Quiet Quitting – just a hashtag, or a cry for help?

Published by Tony Bartholomew on

Quiet Quitting – just a hashtag, or a cry for help?

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What is quiet quitting, really?

“Work is NOT your life.”

“Your worth is not defined by your productive output.”

To many ears, these two statements feel like common sense and hardly worthy of much attention, beyond a quick “yeh, obvs”.

However, they come from a short, run-of-the-mill TikTok video by American influencer @zaidlepplin, that went insanely viral. This was just one contributing factor to the way the term has taken off throughout 2022 on social media, particularly in the U.S.

The term itself is misleading – it doesn’t define a way of leaving your job. Quiet quitting is the idea that you turn up for work and only do only what your job description requires – no extra hours, no extra curricular activities, no checking emails in the evenings, no taking on extra assignments. Once the working day is done, you’re checked out.

But is this really a new phenomenon? Surely some people have been phoning it in for years?

Why is this a thing now?

The jury is very much out on what this trend of quiet quitting really means for the employment world. It’s been reported that the hashtag #quietquitting recently hit 97.6 million total video views on TikTok, which would suggest a hell of a lot of people are feeling very dissatisfied with their work situation.

Beyond the hashtag, data has been gathered in the U.S. on this topic by Gallup  who have provided some interesting evidence:

’Many quiet quitters fit Gallup’s definition of being “not engaged” at work — people who do the minimum required and are psychologically detached from their job. This describes half of the U.S. workforce. Everyone else is either engaged (32%) or actively disengaged (18%). The latter are “loud quitters.”’

But is it really a thing?

Not everyone’s convinced quiet quitting is anything new or a genuine trend. As was noted in a recent Forbes blog, just because something gets millions of views on TikTok, that doesn’t necessarily mean millions of people are actually quiet quitting every day at work.

There are shades of the recent ’Great Resignation’ phenomenon here too. While many predicted increasing gaps in the job market as people left their full-time jobs in droves to pursue their dreams, what a lot of data actually showed was that it was more of a “re-shuffle” – people left one job and moved to a better one – rather than leaving the labour market completely.

For one commentator at The Atlantic, quiet quitting is a “fake trend” and not a “new thing”, and to back up his argument, questions the validity of the Gallup data.

“Every year, Gallup asks thousands of American workers about their commitment to their job. From 2010 to 2020, engagement slowly increased. In 2022, it declined so slightly that it’s still higher than it was in any year from 2000 to 2014.”

His conclusion is that what young people call “quiet quitting” used to be known simply as “having a job”.

A social media construct?

There is no doubt that topics that trend on social media can make a big difference to how we might otherwise perceive them – for better and for worse. We’re all affected by social norms – it’s simply the way we’re wired. Hashtags can operate almost like a “rallying cry” that can galvanise a huge group of people behind a movement. And making people actually think realistically about quiet quitting, rather than it remaining a subconscious thought, takes it beyond simply something that went viral.

Or does it? David D’Souza, Membership Director at the CIPD, recently spoke to Sky News about quiet quitting and expressed scepticism that was anything beyond something that was simply now being given more of a voice.

“Nothing in the data would suggest there’s something substantially different happening”, said Mr D’Souza. “What’s new is the ability of social media to convey and make viral things that, previously, people would not have spoken up about”.

Some have also cited how quiet quitting may even have Chinese origins, where the hashtag #tangping, meaning “lie flat”, was used in protest against China’s engrained long-hours culture.

However, the Harvard Business Review (HBR) has released research suggesting that everyone’s looking in the wrong place. This is not about employees refusing to go the extra mile – this is about poor workplace environments and lack in ability of certain managers.

Not a problem… but an opportunity?

HBR looked at data gathered since 2020 on 2,801 managers, who were rated by 13,048 direct reports. They found that managers who ranked highest at “balancing results with relationships” had the highest percentage of employees willing to go the extra mile – 62% to be exact, with only 3% quiet quitting. 

There is further good data to explore, but the findings support their overall conclusions:

“Most mid-career employees have also worked for a leader for whom they had a strong desire to do everything possible to accomplish goals and objectives. Occasionally working late or starting early was not resented because this manager inspired them.”

In other words, the quiet quitting phenomenon ultimately presents an opportunity to improve workplace culture – fostering a management style that enables employees to grow in their role and explore their potential – rather than a problem to “solve”.

There are many ways leaders and managers can begin nurturing the kind of environment to mitigate the risk of quiet quitting and, even better, nurture happy and productive employees. This might include:

  • Regular check-ins and 1-2-1s to build trusting relationships and provide feedback
  • Offering opportunities for personal development
  • Enabling employees to have a voice and be heard about working practices
  • Demonstrating an inclusive approach to employee support, e.g. mental health and wellbeing practices

Here at BAD, much of our work is focused on using behavioural science insights alongside great design to help organisations to grow the potential of their employees. Get in touch if you want to hear more about how we can create effective employee engagement using behavioural science.

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