The New, New Thing: Quiet Quitting

A new viral video has many young people wondering whether they are putting too much effort into work. Why leaders should be worried. 

Having unmotivated or lackluster employees is one of the biggest issues on the minds of leaders in organizations everywhere. Worse is when they begin to do the bare minimum of their work.

Now, it seems, this has become one of the biggest issues on the minds of Gen Zers, the newest entrants to the workforce. The young workers have a different name for not going "above and beyond" their specific work duties: quiet quitting.

The concept is having a moment with young workers thanks to a video posted on the social media network TikTok in late July. In the 17-second video, which had been viewed 2.6 million times in the week after it was posted, a young man is sitting in a New York City subway station endorsing the concept of quiet quitting. “You are still performing your duties but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life,” the man says. 

To be sure, smart companies today endorse the concept of a healthy work-life balance, and tell managers to reinforce this. But modern corporations often thrive on having having motivated workers eager to make a big impact for themselves and their organizations. Experts say any lack of motivation among a  company’s youngest workers can become a troubling sign. “Organizations are dependent on employees doing more than a minimum,” says Mark Royal, senior director for Korn Ferry Advisory

The issue of employees being checked out at work isn’t new, of course. For decades, “coasting” or “checked out” were the phrases used by employees doing the bare minimum. Multiple studies show that only about one-third of employees consider themselves “highly engaged” at work. Even during the pandemic, that average figure has stayed relatively stable. Experts say it might be trending now, in part, because of how far the job market has swung in favor of workers over the last two years. Coasting employees aren’t worried if their bosses fire them—they’ll just find another job.

That mentality may already be out of date. A year ago the job market was unprecedently strong and many firms hadn’t installed sophisticated software and performance management programs to monitor the productivity of remote workers. Now the economy is contracting, the number of open jobs is shrinking, and many organizations are at least contemplating hiring freezes or layoffs. “Quiet quitting will be hard to do for very long,” says Elise Freedman, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and leader of the firm’s Workforce Transformation practice.

Other factors driving interest in quiet quitting may center around many members of Gen Z not feeling like they see a future at the organization that currently employs them. Young employees also only have COVID-era work experience as their anchor, a time that has led workers of all ages to question what they really want to do professionally.

Experts say many organizations know they have a problem with employee engagement—or lack thereof. They also know that even with the economy cooling, they are short talent in critical areas and can’t afford to harbor quiet quitters. The best solution, experts say, is for firms to connect with employees frequently and help them connect their work to a greater purpose. Managers also need to set clear goals and expectations for their direct reports, help them meet those goals, and take action when they don’t.