If Your Co-Workers Are ‘Quiet Quitting,’ Here’s What That Means

Viewed in The Wall Street Journal

The TikTok generation has landed in the workforce, and their approach to work life and their careers is a marked break with that of preceding generations.

Wall Street Journal reporter Lindsay Ellis addresses one of these dramatic changes after actually viewing some younger workers’ TikTok videos describing the newest buzz among these younger, mostly 20-something employees: “quiet quitting,” the decision they are making to take their work lives vastly less seriously, to reduce it in the hierarchy of their life’s priorities, and to ultimately engage less with their employer and all that involves it—and then to freely share that conclusion with the entire universe over TikTok and presumably other platforms.

Increasing employee engagement is challenging

The challenge of increasing employee engagement has received mounting focus for a few years now, of course, giving rise to executive management teams developing creative, pro-active and sometimes costly programs to improve it.

Those who have already developed pro-active employee engagement programs might be ahead of the curve. But for those organizations that have not, Ellis rings a few alarms about the magnitude of the crisis at hand.

A majority of the surveyed employees do as little as possible at work

Start with the latest Gallup Poll results on employee engagement, which reports this shocking finding: A majority of employees (54 percent) born after 1989 acknowledged to Gallup pollsters that they do as little as possible to get by at work.

Message: Employers anticipating this generation to pro-actively embrace their work and organizational goals should rethink the assumption.

Little tolerance for overly-consuming work-related challenges

It turns out that a number of factors, including the recognitions many in this generation reached during the pandemic, have led many (indeed, most) to conclude that they absolutely will not allow themselves to be overly consumed by work-related challenges, problems, opportunities, or even their own personal professional advancement. Of course, this represents quite a challenge for those who seek and need to employ them.

Additionally, while such a conclusion historically of “quiet quitting” might be one that prior generations reach and embrace in quiet solitude and possibly even shame, today’s Generation Z employees actually take great pride in this recognition.

Boasting about quietly quitting

Ellis reports how an extraordinary number of self-recorded TikTok videos have emerged on that platform of younger employees boasting publicly about their decision to “quietly quit” their work life. For many human resource executives, such a scenario might represent the ultimate worst imaginable outcome as they seek to inspire their existing workforce and attract self-motivated candidates in a tight job market. 

So 20-somethings have no professional inspiration, aspiration, or willingness to take their work life seriously?

Well, no, that too would be a wrong conclusion, and it is fair to say that consensus conclusions have not yet been definitively reached about the promises and challenges of today’s younger workforce.

Executive management is to inspire

We may ultimately be very pleasantly surprised. But one conclusion for now is clear: For a lion’s share of 20-something professionals, the burden will fall on employers and ultimately executive management teams to inspire, monitor, and measure their employees’ engagement. 

No longer can it be taken for granted that employees will arrive with those attributes; the same Gallup Poll shows a mere 31 percent of employees in the first quarter of 2022 acknowledged that they were engaged in their work.

No silver bullet

Of course, we all want to know exactly what they are thinking, so we can address it pro-actively. Ellis offers no immediate silver bullet but leaves us with this quote from Zaid Khan, a 24-year-old engineer in New York City whose declaration of “quiet quitting” accumulated over three million views in two weeks. “You’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond. You’re no longer subscribing to the hustle-culture mentality that work has to be your life.”

A generational challenge

As employers confront this new challenge of a less engaged generational workforce, there remain more questions than answers about the true nature and solution to it. But a credible ongoing Gallup Poll combined with an extraordinary number of anecdotal examples accumulate to at last this one conclusion:

There are many Zaid Khans in this generation’s workforce who arrive skilled and credentialed but whose motivation will represent a whole new challenge as this generation begins taking its role in 21st century work life.

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