In many offices (not to mention on Zoom, Teams and Slack), employees and managers alike are whispering about the “great resignation”. The UK saw a sharp rise in people quitting their jobs in 2021, and one fifth of UK workers still say they plan to resign in the next year in search of greater job satisfaction and better pay.
If you’re unhappy at work, but leaving your job isn’t an option or there are no appealing alternatives, you may want to try “quiet quitting”. This trend of simply doing the bare minimum expected at work has taken off on TikTok and clearly resonated with young people.
It has also frustrated managers, with some reportedly concerned about their employees slacking off. But quiet quitting is not about avoiding work, it is about not avoiding a meaningful life outside of work.
The last 20 years have seen many people join a global culture of overwork, with unpaid labour becoming an expected part of many jobs. After multiple recessions and a global pandemic, millennials and generation z in particular often do not have the same job opportunities and financial security as their parents.
Many young people in professional jobs who expected a relatively straightforward progression in life have struggled with precarious contracts, job uncertainties and trying to get onto the housing ladder. There are those who constantly put in extra hours and go above and beyond at work to try and secure promotions and bonuses – yet still struggle.
This article is part of Quarter Life, a series about issues affecting those of us in our twenties and thirties. From the challenges of beginning a career and taking care of our mental health, to the excitement of starting a family, adopting a pet or just making friends as an adult. The articles in this series explore the questions and bring answers as we navigate this turbulent period of life.
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Perhaps in response to this disappointment, a recent study by Deloitte found young people are increasingly seeking flexibility and purpose in their work, and balance and satisfaction in their lives. Many young professionals are now rejecting the live-to-work lifestyle, by continuing to work but not allowing work to control them.
Working at minimal capacity may feel alien. But you (and your employer) shouldn’t fear quiet quitting – it could actually be good for you.
Working less is good for mental health
Studies have found that work-life balance is linked to mental health in a variety of jobs. And a 2021 survey of 2,017 UK workers by employer review website Glassdoor found that over half felt they had poor work-life balance. Quiet quitting aims to restore balance where work has crept into your personal time.
It can also help to separate your self-worth from work. When all you have is work, it is hard not to derive your sense of value from it.
Perceived failures at work, such as not getting a promotion or recognition for your achievements, can become internalised as personal failures. This can increase anxiety, making you worry about how to improve your performance. Often, people respond by doing more work, further exacerbating the vicious cycle of overwork and low self-esteem.
The dangers of burnout
When things get really bad it can result in burnout. In 2019, the World Health Organization officially recognised burnout as an occupational phenomenon characterised by feelings of depletion, exhaustion, cynicism, mental distance from work and poorer performance. Burnout is a significant risk of overwork and can have long-term physical, emotional and mental health impacts.
Burnout is difficult and costly for individuals and employers. Many people with burnout end up taking time off work, or at least working at less than full capacity. Quiet quitting can create a better balance of work and personal life and so could protect against burnout before it happens.
Better work relationships
When people are feeling happy they are more likely to be friendlier and open, fostering workplace friendships, which people report as being a significant part of their enjoyment at work. Quiet quitting’s focus on just doing your job also removes the negative impact of constantly feeling in competition with peers.
Having workplace friendships taps in to our basic need for a sense of belonging and can in turn increase loyalty to a workplace and improve job performance. All of this can result in greater productivity, which of course means higher profits.
Quiet quitting could be a “great liberation” in response to the great resignation. People are rejecting overwork and burnout and choosing balance and joy. They are establishing boundaries so their identity and self-value is not tied to their work productivity.
Instead of getting nervous at loss of productivity, employers should take advantage of the quiet quitting movement to support the wellbeing of their staff. Encouraging a better work-life balance will communicate to workers that they are valued, leading to greater engagement, productivity, and loyalty: everyone wins.
Nilufar Ahmed does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.