Nayyar (name changed on request), recalls how she ‘switched off’ when she received a rather unfair appraisal. “I know that I had worked really hard, along with my team. But the management gave us all pitiful appraisals, and couldn’t even provide a coherent explanation. It was demotivating,” she says. Feeling rather fatigued, she reduced her output of work and didn’t invest so much energy in her work anymore. “Earlier, I gave it my all, spent an hour after work doing extra. I just stopped all that,” she says. Finally, her manager spoke to her about it. “I told her the reasons why I wasn’t going the extra mile. At the moment she’s promised better appraisals next year, but I am still not feeling motivated enough to work,” she explains.
Moreover, another reason why people end up becoming quiet quitters, is because they don’t want to directly be confrontational with their managers or the organisation when dissatisfied, and so they limit themselves to the bare minimum.
The warning signs of a quiet quitter
It’s a subtle, yet pervasive phenomenon that’s reshaping the dynamics of the modern workplace, muses Tarek Salam, the manager at Deel, a Human Resources platform. Employees gradually disengage, lose interest in their work, while fulfilling baseline responsibilities. This disengagement affects team morale and dynamics, and threatens the collective productivity.
Slowly, there is an environment of indifference that is created. This indifference also has a significant impact on the organisation as a whole, as it erodes the operational efficacy.
There are several warning signs. When an employee ‘quietly quits’, there’s decreased productivity, diminished creativity and a gradual erosion of quality in their work output. “It needs an attuned eye to notice these signs,” he says. “Managers and team members should observe patterns of withdrawal from team activities, conversation, the slow drop in quality of work, as well as the increased reluctance to take on new projects,” he says. It’s not an instantaneous change; there are subtle shifts in attitude that need to be caught in time. They will not put in extended hours, show up early or voluntarily take on certain tasks.
Managers and team members should observe patterns of withdrawal from team activities, conversation, the slow drop in quality of work, as well as the increased reluctance to take on new projects,” he says.
There’s a growing sense of apathy and depersonalisation, explains Burdett. The person will lack motivation to take on more responsibilities, till they finally resign, or worse, get fired, which is even more detrimental for their well-being.
How to address quiet-quitting
Here are other steps for both employees and employers to follow:
• Companies need to understand and cater to employees' individual needs and aspirations, giving them autonomy and the freedom to make decisions. They want to know they are trusted and their judgments are respected.
• Both sides need to sit down and understand how they can contribute to each other, show their abilities and receive constructive feedback.
• Both managers and employees should attempt to have one-on-one meetings.
• Employers need to create a workplace culture where employees are equally invested in the success of the business, says Hanan Nagi, founder and CEO of HNI, a Dubai-based learning consultancy organization. This means committing to regular training, development, and mentorship, so that employees see their own growth within the workforce, both personally and professionally.
Employers need to create a workplace culture where employees are equally invested in the success of the business. This means committing to regular training, development, and mentorship, so that employees see their own growth within the workforce, both personally and professionally.
• Managers should lead with authenticity rather than authoritarianism and encourage an open dialogue with employees, to resolve any issues before they reach the point of quiet quitting, says Nagi.
• Managers must strive to create an environment of transparency and growth as these seem to be critical factors in an employees commitment to the organisation and their individual wellbeing, explains Mankani. They must learn how to have conversations to help employees reduce burn-on and eventually burnout.