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'Quiet quitting' has nothing to do with lazy employees. It's about rejecting broken work culture

'Quiet quitting' suggests workers aren't pulling their weight. In reality, they are simply getting wise to bad workplaces.
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Written by Owen Hughes, Senior Editor on
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Image: Thomas Barwick / Getty

Clocking out on time. Not checking work emails in bed. Managing your workload effectively. All hallmarks of a healthy relationship with work, and fundamental habits for maintaining a balance between our personal and professional lives -- or so you would think.

You've probably come across the phrase 'quiet quitting' recently, which has been trending since a TikTok user took to the platform to discuss hustle culture and why they decided to opt out of it.

"You're not outright quitting your job but you're quitting the idea of going above and beyond," the user explains in the now-viral post. "You're still performing your duties but you're no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life. The reality is it's not, and your worth as a person is not defined by your labor."

SEE: The future of work: How everything changed and what's coming next (ZDNET Special Feature)

Recognizing the harmful mentality behind hustle culture should be applauded. Subscribing to the idea that our commitment to work is somehow a reflection of our moral standing and self-worth is not healthy or sustainable, and will only add to the issues of burnout, stress and employee disengagement that already plague the workforce.

But the phrase 'quiet quitting' is a misnomer. It suggests that, if you're not making yourself constantly available to your job, you are lazy and disloyal. It suggests that if you're not constantly working late, picking up the phone to your boss at any hour of the day, or constantly saying 'yes' to new assignments regardless of your workload, you're as good as not doing your job at all. It suggests that employees should continually be going out of their way to placate their bosses, even if they don't receive recognition for doing so.

Hustle culture is a relic of pre-pandemic practices, and the embodiment of much of what is wrong with today's work mentality. By implying that a rejection of hustle culture is a form of quitting, we're laying the fault at the feet of workers, rather than bad workplaces and the nature of work itself.

Employees are already dogged by burnout, stress and presenteeism, often as a consequence of our modern, always-on work culture. Technology has made our lives easier in many ways, but it's also made work more pervasive and harder to disconnect from at the end of the day. Likewise, while broadband, software and mobile devices have made us more productive and efficient as workers, few of these innovations have significantly eased our workloads -- we're simply fitting more work into the same eight-hour window, and becoming more distracted in the meantime.

What we need is a fundamental rethink of work and work culture – something that ongoing trials of a four-day work week in the UK, US and other parts of the world hope to explore. Early indicators are promising.

Excelling in your role does not have to mean engaging in hustle culture. You can be a dedicated and conscientious worker without taking your work home with you. In fact, the happiest, most engaged and most productive workers are typically those who have flexibility in their role and enjoy a healthy work-life balance --  not those who spend all their time in the office and work themselves to the point of burnout.

SEE: Feeling burned out? Your boss is probably more likely to quit than you are

It's the moral responsibility of employers to promote healthy working habits, and be clear that growth and development opportunities are not tied to hours spent in the office. Employees should be able log off on time, say 'no' to assignments they don't have the capacity to manage, and disengage from anything related to work during their own leisure time, without fearing judgement or reprisal. If leaders find that employee engagement is waning, it's a good indicator that something in the workplace is not working as it should. The key is to engage with employees and ask what needs fixing, not accuse them of 'quiet quitting' -- which may prompt them to 'loud' quit, which is the last thing employers need right now.

It's sad that, in 2022, after all we've learned about the role of work in our wellbeing and the many ways we can make it better, we're still using rhetoric that normalizes overwork. Let's stop accusing workers of 'quiet quitting' and applaud them for recognizing that hustle culture only serves bad workplaces and bad work culture.

Instead of castigating employees for taking a step back from roles that don't reward them, let's look at how we can apply the lessons of the past two years to create more sustainable, more equitable and more rewarding ways of working.

ZDNET'S MONDAY OPENER  

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