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Quiet Quitting: Is It Here To Stay?

Quiet Quitting may yet end up being just a transient internet buzz, but the fact that so many people are openly talking about it means it will do organisations a whole world of good to introspect and to look at the culture prevailing in their workplace and to put in motion, plans to improve it to make it a better place

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Quiet Quitting seems to be the new trend in the corporate world, especially during and post the Covid-19 pandemic. But what exactly does this term mean? Interestingly, the phrase is made up of two words, but the dictionary meaning of neither applies when taken in context. Quiet Quitting is not quiet and it is not actually quitting one’s job. All it means is doing exactly what the job description requires, nothing more, nothing less. The person, in effect, is saying ‘no’ to going beyond the call of duty.

Is this something new? Is this wrong? Has it not happened in the past? Before these questions can be answered, it is pertinent to understand how workplace ethics have evolved over the years and generations.

The silent generation, born between 1925 and 1945, was considered to be dedicated and dependable. They had respect for authority and valued stability; most of them stayed in a job forever.

The baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, were driven to achieve goals, had zeal and were workaholics. They were team players and worked to deadlines.

Generation-X, born between 1965 and 1980. This group was flexible, had one eye on work-life balance and was quick to move on in search of that. Very soon, this group will be higher in terms of numbers than the baby boomers at the workplace.

Millennials, born between 1981 and 2000. Open minded and determined, result oriented and have a can-do attitude. They seek fun at the workplace and are also mindful of work-life balance.

Generation-Z, born after 2000. This group is born into technology and are comfortable using all kinds of digital devices early in life. They communicate more through social media and like to multi-task while maintaining a work-life balance.

The workspace has evolved radically over these generational changes. In the early days of manufacturing, the blue collared jobs used to be shift driven and with fixed hours. Workers used to report on duty at a certain time, work for the designated hours and clock out when their shift ended. If they worked extra, they would be paid overtime dues. They would, at times, engage in work-to-rule, meaning only work their normal hours, if for some reason there was a disagreement with the management. This was the earliest form of quiet quitting.

With increased automation in the manufacturing sector, the shift to services-based economy started. Most expert studies show that today, around half of the world’s workforce is in the service sector. This has led to a change in work patterns and expectations from employees. The pressure to meet deadlines meant having to work beyond contracted hours, especially in customer facing roles with customer is king being the moto. The always-on mobiles and laptops, often supplied by the organisation, increased the pressure to respond immediately, with the expectation that one should be contactable at any time of the day.

People were apologetic about taking vacations or medical leave and even started putting out out-of-office notices on being away from the desk for a very short while. The inability to switch-off after work hours has led to burnout and other mental health consequences. Quiet Quitting is a response to this. The pandemic has also indirectly contributed to this trend. With more people working from home in the past two years, people have realised the importance of spending time away from work and started questioning the importance of work in their life. (The graphic clearly illustrates this.)

Picture 1
Picture Credit: Source - Gartner 

While the pandemic may have accelerated the phenomenon, there are various other underlying factors that should not be overlooked.

  • Employees thinking that the organisation doesn’t care for them
  • That they are not being compensated adequately
  • That the workplace is not inclusive and equitable
  • That they are not learning anything new for their professional growth

Besides, employees also feel that going beyond the call of duty doesn’t necessarily guarantee better compensation or security from getting fired. In fact, with the pandemic forcing people to pause many aspects of their life, they also realised what they had been missing out in the rat race – time with family and friends, pursuing hobbies, relaxing and at times, even doing nothing. 

Maria Kordowicz, PhD, associate professor in organisational behaviour at the University of Nottingham and director of the Centre for Interprofessional Education and Learning says, “Quiet quitting is about a conscious effort to uphold our wellbeing in the way we work and to become more boundaried in line with our developmental needs, rather than risk burnout through working long hours or defining ourselves simply through our work”. She further states, “I see people protecting time to reconnect with nature, travel and spend time with one another, helping to uphold their psychological and spiritual health.”

With increasing numbers of Millennials and Gen-Z joining the workforce, the objectives and goals of employees are also changing. Unlike the first two generations, for the latter, work-life balance is a key motivator. Additionally, they are not afraid to ask questions, do not blindly respect hierarchy as their parents used to and like instant, direct feedback. Their idea of happiness is unlike that of their parents. The thought of being available 24/7 doesn’t fire-up most of them. They do not want to be cogs in the wheel and are building clear boundaries between the job and personal life. This doesn’t mean that they are not ambitious and non-achievers. They are just going about their life differently.

A report in the Wall Street Journal quoting from a Gallup survey revealed that “Across generations, U.S. employee engagement is falling, but Gen Z and younger millennials reported the lowest engagement of all during the first quarter at 31%.” In the Indian context, where labour is cheap and available in abundance and people in smaller cities are willing to work for a lower pay, most employees hang on to the job, whether engaged or otherwise.

But India Inc. may ignore the Quiet Quitting trend at their own peril because there are other negative aspects of an unengaged employee like slacking, leading to lower productivity and efficiency or for that matter, moonlighting, which has been in the news lately.

Is Quiet Quitting bad?

It depends; there are folks who believe that this is due to bad bosses and a toxic work environment, while there are others who equate it with lack of ambition and slacking and would rather not have such employees working in their organisation.

Quiet Quitting may yet end up being just a transient internet buzz, but the fact that so many people are openly talking about it means it will do organisations a whole world of good to introspect and to look at the culture prevailing in their workplace and to put in motion, plans to improve it to make it a better place.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Jayesh Shah

Jayesh Shah

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