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The loud noise behind 'quiet quitting'

I heard the phrase 'quiet quitting' for the first time this week. Like many new trends, the phrase went viral after being shared on TikTok.

TikTok creator Zaid Khan describes quiet quitting as "not outright quitting your job, but you're quitting the idea of going above and beyond...You're still performing your duties but you're no longer subscribing to the 'hustle culture' mentality that work has to be your life."

You do the role that's asked of you - but no extras. Showing up and leaving exactly when you're expected, no overtime, no extra tasks, no additional socialising. Doing no more (and no less) than your role's expectations.

Some people have said quiet quitting is just a negative term for having a positive work-life balance.

Stuff asked an important question in an article describing this - "Is quiet quitting just doing your job?"

Vera Alves, writer for NZ Herald puts it a bit more bluntly: "I've just got one super quick question about this: What stage of capitalist hell is this where we've decided to rebrand "doing the job you're paid to do" as a negative thing?"

What's driving this?

The goal: A better work life balance.

The push behind quiet quitting isn't an individual thing - and it didn't come out of nowhere.

There is no doubt that the Covid pandemic highlighted the importance of a work/life balance and put a renewed focus on people's health (physical, mental, family).

While workers of all ages re-evaluated priorities during Covid - it's clear there's a strong generational lens to this. What was an innovation for one generation, quickly becomes an expectation for others.

Generation X was quiet quitting before the TikTok creators were even born. It was seen as a push back on the Baby Boomer's competitive, work hard, climb the ladder focus. Here are some quotes from newspapers in the 90s:

  • They’re “defining a new work ethic based on balance and fulfilment.”

  • They’re embracing a “laziness that values raw honesty over prestige or job security.”

It didn't start there! Even before Gen X, there were articles in the 70s that showed the Baby Boomer generation was pushing back on this.

“The work ethic, at least as grandpa knew it, is fading rapidly,” noted the Chicago Daily News in 1972. “Younger persons, particularly those in blue-collar jobs, no longer dutifully worship the god of work and its major icon—the paycheck. They want something more—and regardless of how things turn out, the workplace won’t be the same.”

While previous generations may have paved the way - there is a definite shift from this younger generation. Again, innovations for one generation, quickly become expectations for future generations.

It's almost a given, that Generation Z employees will focus first on their health and wellbeing and then on their work.

YOLO, right?

And if you only live once, why harm yourself for a job? Not only this, younger workers expect their workplaces to also place the same importance on their health and wellbeing as they do. People, not resources!

From the outset of their careers, pushed along by the global Covid pandemic, they are redefining the roles and expectations of workplaces with this in mind.

Shameless plug: We'll look more at the influence and expectations of Gen Z in my upcoming Tea & Toast webinar: iGeneration, the youngest generation at work. All welcome, no cost - RSVP in the link.

How can workplaces respond?

Michael Osmond, from JobAdder suggests a 3-fold approach:

  1. Be as clear as possible of what is expected from each role during hiring. Everyone should be clear on this.

  2. Communicate and understand what your people need and expect.

  3. Recheck your expectations - doing your job exactly and not 'going above and beyond', doesn't make someone a bad worker. In fact, celebrate that - they're doing their job!

Here are a few more things workplaces can do:

  • recognise what fills your people's buckets outside of work (ask them!) - then figure out how to build in time for that. People work best when their buckets are full.

  • offer flexibility where and when you can (if it's not an operational must, then it's a preference. Don't let old management preferences stop you from flexing where and when you can).

  • offer opportunities for people to go above and beyond - and then compensate them accordingly (pay, time off in lieu, secondment opportunities)

Working at The Training Practice with a leader like Hilary has taught me a lot - but the biggest lesson: when your workplace goes above and beyond for you - you're naturally wired to do the same.


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