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Quiet quitting: The new way of setting healthy boundaries between work and life, or is it?

Updated: Sep 9, 2022

Quiet quitting, or rejecting the notion of going above and beyond your job, and delivering the bare minimum is a trend that’s taken the American workplace culture by storm. Contrary to popular belief, quiet quitting does NOT imply employees are quitting their job, rather it is the act of setting healthy boundaries between you and your employer and dedicating your time to other aspects of your life that significantly adds to your mental wellbeing.

How it all started

Quiet quitting is inspired by the “lying flat” movement in China, where, following the COVID-19 pandemic, many Chinese millennials and Gen Zs reject the mentality that “work is life” in the country, perhaps as a way to push back against the harsh 9-9-6 work culture in China. In fact, the movement triggered such an uproar, that Chinese president Xi Jinping issued a public statement urging the crowd to recognize the importance of “hardwork” and “perseverance” to success. However, the origins of the term was coined by economist Mark Boldger, popularized by authors Nick Adams and Thomas Sowell. By July 2022, quiet quitting found huge limelight among the younger crowd due as a result of a TikTok video posted by user @zaidleppelin. The video has since garnered 3.5 million views on social media and prompted many parties of the similar age group to jump on the bandwagon.

Historically, quiet quitting is seen as an extension of America’s Great Resignation that took place in 2021. As a result of the pandemic that has shuttered many businesses across the country and the globe, many Americans have been retrenched from their jobs. And while the labor market has recovered and people are getting re-hired, the labor pool remains smaller than pre-pandemic, forcing many employees to undertake additional responsibilities for the same pay, which results in greater job stress, job burnout and lower job identity & satisfaction. Particularly for the millennials and Gen Zs, these groups of individuals are empowered to put their mental health before everything else. Through leveraging job hopping and competitive pay across the job market, they are actively demanding for more and expecting the employers to reciprocate in a similar fashion. Put simply, millennials and Gen Zs are asking for good pay, flexible working arrangements, and work-life balance bundled in one, and they’re more than happy to walk away if these criteria aren’t met.

This does not mean the crowd isn’t willing to work hard for what they want, but they want to work for an employer that is fair and just, an employer that is meritocratic as opposed to a freeloading one.

Quiet quitting not a new term

In spite of the attention surrounding the buzzword, quiet quitting is a longstanding issue that has permeated the society for a long time, only under different names. Here are several other well-known, “fitting” terms to describe quiet quitting:

● Detachment from job

● Job burnout

● Disengagement

● Withdrawal

● Neglect


● Lying flat

● “Acting your wage”

The sentiment concerning quiet quitting and its sister terms are similar - People are prioritizing mental and personal wellbeing over work. However, the 2022 term has led many career experts and job coaches to clap back on the growing trend, even culminating in the birth of quiet firing. So why the hoo-ha exactly?

Put simply, quiet quitting is frowned upon by the older generation of employers due to its name, which seems to send a negative connotation to the masses. In fact, the mixed reception surrounding the term, mostly from the elder generation, even prompting zaidleppelin to post a follow-up video surrounding the terminology. Many have agreed that it is perfectly reasonable to work-to-rule, however, quiet quitting may seem like a misnomer to the cause. To quote a comment from a stranger on the internet that resonated with us -

“If you say quiet quitting is showing up to your job, giving 120% at your working hours, getting things done before the day is over, throwing in the towel by the end of the day, clocking off and limiting off-hours communication, I’m all for that. But if your definition of quiet quitting is to come in and deliver the bare minimum, put on subpar enthusiasm for the role and forming so much resentment to your job without actively communicating with your employer on these issues, then we need to sit down and have a talk.”

Quiet quitting is not just getting a bad rep due to its negative name, it’s also partly due to the sentiments and mindset that accompanies the act, that is… to passive-aggressively tide through your job. And passive aggression does not resolve anything at all.

What experts are saying about quiet quitting

To quote CEO and founder of Thrive, Arianna Huffington on her thoughts surrounding the matter -

“What’s encouraging about this new trend is how profoundly young people are rejecting burnout and hustle culture. They’re the first generation not to brag about working 24/7, being always available and “sleeping when they’re dead.” And that’s cause for celebration. But they deserve more options than burnout or quiet quitting. And that’s up to employers recognizing that employee well-being is directly tied to performance — including how present, productive, creative and empathetic people are at work… The paradox in the quiet quitting trend is that Gen-Zers are very unquietly working to change the world in so many long overdue ways. They’re not content to accept the world they’ve been handed, when it comes to race, climate, mental health, the economy and so much more. So why give up on changing how their companies work? Why not take advantage of this once-in-a-generation opportunity to redefine how we work and live?”

Many experts are echoing Huffington’s sentiments, believing quiet quitting is not the way to drive change, and it may even lead to bigger wrongs, evidently quiet firing. Others believe that the act will deprive employees of future job promotions and job security. Chief performance officer and head coach of career-coaching firm Inflection Point Partners Matt Spielman states that as the world edges closer to recession and a foot deeper into inflation, those delivering the bare minimum will be “the first to go” in a layoff.

Meanwhile, corporate mentorship expert and owner of the HR Queen Jha'nee Carter, cautions people of color and women on the hazards of quiet quitting, claiming that present unconscious bias such as gender and race on top of quiet quitting may hurt their chances of getting employed. In her words,

“I don't believe you should give eight hours a day to a bad manager that won't increase your pay — I'm not saying trade your time for that," she said. "But you have to be mindful of what's going on in America and play the game.”

What are the alternatives to quiet quitting?

The lines between going above and beyond for a meritocracy-recognizing employer vs. one that freeloads and expects you to dedicate your time to their job without proper compensation are blurred. But before you decide to quiet quit and potentially jeopardize your future career prospects, here are several alternatives to overcoming job stress.

● Talk to your employers about your challenges at work

● Make your demands heard and come to a compromise

● Address job stress and burnout collectively with similar-minded employees

● Talk to your employee about fair compensation

Actively communicating your hardships to your employer beats passive-aggressively doing your job. If you have done the above and find that your employers are still unwilling to come to a middle ground, perhaps the better option is to move on and seek better opportunities elsewhere.

Of course, this is easier said than done, as some individuals struggle from finding better opportunities due to factors such as non-transferable skills, age, financial stability issues, etc. However, quiet quitting costs businesses huge financial losses, and inconveniences other people at work.

Our thoughts…

There’s no doubt that mental health and personal wellbeing are important to our functioning, and we’re all for setting healthy boundaries between you and your employers. Unfortunately, the quiet quitting phenomenon boils down to how employers and employees communicate and manage their expectations, and that’s highly subjective for both parties.

After all… who is to say that a financially struggling employer that is giving additional tasks to their employees aren’t doing everything that they can to make things easier for their people? Meanwhile, how can we tell that those quiet quitting have truly given their all in a job or have they grasped the nature of their job that is high pressure, fast-paced jobs? At the end of the day, these are highly dependent on the job industry and company culture.

Go turn off your work laptop after working hours, feel free to respond to your employers at the beginning of the next working day or hour, prioritize your family and friends over work and the hustle culture. But one thing remains, passive-aggressive communication with your employer solves nothing, and vice versa.

If you’re feeling burnt out on your job to the point of no return, perhaps it’s time to get moving instead, in spite of the challenging circumstances at hand, because two wrongs never make a right.

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