What Is Quiet Quitting—and Is It a Real Trend?

What Is Quiet Quitting?

Quiet quitting refers to doing the minimum requirements of one’s job and putting in no more time, effort, or enthusiasm than absolutely necessary. As such, it is something of a misnomer, since the worker doesn’t actually leave their position and continues to collect a salary.

In the early 2020s, driven largely by social media, quiet quitting emerged as a much-publicized trend in the United States and elsewhere. However, some observers have questioned how common it actually is—and whether it’s even a new phenomenon. 

Key Takeaways

  • The term “quiet quitting” refers to employees who put no more effort into their jobs than absolutely necessary.
  • A 2022 Gallup survey suggested that at least half of the U.S. workforce consists of quiet quitters.
  • However, skeptics question those numbers and whether quiet quitting is a new trend or simply a trendy new name for worker dissatisfaction.

How Quiet Quitting Works

In a September 2022 Harvard Business Review article aimed at explaining the quiet quitting phenomenon to worried executives, professors Anthony C. Klotz and Mark C. Bolino observed, “Quiet quitters continue to fulfill their primary responsibilities, but they’re less willing to engage in activities known as citizenship behaviors: no more staying late, showing up early, or attending non-mandatory meetings.”

The reaction of managers to the phenomenon has been mixed. Some have been tolerant, in part because the tight labor market of recent years makes replacing quiet quitters difficult, at least for the time being. Others have responded to quiet quitting by quietly, or loudly, firing employees whom they see as slacking off. In fact, “quiet firing” has become a buzz phrase in its own right, generally defined as making a job so unrewarding that the employee will feel compelled to resign.

Beyond the workplace, the term “quiet quitting” is now being applied to nonwork aspects of people’s lives, such as marriages and relationships. 

Who Invented Quiet Quitting?

According to the Los Angeles Times, the first known use of “quiet quitting” was by Bryan Creely, a Nashville-based corporate recruiter turned career coach, who invoked it in a March 4, 2022, video posted to TikTok and YouTube.

Wikipedia, meanwhile, claims it originated years earlier, in 2009 remarks by a man it refers to as “economist Mark Boldger”—an attribution that seems to have spread to numerous other websites. However, Wikipedia flagged that paragraph with a “[citation needed]” note, and to this date, no one has supplied one.

Still other writers trace the concept, though not the term, to China, where a similar workplace phenomenon called “lying flat” appears to have originated about a year earlier.

50%+

Percentage of American workers who may qualify as quiet quitters, according to Gallup.

Is Quiet Quitting a Real Trend?

According to a Gallup survey of workers age 18 and older taken in June 2022, quiet quitters “make up at least 50% of the U.S. workforce—probably more.”

The percentage is particularly high among workers under age 35, Gallup reported.

Gallup arrived at that conclusion using a series of questions related to worker engagement, defined as “the involvement and enthusiasm of employees in their work and workplace.” In the survey, only 32% of workers came across as engaged, while another 18% were disengaged, meaning that they made no secret of their job dissatisfaction. The remaining 50%, Gallup theorized, could be classified as quiet quitters, people who were not especially engaged in their work but didn’t broadcast the fact.

If those numbers are accurate, then a stunning 68% of American job holders are unhappy with their work to one degree or another. 

Not everyone buys that, however. Writing in The Atlantic, Derek Thompson pointed out that Gallup’s 2022 engagement numbers weren’t all that different from those going back to 2000. Rather than describing a new phenomenon, Thompson argued, “the term has taken off in part because burned-out or bored workers are simply desperate for a fresh vocabulary to describe their feelings.”

Examples of Quiet Quitting

NPR asked its listeners about quiet quitting and ran a group of their responses in a September 2022 online article. Some didn’t like the term but still embraced the concept.

An administrative assistant identified as Christy G. said, in part, “I do not interact with anything from work before 7:00 or after 4:30, which is the time my office is open. I work in a corporate setting so my tasks are not life or death. If someone asks for something, like maybe a file scanned or something like that, at the end of the day—it can wait until the next day.”

A department manager identified as Sara M. told NPR that her priorities and values had changed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic: “I now leave my office at the end of the day not thinking about what I need to work on when I go home at night. I set boundaries for checking my emails and reaching out to co-workers during non-office hours. Most importantly, I do not feel any bit of anxiety when it comes to requesting time off, taking personal days or especially taking sick time.”

How many people are quiet quitters?

If Gallup’s estimate that at least 50% of the U.S. workforce can be classified as quiet quitters is accurate, then the number would be more than 80 million, according to the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data on Americans’ employment status.

What can businesses do about quiet quitting?

Some experts have suggested that bosses get tough, others that they lighten up. In an August 2022 Harvard Business Review article, leadership development consultants Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman advised managers to first examine their own behavior. “Suppose you have multiple employees who you believe to be quietly quitting,” they wrote. “In that case, an excellent question to ask yourself is: Is this a problem with my direct reports, or is this a problem with me and my leadership abilities?”

What is ‘soft quitting’?

“Soft quitting” is a term that’s often used interchangeably with quiet quitting.

The Bottom Line

Quiet quitting may or may not be a bona fide trend or recent phenomenon. But it has called attention to what appears to be fairly widespread dissatisfaction among American workers that employers might need to address.

Article Sources
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  1. Gallup. “Is Quiet Quitting Real?

  2. Harvard Business Review. “When Quiet Quitting Is Worse than the Real Thing.”

  3. Bloomberg. “Enough of Quiet Quitting: It’s Time to Talk About Quiet Firing.”

  4. Los Angeles Times. “Gen Z Didn’t Coin ‘Quiet Quitting’—Gen X Did.”

  5. Wikipedia. “Quiet Quitting.”

  6. South China Morning Post. “‘Quiet Quitting’ and ‘Lying Flat’: Why the US and China Cannot Ignore These Trends.”

  7. Gallup. “What Is Employee Engagement and How Do You Improve It?

  8. The Atlantic. “Quiet Quitting Is a Fake Trend.”

  9. NPR. “The Economics Behind ‘Quiet Quitting’—and What We Should Call It Instead.”

  10. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Economic News Release: Table A-1. Employment Status of the Civilian Population by Sex and Age.”

  11. Harvard Business Review. “Quiet Quitting Is About Bad Bosses, Not Bad Employees.”

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