If you’ve been on TikTok lately you’ve probably heard about quiet quitting. If not, we’ll get you up to speed on the latest workplace trend sweeping across social media.

For starters, quiet quitting has nothing to do with leaving a job. Instead, quiet quitting is about rejecting hustle culture and doing your job as described and perceived.

Quiet quitting is not a revolutionary idea. Some even believe it’s a new buzzword for an old concept: work-to-rule – a job action which sees employees do exactly what they’re paid for, nothing more or nothing less. According to Paula Allen, Global Leader and Senior Vice-President of Research and Total Wellbeing at LifeWorks, quiet quitting looks like:

  • Saying no to responsibilities outside of the traditional job description
  • Not replying to emails, phone calls or collaborative platform messages (e.g. Slack, Microsoft Teams) outside of work hours
  • Leaving work on time
  • Being less emotionally invested 
  • No more overachieving
  • Reduced interest in going above and beyond to secure a promotion [1]

Why is quiet quitting taking off now?

Workplace culture has undergone many changes during the pandemic including the Great Resignation. Quiet quitting is in line with a broader re-evaluation of employees’ work and work-lives.

Depending on what you read, interpretations of quiet quitting vary widely. Some say it fosters laziness, promotes employee disengagement, and destroys workplace culture (because it’s discouraging for employees to work hard while their peers seemingly don’t). They say quiet quitting is synonymous with “retired in place” or RIP, a slang term that refers to an employee that does just the bare minimum to not get fired as they wait out retirement benefits. [2]

But for most, the term ‘quiet quitting’ can be misleading. Proponents argue that quiet quitting shouldn’t be chalked up to “underperforming at work.” Instead, quiet quitting is a movement. Like the Great Resignation, it’s one that legitimizes workers’ concerns about how work fits into their lives and empowers employees to reel in overworking to find balance – and it forces employers to take it all seriously.

Why are workers quiet quitting?

There are several reasons for quiet quitting, such as reprioritization of work, but some say it may be a result of quiet firing. As described on social media, quiet firing is when employers treat employees poorly to the point that they want to quit, instead of the employer just firing them. Signs of quiet firing include a perceived lack of fair compensation and toxic work environments. [3]

We dive deep into some reasons behind quiet quitting below, along with a few ways HR professionals and employers can respond.

While many younger employees are fed up with ‘hustle mentality’, they’re not the only ones. There are workers of all ages trading hustle culture for healthy boundaries. In a recent LinkedIn survey, 33% of people said that they were aiming for a healthier work-life balance and were even willing to compromise on pay to achieve it. In another poll conducted by Angus Reid, 76% of Canadians said they want to re-prioritize various aspects of their lives, such as quality family time, travel, and passion projects. [4] [5]

Beyond that, not everyone’s job is their passion. Some people have passion projects outside of work they want to invest in. For others, not engaging in overwork is a form of self-care, and it’s a chance to focus on other priorities – family, friends, exercise, travel etc. They’re essentially saying, “work is only a part of my life, not all of it.”

One Way HR Can Support: Continue to ensure you have a people-centric culture that values workers’ experiences, supports their autonomy and gives them freedom to work in a way that suits them. Also, have open conversations with employees to understand what a better work-life balance looks like. Remember when employers are flexible, they get more out their teams because employees are likely to end up feeling more trusted and heard.

Earlier this year, it was reported that one-third of Canadians are experiencing burnout. And healthcare workers are well above the Canadian average reporting burnout. Recent data shows that nurses are doing more overtime than ever before with 66% of nurses saying that they’re experiencing burnout. [6] [7]

We know that burnout has negative health consequences if left unaddressed. Even if you love your job, quiet quitting is a way for employees to reclaim their health, recharge and detach when the workday is done.

Harfoush published a three-year study on hustle culture, Hustle and Float, that challenges how ideals of sacrifice, giving it your all and exceeding expectations, are deeply woven into work culture — even if this leads to illness, exhaustion and burnout. “Those are the ideals that are buried in our subconscious. So even though we might want work-life balance, when I hear people talk about quiet quitting, I’m like, ‘Ah, we haven’t quite let go of that yet,’” she said. [8]

One Way HR Can Support: Discourage vacation shaming by actively communicating that this practice won’t be tolerated in the workplace. Instead, encourage workers to have time off and use their vacation days. Leaders can set an example by taking time off, truly disconnecting (for instance, not answering emails) and promoting the right to disconnect. You might even want to promote the benefits of taking vacation to inspire employees to take a break. [9]

More and more workers aren’t seeing the fruits of their labour even when they put in extra work. According to a survey by Hays Specialist Recruitment Canada, 65% of Canadians are seriously considering leaving their job due to reasons related to compensation, declining job satisfaction, and overall wellbeing. [10]

While quiet quitting isn’t about resigning, with inflation, surging rents and a housing affordability crisis, stagnant wages can be demoralizing because it makes basic quality of life and major milestones feel unattainable – specifically for younger workers. 

Compound this with limited opportunities for advancement, lack of professional development, and feeling undervalued all while witnessing CEOs get richer and richer, then the question for most people becomes: “What’s the point of going above and beyond at my current job?”

One Way HR Can Support: Pay the entire workforce fairly (including full-time, casual, contract and part-time employees). Throughout the year, HRPA holds certificate programs on Pay Equity and Payroll Essentials to help HR professionals do this.

Bonus tip – Address barriers to employees’ career development. Perhaps, part of managers’ compensation can be tied to ensuring professional development for those on their team. Many companies hold managers accountable for employee engagement survey results, for example.

From dealing with toxic leadership and/or coworkers to no longer feeling aligned with corporate policies (such as mandated return to work), some quiet quitters are asserting that they are no longer want to be overly invested in their companies as a way to preserve their own well-being. To learn more about this, read the blog post Tackling a Toxic Work Culture.

One Way HR Can Support: Establish clear core values and set behavioural standards that leaders manage. Employees will follow if leadership walks the talk. It’s particularly important to do this during the onboarding process because when people join a company, they tend to bring their old organizational culture and values with them. Again, there’s nothing wrong with doing your job as you’ve been paid to do (quiet quitting) but companies should keep an eye out for employees who are disengaged and if it has to do with your workplace culture, HR should address it accordingly.

Who doesn’t have the choice of quiet quitting?

Unfortunately, there are many workplaces that still hold stereotypes about equity-seeking groups around laziness and unwillingness to work hard. On top of that, individuals who identify as a person of colour, a person with a disability, woman, LGBTQI2+ and/or Indigenous have also internalized needing to work twice as hard to get ahead.[11] Sadly, employees from these groups may put their jobs at risk if they don’t go above and beyond. The same goes for people who don’t feel secure in their jobs (for reasons like fear of recession, lack of savings, lack of education, technology, etc.).

In this case, it’s important HR professionals ensure that there are strong protections in place for workers, especially when it comes to addressing discrimination. This can help relieve some of the pressure employees might feel to engage in unpaid labour and work themselves to exhaustion.