Quiet quitting backlash shows some managers always expected overwork – Business Insider
- Quiet quitting has become the latest labor market and TikTok buzz-phrase.
- Managers are sounding the alarm that workers are doing just their jobs and nothing more.
- But the rise of the phrase shows more of an issue with managers’ expectations than workers.
When Liz Gross first heard the phrase “quiet quitting,” she rolled her eyes.
“Quiet quitting sounds a lot like doing your job, but I could see what has led us as a society and economy to a place where this is a thing that we’re talking about,” Gross, the founder and CEO of Campus Sonar, a higher education consultancy, told Insider.
The phrase first picked up steam on TikTok, workers’ new digital town square. In essence, quiet quitting is doing your job as it’s written — and maintaining firm boundaries otherwise. That means no overtime and prioritizing the bare minimum requirements. For many workers, it’s a way to make work more sustainable in the long term.
While it seems like a pretty straightforward concept, quiet quitting has reverberated throughout the Internet. Managers are asking if they can discipline or fire the quiet quitters on their teams. Quiet quitters who name themselves as such are “likely not to have a job for very long.” They say that quiet quitters might be the first axed in layoffs.
“When you describe doing work as quitting, I think it becomes very obvious to people how stupid that sounds,” Jason Horn, a 39-year-old freelance writer, told Insider.
But for Gross, there came another realization as the phrase became ubiquitous: “The more I thought about it, the more I realized this was a commentary on managers and corporate cultures, not the actual employees who felt the need to quiet quit.”
Quiet quitting isn’t a new phenomenon, and it isn’t even quitting. It’s just workers doing their jobs as written. But its emergence during a time when people are rethinking work, and how it fits into their lives, has made it into a lightning-rod for the shifting labor market. Quiet quitting isn’t about the workers who are doing their jobs; it’s about the managers who have to adjust to employees who are no longer willing to extend themselves above and beyond.
Quiet quitting reveals systemic ‘cultures of overwork’
For decades, employers have had the upper hand in setting wage and job standards. But as that’s shifted just a little bit, employers seem to be playing defense, and realizing they can’t ask as much outside of the formal requirements of work.
“I don’t think quiet quitting would be a phrase or something that we’re talking about if we didn’t have a widespread problem with corporate cultures of overwork, under appreciation, and frankly distant or ineffective managers and leaders,” Gross said.
Now, after more than two years of a pandemic overlapping with other crises like war and climate change, workers are rethinking work, especially as they notice their jobs making the same demands that they did before a cascading series of world-changing events.
“There is a large portion of the workforce that went above and beyond, over the course of time, but particularly during the pandemic, and received absolutely no reward for that — and maybe actually lost something in the process,” Gross said. “So if there is no incentive to exceed expectations, you should never expect people to go above and beyond.”
At the same time, “employees recognize this as maybe a moment in which they can kind of push back on some of what they might see as unfair or perhaps burdensome treatment by their employers,” Bradford Bell, a professor in the HR studies department at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, told Insider. He’s referring to more than a year of employers desperate to hire while workers quit their jobs in droves for a better deal.
Employees slowing down isn’t necessarily a new practice, Bell said. For decades, workers have participated in everything from work slowdowns to work to rule — a labor union tactic where you adhere strictly to your job’s rules and do nothing else.
“Definitely, it’s labor feeling its power,” Horn said, adding: “It’s just generally workers realizing that when my boss is treating me poorly, I can tell them to shove it.”
Employers are learning they have to pay people what they’re worth — and that includes work outside of their jobs
Workers have been pretty successful at sending tremors through the labor market, whether through quitting or unionizing or asking for more money. Employers aren’t used to that.
“Leaders and managers of all generations have had to seriously consider what is realistic and acceptable to ask of employees that are in the workforce now,” Gross said.
Workers certainly expect to get paid more — the Federal Reserve of New York’s annual survey on wages found that the lowest wage workers would accept for a new job is $72,873.They know they can find a job elsewhere if they need to, or if they’re asked to do work beyond the scope of their role. That comes after decades of wages not keeping up with productivity.
“Even if you have a very good paying job, you are paid to do your job,” Kate, a corporate IT worker in her early 30s, told Insider. “If your employer wants you to do more than your job, they should give you a reason to do that. It shouldn’t be an expectation.”
Kate has always been a high achiever. But she found that constantly going above and beyond doesn’t get you a raise or promotion — instead, “you have to do at least this good all the time.”
She said she ultimately participated in the Great Resignation and nearly doubled her salary and found better conditions. She’s not alone: Over 4 million people quit their jobs in June, a trend that’s been going on for over a year.
For managers, that means that the pre-pandemic trend of expecting workers to go well beyond their stated goals and duties — never leaving the office, or working overtime, or piling on work — can’t be replicated.
“If you are in a situation where you’ve had people exceeding expectations and you’ve done absolutely nothing for them, then they should definitely reset the bar, because you’ve done nothing to raise it for them,” Gross said.