Just as I was wondering whether various crises were coming too fast to allow our usual “silly season” of oddball late summer news, an appropriately weird-sounding social trend popped up on social networks and intriguingly struck a nerve.
It’s called “quiet quitting.”
Put simply, it refers to the act of taking your job seriously but not too seriously.
It has generated millions of views on TikTok at a time when workplace studies are showing a surge in young professionals who feel disengaged from jobs that, among other problems, have turned out to demand more than they expected.
As TikTok user Zaid Khan described it in a widely read and retweeted post in early August, “You’re not outright quitting your job but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond.”
“You’re still performing your duties,” he continued, “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 labor.”
No, as I have advised my own millennial son, your work does not have to be your life. But it comes in very handy when you need to take care of such nontrivial matters as eating and keeping a roof over your head.
Still, I sympathize with what young workers are up against these days. Besides the pandemic, they’ve had to face economic pressures from rising costs of living, college loan paybacks and an uncertain economy, among other challenges. They have plenty to complain about.
And employers aren’t happy with recently higher levels of employee disengagement, meaning discontent, in America’s Generation Z, also known as “zoomers” (now entering the professional workforce), and their next elders in Generation X.
For two consecutive years, employee engagement — a measure of worker contentment or disgruntlement — has fallen in the U.S. workforce, according to Gallup. But Generation Z individuals reported the lowest engagement of all — only 31% during the first quarter of this year.
“More than half of these people were quantified as not engaged, 54%, which meant showing up pretty passively, doing their work and not much else,” said Wall Street Journal reporter Lindsay Ellis, in a podcast on her report about quiet quitting.
This discontent is not limited to America. In China, increasingly our global competitor, the term “tang ping,” literally meaning “lying flat,” has gone viral, according to various reports as reportedly exhausted young workers call for “lying flat” as an antidote to society’s pressures.
“Lying flat is my wise movement,” a user wrote in a since-deleted post on a discussion forum, BBC reported. “Only by lying down can humans become the measure of all things.”
Alas, that’s the sort of dilemma that many of my fellow Black Americans would dismiss as “white people’s problems.”
“Black people aren’t talking about this because, for most people of color, ‘quiet quitting’ is simply not a choice,” writes Angela Johnson in The Root, pointing out that Black Americans still have an unemployment rate that’s twice as high as for white Americans.
But while everyone has a different reaction, positively or negatively, to the sound of quiet quitting, it is important to remember what the idea of such passive resistance is all about. As Kathy Caprino, a women’s career coach, told CNN, “It’s about stopping doing work that people think is beyond what they were hired to do and not getting compensated for it.”
There’s nothing really new about that. Think of it as a recent twist to some very old logic. As Kahn put it, the “hustle culture” isn’t for everybody or every workplace. People want to be paid what they’re worth, and they want to feel appreciated.
No wonder that much of “quiet quitting” is motivated by stresses, often from an imbalance between the employee’s work and their life outside of work. For those who feel that sort of stress, which can be particularly worrisome in one’s early career-building years, it’s important to set boundaries and not feel exploited by suddenly having more duties than your job description requires.
No, your worth as a person is not defined by your work, especially on your first job. But neither should your work pay back less than you’re worth.