Working from home changed people’s attitudes to employment
Not working beyond your pay grade, or quiet quitting, is taking hold, but is raising issues for employers, finds TERRY MURDEN
Maybe it was because we realised we didn’t need the hassle of the daily commute, or working under the glare of an oppressive manager. Perhaps it was simply a desire to pull the reins and slow down a bit. Whatever the reason, the new trend of “quiet quitting”, or working strictly to our contracts, is gathering momentum and is causing a few new problems for employers.
Numerous Tiktok users have gone viral for creating videos explaining this trend for not doing anything beyond one’s pay grade. It could mean clocking in just before the shift is due to start, leaving exactly when it ends – even if work is left incomplete – and not taking the initiative in office projects. It certainly means not participating in anything not included in one’s job description.
Many say it is a reaction to the “hustle culture” and “presenteeism” that made workers feel the need, not only to be seen working hard, but regarded as indispensable because of the effort they put in. In lots of cases this has been the right attitude and those who put in the hours justly deserved their rewards.
But there has been a growing resentment among others who work over and above what they are paid that they are being taken for granted and even exploited by managers who don’t dish out commensurate rewards. With the pandemic proving that a lot of work can be done without hopping on trains and working in hot, cramped offices, many employees have said enough is enough.
Whether it is driven by a resentment at being “used” or just to readjust the work/life balance, quiet quitting has become a potent phenomenon that employers are now regarding as more than an attitude or lifestyle choice, and more as a labour issue that can affect productivity or add to skills shortages.
The phrase “quiet quitting” was popularised by user @zkchillin in a July 2022 video that has received 3.5 million views. “You’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond,” he explained. “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 labour.”
Some see it as the successor to the “great resignation”, a phrase coined by the management professor Anthony Klotz in May 2021 to describe the higher-than-usual number of employees who voluntarily left their jobs during and after the pandemic, many believing they deserved a new start and that lockdown taught them that they could at least rebalance their time. For some, having been alerted to the impact of a deadly pandemic, it made them realise there was more to life than work.
From the other side of this movement – the employer – there is now even more pressure to consider how best to re-engage with the quiet quitters who will no longer put in an extra hour, sacrifice their lunch break, or take work home at weekends. These employees are realising that in many instances employers are squeezing more hours out of existing staff in order to save on the cost of employing more people.
Some business owners openly challenge the movement. A Facebook group has been set up asking its members, who are most probably startups, what their opinions are, and a few of them aren’t taking it well. They see quiet quitting as indicative of a lack of commitment, even disloyalty and idleness. For early stage companies, putting in the extra hours is regarded as a given to ensure the business survives, particularly at a time of rising costs.
It has raised all sorts of issues around employment law and spurred some to consider more benefits to re-engage with employees such as more wellbeing practices, child-friendly working hours, healthy offices, sabbaticals and leisure facilities in the workplace. New offices now often include pool tables, gyms and even bars. Glasgow’s biggest new office block in Bothwell Street has a rooftop running track.
Rachel Irvine, CEO at Irvine Partners, says wellbeing isn’t simply encouraging a non-toxic work culture. It’s about employees feeling valued and having the opportunity to progress. Supporting academic goals, office exchange programmes and a cost of living bonus as everyone begins to feel the squeeze are prime examples of going that extra mile to help support employees.
Fundamentally, as Andrew Wright, chief executive of SmartPA, says, people are asking questions about the nature of work and shying away from situations where they don’t feel valued.
“To some degree, quiet quitting has always been present. We just didn’t label it as such,” he says, adding that It may feel empowering to de-prioritise your job and coast along. But in the long run it may mean losing out on pay rises and promotions.
“For employers, the ‘quiet quitting’ trend poses a risk of workplace disputes as unproductive staff members impact on critical functions and put colleagues under stress. There is a potential for conflict with others having to pick up the slack.”