The rise of quiet quitting: from pandemic to epidemic

This WORKTECH Wednesday briefing looks at the growing phenomenon of the ‘quiet quitter’. Why has it become such a trending topic and what are the implications for employers?

‘Quiet quitting’ is this summer’s in-vogue term for people who, rather than deciding to leave their jobs, are doing the bare minimum required of their role and spending the rest of their time doing as they please.

The movement has become popular on social media as people discuss how much better their quality of life has become with quiet quitting – and swap tips and tricks on how not to get caught by your boss or by remote monitoring software that may be installed on your work computer.

So-called quiet quitters have been empowered by working from home, allowing them to do the minimum amount of work before logging off without their managers noticing that they’ve popped out to the pub. It’s classic Gen Z and Millennial workshy behaviour. Or at least that is what the tabloid newspapers would have you believe.

But is quiet quitting really a new phenomenon borne out of laziness? And is it exclusive to the younger generations?

Switch to slower lane

British writer and workplace culture expert Bruce Daisley describes how a ‘combination between burnout, miserable prospects of life advancement and the unscrutinised working of remote work has afforded workers the scope to switch to a slower lane’.

Daisley characterises ‘quiet quitting’ as more a pushback against neoliberal economics and the result of an increased awareness around the lack of opportunity for economic advancement than any innate laziness experienced by those under 40.

‘Workers are not necessarily motivated to work extra-long hours…’

The pandemic left people feeling mentally drained and the prospect of diving straight back into the 24/7 hustle of corporate culture is perhaps understandably not as appealing as it once was. Workers are not necessarily motivated to work extra-long hours and sacrifice every waking moment to their jobs anymore. And, as moving out of a pandemic into a burgeoning recession has shown, there is not necessarily a correlation between hard work and success.

There is less room for social mobility and the first generations of employees who will never be able to make as much money as their parents have reached the workforce. With this knowledge in mind, it is hardly surprising that people are opting to view their careers in a different light.

Generational similarities

It is also worth noting that this is not just a young-people problem. Older, more experienced employees are also taking part in this phenomenon, people who chose to skip spending time with their families in favour of the office, were shaken up by the pandemic.

Suddenly, families were thrown together and able to reassess what kind of life they want to live together and how much more important family dinner is when compared with a quick sandwich at your desk.

Whilst it has been described as an ‘anti-work movement’, quiet quitting is in fact a response to a growing awareness that for most employers work has always been transactional, so why should employees not view their role the same way? The pandemic forced everyone to re-evaluate their belief system around work. Quiet quitting is one of the results of taking stock.

Cultural reset

So what’s the answer? That’s a difficult question. Workplace culture clearly has a large impact. Workplaces that are more flexible, understanding and who appreciate their employees’ need for a flourishing home life might well find that they suffer less from the quiet quitting movement.

It’s certainly logical that if you have management who you trust and feel able to talk to, then navigating issues such as burn out, financial difficulty and anxiety about future prospects are far more likely to be resolved internally.

 ‘If you feel disconnected from your co-workers and alienated by management, quiet quitting is most likely’

But if you feel disconnected from your co-workers and alienated by management then it is unlikely that you feel able to bring these subjects to light; it is these instances where quiet quitting seems most likely.

But is quiet quitting even a new phenomenon? There has always someone who seems to be working less than everyone else and never getting caught out. People have been hiding their disinterest in their work for years – perhaps now the difference is that their presence on social media means that they are no longer in hiding.

Putting the joy back into work

Quiet quitters will be the first to admit that they do not necessarily get enjoyment from their work, but perhaps a little joy at work might be the golden ticket to reconnecting with their organisation. WORKTECH22’s upcoming Wellbeing conference explores how companies can re-engage their workforce after a period of profound change.

Michal Matlon, a place and architecture psychologist at The Living Core, will present research from cognitive scientists at the University of Vienna on why companies should care about enjoyment at work and how to build workplaces that prioritise joy. Find out more and book your place at WORKTECH22 Wellbeing here.

In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional conference series continues through our in-person, virtual and hybrid platforms. This edition is posted 17 August 2022.
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