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Rebranding "Quiet Quitting"

Quiet quitting is being widely discussed as a new trend emerging following the Great Resignation. 

Despite the name, quiet quitting is not about quitting a job, but rather “quitting the idea of going above and beyond.” The concept is about an employee still performing their duties, but no longer working towards burnout. 

So, where did the term come from? 

According to one source, the term Quiet Quitting was originally coined at a Texas A&M economics symposium on diminishing ambitions in Venezuela in September 2009 by Mark Boldger - an economist. Office Space (1999), an American comedy film also depicts a character engaging in quiet quitting – who does the bare minimum work required of him. 

It also appears that the concept has its origins in an Asian nation. In April 2021, a movement called tang ping or “lying flat” began in China which portrayed a new wave of young workers rebelling against the concept of long, arduous work hours.

Despite its age-old origin, public attention was just widely drawn to this term in 2022 after a video went viral on the social media platform Tiktok.  

Why are people “quiet quitting”? 

The notion of quiet quitting has caused a debate among business leaders. The debate is around the philosophy of quiet quitting – and whether it is a good thing or a bad thing? Some may see it as the downfall of work ethic, while equally the idea is backed by supporters of a healthy work-life balance. 

Technology has made connectivity and working remotely easier, and the pandemic created the perfect conditions for trialling hybrid working approaches. With people moving to “working from home”, our professional and personal lives seem to be melded together. The boundaries between work and life suddenly became less transparent when you can easily check your work inbox at 8 PM, because your laptop is on your bedside table, or you have access to work email on your phone. During the pandemic, many workers put in long hours, took on extra tasks, and hence became burnt out. Stress among the world’s workers reached an all-time high.  

On the other hand, a great number of employees took a chance to take a rest, rethink and re-prioritise things in their life during and post-lockdown. They decided to take a step back from “live to work”, and a step towards “work to live” philosophy. They are happy to bring their whole selves to work, to meet the job requirements during working hours, and protect their personal time for the wellbeing of themselves and their families. 

From the employers’ perspective, businesses seem to normalise that “going the extra mile” is the new working standard. Hence, employees who simply do their job at work, and don’t answer emails outside of their office hours are marked as “slacking off” or “quiet quitting”. This notion aligns with a hustle culture which puts work at the centre of life and encourages people to make sacrifices for greater rewards through work.  

It’s time to...

Readjust workplace expectations 

Quiet quitting itself is a perfectly acceptable act. We need to acknowledge that going the extra mile has always been an individual choice, not a workplace standard. We must not assume that all generations pursue the same thing and share the same definition of life success. We should set clear boundaries between employees’ work and personal life and embrace more realistic workloads. 

Rethink how we work 

The world where our parents sat at their desks working 10 hours a day, 6 days a week is over. It’s time to go out there and ask what is important to each of your employees, to offer them flexibility in work through job sharing, hybrid work, flexible work time, or a compressed work week. We should help them redefine their definition of success and happiness and help them reprioritise their workload with other things in life.  

Take care of your employees’ wellbeing 

A growing number of young employees are prioritising their wellbeing over their work. It is important that we understand one’s wellbeing encompasses physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, occupational, and social health. A successful wellbeing strategy and program starts with engagement from employees and support from leadership/ management team. Find out more about how to promote wellbeing at work in our The Basics – HR Guide to Wellbeing

The Future of Work must put employees and their engagement and experience at heart. It is essential to engage with your employees as they are the experts when it comes to their own experience! 

HR’s role in resetting expectations 

The challenge for HR folk will be resetting things like performance standards to realign with more reasonable expectations of employees. Many of us will be familiar with the traditional 5-point performance rating scale where 3 is normally ‘does everything expected within their role and does this well’.  

What message are we giving our people by continuing to grade performance on this where achieving anything higher than a ‘standard’ or ‘average’ rating means essentially taking on more than what they’ve been hired to dto, and almost always more than what they’re being paid for.  

What does a world with good work life balance look like alongside performance ratings? Admittedly, many workplaces are moving away from ‘old-school’ performance ratings and towards a more continuous coaching model, but traditional ratings are far from banished and in many cases are still tied to annual salary review processes too.  

It would be an extraordinary step towards encouraging wellbeing to have higher levels of performance ratings set aside for those who truly achieve a work life balance and lead by example, who manage their and their teams’ workload in a sustainable way, who don’t work long hours and instead promote wellbeing above working towards burnout.  

This would be a pretty fundamental shift towards greater wellbeing and would also help ease some areas of consistent disadvantage, like those with responsibilities outside of work preventing them from being able to work extra hours or overtime. Evidence from around the world suggests that a shift away from the traditional working model (like some European countries shortening their working weeks without docking pay) can work when it’s done correctly.  

What could a shift like this do for workplaces in NZ?  

Let’s rebrand “Quiet Quitting” 

The term itself has a negative connotation to it, despite the fact that it is not a bad idea to be a “quiet quitter”. 

Perhaps we need a more positive spin on this trend: 

  • Working Well 
  • Working for Wellness 
  • The Great Boundary Reset 
  • Burnout Busting 
  • DYJ: Doing your Job 

What do you think we should call it?