Quiet Quitting: A Silent Protest Against Hustle Culture

by Erin Sevitz on December 5, 2022

What started with a viral video and a popular hashtag on TikTok has moved into widespread discussions among corporate leaders on LinkedIn and in executive meetings. Quiet quitting, defined as doing enough to get by and “quitting the idea of going above and beyond,” has become a rallying cry for a better work-life balance and setting boundaries. It’s also a pushback on hustle culture, where productivity disproportionately defines personal worth.  

A new term for an old problem in a pandemic-altered workplace

So, rather than debating if quiet quitters are fallacious, let’s try to understand them. What exactly is a quiet quitter? Are there warning signs? And is quiet quitting the result of a lazy work ethic, bad management, or poor mental health?

Dismissing quiet quitting as a news trend risks further disengagement and overlooks the genuine reason employees are taking a step back. Quiet quitting can be prevented, but only if we address it head-on

More than ever, employees feel an urgency to reimagine their working lives since the pandemic blurred work-life boundaries. But they also need healthcare and financial stability. Couple this with a tight labor market, high turnover and transitions from the Great Resignation and remote work shifting to hybrid: it’s no surprise that workers want a new relationship with work.  

There’s much debate over whether this is a real phenomenon or just a new name for something employees have always done but never spoken about openly.  

What the kids are now calling ‘quiet quitting’ was, in previous and simpler decades, simply known as ‘having a job.’” —Derek Thompson, The Atlantic  

Yet, this movement has real implications for companies that want to maintain employee productivity and a competitive edge.  

Only 21% of employees are actively engaged at work, according to Gallup’s 2022 State of the Global Workplace. And 40% of the global workforce is looking to quit their jobs in the next six months, according to McKinsey 

While Gen Z and Millennial employees may be the most vocal about quiet quitting, employees across the world are looking for more fulfillment in their jobs and demanding better work-life balance.  

Smart company leaders are listening.  

Advantages of quiet quitting

Discussions about quiet quitting can be a catalyst for positive change if companies approach them in the right way. Let’s examine a few examples:  

1. Fewer hours can improve employee mental health

The average workweek for full-time U.S. and U.K. employees has risen to 34.7 hours and 36.5 hours, respectively, but many salaried and commissioned employees work well in excess of these figures. Longer, inflexible work hours and excessive workloads are contributing risk factors for poor mental health, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Employees can mentally recharge when they have permission to clock in and out on time — and remain off the clock for the rest of the day.  

2. Better boundaries lead to better retention

To get ahead, many employees feel pressure to abide by their work culture’s unspoken rules. If a company values and rewards productivity, it can erode an employee’s capacity to say ‘no’ to that extra project or meeting after 5 p.m. When employees give in to the status quo at the expense of their time and health, they will begin to resent it.  

“The pandemic has forced people to reflect on what really matters most to them,” says Joe Grasso, Lyra Health’s senior director of workforce mental health, in a Corporate Wellness Magazine article. “If their employer does not support their ability to prioritize other values outside of work, then people may look elsewhere, or they may risk becoming burned out and frustrated.”  

3. Companies focus on improved employee well-being

mental health support has become a priority

In 2021, 92% of companies said providing mental health support for their people became a higher priority. That trend shows no sign of stopping, with more companies offering an employee assistance program or other mental health benefits. Companies increasingly have an opportunity to attract and keep top talent with monthly wellness stipends for remote and on-site workers.  

Disadvantages of Quiet Quitting

Companies that refuse to acknowledge quiet quitting — and take proactive approaches to manage it — may reap serious consequences. Some instances include:  

1. Companies experience increased and unexpected absences

Quiet quitters are “less willing to engage in activities known as citizenship behaviors: no more staying late, showing up early or attending non-mandatory meetings,” reports Harvard Business Review. This is also referred to as “acting their wage,” another euphemism for quiet quitting.  

“I think for a lot of people, they’ve come to this mentality because they went above and beyond for years but realized what they gained didn’t outweigh what they sacrificed,” one reader told Slate.   

If employees feel like their investment in the company isn’t matched by the company’s investment in them, they might request more paid time off or prioritize other obligations during the workday.  

2. Low quality work creates conflict among coworkers

Quiet quitters are quick to clarify that they’re not slackers — they just want their boundaries respected. However, many company leaders believe great work rarely happens when someone is psychologically distant. Quiet quitting could lead to passable but unremarkable work and potentially hinder that employee’s future advancement.  

Additionally, disengaged employees are more likely to leave someone else on the team to step in. This can create resentment and increase some colleagues’ burdens, leading to more conflict and hurting morale. It can be especially damaging to newer employees who may be eager to do their best work but feel unsupported or underappreciated by quiet quitters. 

3. Reduced company profit 

disengaged employees cause a loss in productivity

The numbers are sobering. Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace estimates disengaged employees cost the world $7.8 trillion in lost productivity, 11% of global GDP.   

The good news is that profits increase when employees are engaged. Gallup research has found teams with highly engaged employees are 21% more profitable than those with less engaged employees. Meanwhile, researcher and author Jacob Morgan found companies prioritizing a strong employee experience are four times as profitable as those that don’t.  

Quiet quitting is deeply tied to employee mental health

Quiet quitters have valid reasons for why they’re putting up boundaries. One reason that’s invisible to the outsider but very real for the employee is mental health. Disengagement is ultimately an emotion; it’s the detachment to emotion itself. If employees don’t feel supported or valued, they’re more likely to detach, which affects their mental health.  

Still, it’s intimidating for employees to share personal struggles and concerns with colleagues or managers. When employers normalize mental health conversations at work and offer assistance and solutions — rather than penalties and punishments — they create a culture where people feel seen and appreciated and can ultimately thrive.  

A new solution for an old problem in a more employee-centric workplace

Employees, specifically Gen Z and Millennials, are less tolerant of work environments that harm their mental health. The pandemic called for a time of reflection. What once was considered normal — back-to-back Zoom calls, long hours staring at screens, answering emails before and after working hours, and not taking enough breaks — is now seen for what it is and has always been: Toxic. Ultimately, quiet quitters have shined a light on hustle culture and its drawbacks.    

While much of the media has given quiet quitting a negative connotation, leaders must see it differently. Essentially, quiet quitters are silent protestors against unreasonable working conditions. While quiet quitters aren’t new, they are finally seen in a more employee-centric workplace.    

Smart companies are listening, but successful companies are transforming.  


Erin Sevitz

Erin Sevitz is the Senior Director of Marketing at iOFFICE + SpaceIQ.

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