So-called quiet quitting, a polarizing term popularized on social media platforms, went viral after trending on TikTok and has sparked a heated debate about workplace culture.
While the term has nothing to do with actually quitting a job, it’s being seen as part of a broader movement to re-establish work-life boundaries. Worker engagement, a measure used to evaluate involvement and enthusiasm in the workplace, has dropped since the second half of 2021 on the heels of The Great Resignation.
It’s no wonder, then, that workers are exhausted two and a half years into the pandemic, says Jennifer Moss, writer and author of “The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress And How We Can Fix It.” She spoke to Marketplace Morning Report host Sabri Ben-Achour about her perspective on quiet quitting and how the workforce really feels about work.
Sabri Ben-Achour: What about the world right now has us talking about it, especially now?
Jennifer Moss: Well, I started writing the book around burnout long before the pandemic, and kind of waving my hands to say, “Here, we’ve got this big problem, we should be paying attention to it.” And the pandemic, like any other crisis just tends to exacerbate those existing issues. But we’ve been watching disengagement, [which] really is what quiet quitting is, is disengagement. We’ve been seeing that as a major trend. For a long time, Gallup talked about this pre-pandemic and said there was only about 20% of the workforce that was engaged. So here we are just in this high level of disengagement after a very difficult and challenging period in the workforce.
Ben-Achour: That level of disengagement Gallup reported increased in the second half of 2021. And it’s the same time as we’re seeing things like increases in union petitions, lots of resignations. Is part of this the fact that we have a very strong labor market, so we don’t have to be desperate, unhappy and servile in our jobs.
Moss: That is a big part of it. People have decided that life is maybe more important than they recognized or appreciated before. And so they’ve left, they’ve quit, and that has changed the demand. And we have more, opportunity for change and new opportunities, then allow us to have that flexibility of saying, “I want this in my current role. And if you don’t give it to me, I will leave.” And that has precipitated again, this, not just people resigning the Great Resignation, but people having a work-to-rule mindset inside of their organizations. This is a revelatory moment. And so employers, because they have sort of pushed that loyalty for a long time, now have to be accountable to it.
Ben-Achour: I mean, what should a company do about it? If they think they’re not getting the most out of their employees, or not enough? What do you do?
Moss: One of the reasons why we’re seeing the Great Resignation, and the Microsoft Trends data is sort of reinforces this, is that people aren’t leaving for more pay. The reason why they were quitting was workload and lack of empathy from their employers, were the two top reasons. And so what employers need to gain from that is that workload was unsustainable. So the first thing that they need to do is assess, is this a time to have growth at all costs? Is it “innovate or die” mentality right now? What is sustainable? So understanding that it’s a bottom-line issue, saying, okay, how am I going to make this more sustainable? Take a pause, and what you think is your strategic objective, and if sustaining your workforce is one, then we need to have right-to-disconnect laws, we need to have guidelines around, how much people are working and what is reasonable and sustainable, we need to be considering that people in our workforce want us to care about them. And that means more upstream interventions around preventing burnout, increasing mental health and well-being and analyzing what to do to help support those people who are very tired.
Ben-Achour: Sidenote, this idea of quiet quitting became a viral phenomenon. We saw a lot on TikTok. Does that suggest that this is particularly salient among younger workers?
Moss: Yes, the data does show that are, that 18 to 25-year-olds, and our sort of a little bit younger millennials, are really feeling in pain, particularly from this pandemic. A lot of them started their job, their first job potentially, or just out of university, working in an environment where they’ve never met their coworkers or boss, they don’t feel any real connection to the mission or values. They feel like their careers are atrophying, they also have, a lot less agency than someone that’s tenured or been there for a while. So they can’t just say no to work. They’re also following this dangling carrot, and they don’t even really know if that’s the carrot that they want to be pursuing anymore. So they are just feeling really atrophied in their career. And a lot of the kind of qualitative data that we kept coming back was people just saying, “I feel isolated, I feel lonely. And I feel really exhausted from the amount of work that I’m doing.” And also, a lot of the younger generation did say that they wanted to go, above and beyond for those single parents, those working parents that were trying to juggle a lot during the pandemic. So they were taking on a lot of responsibility themselves too, and then you have student debt, adding to that, and most of them living in urban centers alone. And it’s just a recipe for them for burnout and a need to recharge and that’s why they’re pursuing this sort of quiet quitting revolution.
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