"Quiet quitting" has struck a nerve. It means more time for friends, family and personal pursuits, not to mention a side hustle. But the latest workplace trend has drawbacks.
TikTok and Twitter are awash in explainer videos and endless interpretations. Despite what the name suggests, quiet quitting doesn't mean turning in a resignation letter. Instead, it's a stealth retreat from the hustle culture that dominated the pre-pandemic era of giving up everything in pursuit of ambition. Quiet quitting is the newly minted moniker for doing the bare minimum of the job description.
Work-life balance: Zaid Khan, 24, who created a popular quiet quitting video on TikTok, said he started exploring "work reform" and the subreddit r/AntiWork during the Covid-19 lockdown when his job became all-consuming.
"I realized no matter how much work I put in I'm not going to see the payoff that I'm expecting," Khan, a software developer and musician, said in an interview. "Overworking only gets you so far in corporate America. And like a lot of us have experienced in the past few years, mental and physical health really takes a backseat to productivity in a lot of these structured corporate environments."
According to a report released by the American Psychological Association in January, the kind of burnout and stress Khan encountered has hit all-time highs across industries during the pandemic.
Organizational psychologist Ben Granger, head of employee experience advisory services at survey firm Qualtrics, said that quiet quitting can be a way to protect mental and physical health in a toxic work environment. But staying in a miserable job and putting in the bare minimum means giving up the fulfillment that can come from a good one.
For his part, Khan ended up quitting for real for a new manager who respects his work-life boundaries. "He tells me all the time, your health comes first," he said. "If you ever need to take a day off or if you need to ever take need to take some time away... there's so much more than work that we're doing."
Passion projects: Antrell Vining, 25, has a day job as a project manager in the finance industry. As a side hustle after hours, he creates social media content about the tech industry and millennial and Gen Z work life. After dropping out of medical school to pursue a career in tech, he works to help others make similar career changes. With close to 30,000 followers on TikTok, Vining makes money offering career and resume consulting services and through partnerships with companies, he said. For him, quiet quitting means setting boundaries so he has the time and energy to pursue his passion project.
In one video, which satirizes quiet quitting in action, he slams his laptop shut mid-Zoom meeting at 5 p.m. sharp.
A streak of entrepreneurship coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic and a record 5.4 million new businesses were started in the US last year, according to Census data.
"Nowadays, everyone is an entrepreneur of sorts and we would much rather put that extra energy into our own ventures outside of a 9-to-5," Vining said by email. "Once 5 o'clock comes around, I take a breather and get to work on my own stuff or spend some well-deserved time with friends and family," he said. "I like to make content that reminds people that they should do the same."
It's not for everyone: Of course, not everybody is comfortable with quiet quitting. There are many reasons people feel the need to maintain their job at all costs whether it's the health care, the steady paycheck or any of the other benefits that traditional corporate jobs afford. Putting that at risk can be too big a wager to make.
Jha'nee Carter, 38, who calls herself the HR Queen on TikTok, said that quiet quitting has added risks for marginalized groups. "Can minorities afford to do this in corporate America? In my opinion, I'm going to say no," Carter, a business coach and content creator, said in a video.
Structural inequalities remain in many industries throughout the US: Gender and racial pay disparities, as well as a general dearth of diversity in c-suites, are well-documented.
"If you are quietly quitting and you're not going above and beyond, unfortunately in corporate America minorities are held to a different standard," she said. "We are looked at differently, there is unconscious bias still, and so we have to go above and beyond in order to be successful. We can't risk being looked at as not performing, if we are not meeting those expectations, we are the first on the chopping block."
Recession risk: Quiet quitting has gone viral at a time of deep uncertainty in the labor market. With a war for talent and more jobs than workers throughout the economy, employees have had the upper hand over their bosses. But a looming recession and layoffs at high-profile companies like Apple Inc., Peloton Interactive Inc. and Walmart Inc. indicate the balance of power could be tipping.
A new survey by consulting firm PwC found that half of respondents in the US said they're reducing headcount or plan to. A July report from Joblist, a job search platform, found that 60% of job seekers feel more urgency to find a new one now before economic conditions change.
"Corporations are laying people off with a quickness," Carter added in her video. "And so if you have decided to quietly quit, I really hope that you're quietly having a recruiter look for another job for you."