Nothing is as contagious as a viral TikTok! But, like the Ice Bucket Challenge, Nyquil-simmered chicken, and pennies in an electrical socket, quiet quitting is now a worldwide phenomenon. So, what is it exactly?
U.S. TikTokker @zaidlepplin, who some have credited with starting the movement, explains in his viral video that "you're not outright quitting your job, but you are quitting the idea of going above and beyond."
Viewer posts reflected that quiet quitting is a response to burnout, working extra hours with no pay, and a lack of work-life balance support from employers. Some posters said they haven't quit their jobs but are staying strictly within their job descriptions, avoiding after-hours calls or not working past an eight-hour day.
The question for employers is, does this behavior require a disciplinary approach? Or are people not to blame for what amounts to a work protest? What responsibility do business owners bear, and in either case, is there a cure for this viral trend?
The first scenario is that low unemployment is unlikely to continue into 2023. In October, Bloomberg Economics' revised its statistical projections that a recession is likely from 65% to 100% within the next 12 months. At the same time, the Fed is poised to raise rates by 75 basis points at their next meeting. Both events lay the groundwork for reductions in investment, cutbacks, and jobs.
Although we have yet to see a dramatic increase, CBS reported in early October that layoffs are climbing. Jobless claims rose by 15,000, and dozens of tech companies have announced hiring freezes or layoffs. In addition, the unemployment rate fell in September, but this is misleading; 57,000 people also left the workforce (Bureau of Labor Statistics). All this to say that with the high living costs, workers may suddenly realize job retention is more critical than a TikTok trend!
Shifting the conversation
This leads to the second reason quiet quitting may run the natural course of most trends. And it should not be because employers will regain the upper hand in the hiring market as economic patterns shift. Instead, like many viral movements, there is a truth to be learned, and progressive employers will look for solutions to keep it from happening in the first place.
Many bosses have recognized their workers' heroic efforts to keep companies afloat during the pandemic. Families lacked child care, homeschooled as they worked, and learned new communication technologies while isolated from co-workers. These were stressful enough.
But as businesses worked hard to regain profitability post-shutdown, some employers may have pushed people past their limits.
Today, it is not unusual to hear employees complain that they are doing the jobs of two. In fact, heavy workloads are a reason one survey showed 55% of people complained of work exhaustion. So, while U.S. companies have done a better job of employee engagement, wellness, and wage increases, more can be done.
It begins with an inquiry, a conversation, and listening. See if any of these responses to TikTokker @zaidlepplin's video sound familiar:
"The only thing hard work gets you is more work."
"I asked for more money as was going above and beyond. I told my boss I was working extra hard. He shrugged at me."
"Oh man. I've been wishing I could do this but I keep getting more and more work dumped on me because no one else is around to do it. 😭 I'm exhausted."
"work/life balance. They don't pay you to live in your brain space after work."
If they don't, maybe it's time to ask and listen. If you suspect someone is quiet quitting, make time for a conversation. Take their feedback to heart. Remember, hiring someone new costs more than salvaging a discouraged one! As you listen, also consider the employee's age and experience.
Older workers are more used to a fast-paced environment. As one worker responded to the complaints, "Us, older folk calls it going to work." Yet retirements have accelerated, with over half of adults over 55 out of the labor force, taking with them their considerable experience and skillsets. Tuning into these folks' specific needs will uncover ways to help them stay on board longer.
Millennials and Gen Y, with families and kids, are simply burned out. Work-life balance is a real issue for them, even affecting their health and relationships. Find a solution that responds to real concerns and offers people the flexibility they need to outperform at work.
Gen Z, unused to fast-paced environments, may simply need coaching to help them balance their priorities and become more efficient. In addition, likely their value-to-wage perception is off-balance. For example, one recent college grad was advanced to a $145,000/yr—position without understanding the hours and commitment required by the job. High stress, anxiety, and wanting to quit are the result. Coaching to understand the realistic expectations of the job and how to succeed would have set this young worker up for success.
Ultimately, quiet quitting calls for renegotiation between a boss and an employee. HR should help managers identify the signs and intervene before frustrations become internet fodder. While a conversation may still result in an agreement to part, empathy for an individual's situation, remedying an unfair workload, and clarification of tasks and timelines offers the best chance for long-term satisfaction.
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