Hustle culture has been the topic of many best-selling self-development books and millions more inspirational Instagram posts, teaching us that working 24/7 leads to more money, praise, and success. But where overworking was once seen as a badge of honour, many of us are now reassessing our priorities and waking up to the very real effects of workplace stress.
According to recent statistics, burnout is on the rise in the UK, largely fuelled by the upheaval of the pandemic, increasing workloads and remote working bleeding into leisure time.
The latest buzz phrase sweeping TikTok offers a solution to our increasingly compromised work-life balance. Dubbed ‘quiet quitting’, it’s a phenomenon that’s amassed over 90 million views on the social media app, resonating deepest with Gen-Z workers.
What exactly is quiet quitting?
Despite its name, quiet quitting has little to do with quitting your job. The mindset shift involves doing exactly what’s expected of your job description and no more.
“It’s quitting the idea of going above and beyond in a job and rethinking the mentality that your life needs to revolve around work,” says Brean Horne, personal finance expert at NerdWallet. “Young employees who are dealing with the ongoing effects of the pandemic are now focusing on prioritising their work-life balance over impressing their employers.”
Adopting a quiet quitting mentality can look different for everyone: you might refrain from offering to get involved in extra projects, refuse to answer emails outside of office hours or nix staying at your desk late to show loyalty to your boss.
The phrase has been present on TikTok for a while, but recently took off when US influencer @zaidlepplin posted a viral video on the trend. “You’re no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life,” the TikTokker urges in the video. “The reality is that work is not your life and your worth is not defined by your productive output.”
While quiet quitting may be a new concept to many, the mindset shift is thought to originate from China in 2021, where the now-banned hashtag #tangping, meaning ‘lie flat’, was used as a type of social protest against societal pressures to overwork.
Why is it happening?
While the ‘Great Resignation’ saw high numbers of young and burned out workers leaving their full-time jobs, quiet quitting is a mindset for those who are still in employment.
Burnout – a state of exhaustion caused by long-term job stress – is said to play a key role. Figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show there were around 602,000 workers suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety before the pandemic. By 2021, those numbers rose to 822,000 – a 38% increase.
“Like the Great Resignation, quiet quitting is all about the balance of power between work and workers,” says Andrew Wright, CEO of SmartPA. “Burnout, a post-pandemic reassessment of priorities, and more firms calling employees back into the office may be fuelling the trend.”
“The problem is largely due to corporate culture and poor management,” believes Liz Sebag-Montefiore, director at HR consultancy 10Eighty. “Employees want a voice, and they want recognition and development for further opportunities.” According to IRIS research, nearly half of UK employees don’t see a clear path to progression in their current jobs, perhaps causing them to feel like overworking is a fruitless and thankless task.
Plus, there may be a generational aspect too. ”Younger workers say they ‘work to live’, while older generations often, consciously or unconsciously, ‘live to work’,” says Sebag-Montefiore.
What are the pros and cons?
For many years, we’ve believed that the way to get ahead is to work as hard as possible. Quiet quitting may lead to a better overall work-life balance and improved boundary setting with your employer.
If you’re unhappy at work, but leaving your job isn’t an option in the current economic climate, it’s also a way to protect your mental health in a global culture of overwork.
That said, there are drawbacks to consider. “It may feel empowering to deprioritise your job and coast along,” says Wright. “But in the long run, you risk losing agency over your situation – as well as the prospect of any pay rise or promotion.”
Horne advises: “Before committing to the notion of quiet quitting, it’s important to really evaluate the reasons you’re doing so. Ask yourself if you’d be making the same changes in any other job role, or whether it might be because you are simply no longer happy, motivated or fulfilled in your current role or organisation.”
Most importantly, we need to avoid using quiet quitting as a reason to ignore or mask signs of burnout. “While the concept of quiet quitting may offer some relief, it’s unlikely to help you manage your wellbeing in the long-term, so don’t suffer in silence,” says Horne.
Seek advice from your GP or a registered mental health professional to help identify what may be causing your burnout, if this is the case. “If work happens to be a factor, it’s worth speaking to your line manager or HR representative to share your concerns and find the best next steps to help you find sustainable balance,” Horne advises.