Quiet quitting. You might have seen this phrase go viral on social media, but what does it mean?
The term was popularised on TikTok: rather than quitting your job outright, you’re discarding the idea of going above and beyond. In other words, doing exactly what your job description states, and nothing more.
Examples of quiet quitting include leaving work on time or not answering emails outside of office hours. As the youth argue, quiet quitting allows you greater bandwidth to focus on the things that matter to you outside of work, be it family time or hobbies.
Quiet quitting is not a new phenomenon. Coasting, which refers to clocking in-and-out while doing the bare minimum at work, has long been around.
Nonetheless, quiet quitting can be understood as a response to hustle culture, which has its roots in neoliberalism—an evolved form of capitalism.
Hustle culture turns individuals into self-entrepreneurs who think in terms of profit-and-loss rationality, taking on activities that maximise personal gain. The individual assumes personal responsibility for enhancing their social and economic capital, ramping up on productive activity.
The banquet: an analogy for hustle culture
Amidst a banquet of opportunities in university, I wouldn’t be the only student with multiple commitments on their plate. Students heap on co-curricular activities (CCAs), internships and volunteering activities to emphasise personal qualities such as teamwork, discipline and empathy, coding themselves as valuable human capital to meet the demands of their future employers. Employees also take on numerous responsibilities and projects to prove their competence. At first glance, the banquet appears like a feast, but the reality is not always that pretty. Glutting yourself to ‘bloat’ your resume might not be a bad thing, but can it cover for the absurd meaninglessness of modern work? There is also the problem of overextending yourself—but beyond a mere stomach ache in this analogy, the consequences of taking on too much and burning out is a real risk.
Conversely, the refusal to put anything on your plate would cause a growling stomach. You could bear this for a while, but eventually, you would starve. I am referring to the economic organisation of labour, in which your ability to sustain yourself is linked to how much you have on your plate, meaning, how much productive activity you engage in.
Therefore, the tenet of hustle culture that ‘work is life’ is accurate, to the extent that within the current economy, you have to ‘work’ to maintain a livelihood. However, the difficulty is not knowing when to stop. With a compounding of responsibilities, work then becomes your life. As students gear up to enter the workforce that perpetuates this cycle, I can’t help but think: surely there is more to life than just the hustle.
Quiet quitting has emerged in response to the work-life imbalance caused by hustle culture.
A divisive topic in itself, I have observed that those who directly oppose quiet quitting are often employers themselves, who seek to maximise the productive output of their employees.
Meanwhile, others have called to scrap the term altogether, since it is a mere reflection of changing work trends. You might be curious to know: what are these trends exactly?
Reasons for the rise of quiet quitting
1. The search for meaning during the pandemic
My cohort was known as the COVID batch. Two years of junior college—gone, just like that. There were constraints on the activities that could be carried out, and I got used to doing almost everything from home.
The frenetic pace of life had slowed down, and this gave me ample space to reflect on my priorities. Emerging from the pandemic, I noticed many of my friends throwing themselves into part-time jobs or internships, as if making up for lost time. I had also been caught up in that pursuit of productivity.
However, after coming to know of quiet quitting, it gave me pause. I was urged to re-evaluate my values and what gives me meaning in life. For some people, going the extra mile at work brings them fulfilment. Others might value family time or leisure and choose to quit quietly.
2. Diminished job satisfaction
People’s relationships to work have changed since the pandemic. The emergence of quiet quitting was linked to a significant decrease in job satisfaction. Work from home arrangements might have caused employees to become restless and disengaged.
Other employees might have realised that pre-pandemic work practices, such as sitting through several meetings in a day or making a physical trip down to the office, might not be necessary at all. They might begin wondering: are there better and more efficient ways to go about this?
Amidst the dissatisfaction, it is not uncommon for professionals to reflect on what the future of work should look like for them and negotiate these conditions with their employers. As we acclimatise to a post-pandemic world, many offices still have alternative work arrangements. In Singapore, 81% of employees hope to take on a permanent remote position, with many being youth.
In the office, it may be difficult to enforce boundaries as your boss can simply yell for your help next door. However, remote work would change this reality a little, and possibly facilitate quiet quitting. You can better compartmentalise your time, reducing the liability to overwork.
3. Conversations on self-care
As a result of hustle culture that places workaholism on a pedestal and guilts us for taking breaks, mental health issues have been on the rise. In response to this, the conversation on mental health was kickstarted and has been ongoing.
I’ve noticed that we, the younger generation, have become more savvy with regard to self-care practices, in order to stave off burnout.
Not only that, but increasingly, young people are recognising their worth. Rather than bending over backwards to meet the demands of corporations, we are willing to quit quietly, in order to focus our time and energy on the things that matter to us. This is a powerful form of self-care as well.
To me, quiet quitting involves rediscovering what brings me joy and pursuing that. I intend to carry this thought with me into the future, and I hope you do too.