Will Quiet Quitting Hurt Company Culture?

October 17, 2022 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

When COVID-19 shut down the country for the better part of a year, company work and company culture dynamics changed dramatically and seemingly forever. First came a push to work from home full-time, or at least part-time. Then, there was “the great resignation” by 25 percent of the American workforce. Now comes “quiet quitting,” the latest viral work movement that has companies scratching their heads and many employees requestioning work/life balance in a whole new way.

For those unfamiliar with the term, (or for anyone not on TikTok where the movement has gained traction), “quiet quitting” is the idea of doing only what your job description requires instead of going above and beyond at work. Not surprisingly, the very mention of the phrase elicits passionate reactions both positive and negative largely depending on who’s doing the responding and in what company culture they’re working.

An Unfortunate Label.

Not since “defund the police” has the intent and impact of a phrase been less aligned than with “quiet quitting.” The word “quitting” has a negative connotation to begin with and paired with “quiet” it sounds sneaky. Neither are true in this case which is why the phrase is so unfortunate. But that hasn’t stopped it from working people up nationwide. This is how the author of a recent Wall Street Journal article put it:

“The viral term “quiet quitting” isn’t really about quitting, nor is there anything quiet about the debate it has unleashed about careers and coasting this summer.

What started as a quiet movement among office workers looking to draw firmer work-life boundaries after two years of pandemic overtime has grown into a rallying cry.

Of course, every generation of workers has had its anti-work philosophies and many managers and striving colleagues have always taken issue with them. Cue the quiet-quitting backlash: The concept has sparked a flood of vehement commentary from business leaders, career coaches and other professionals lamenting what the shift away from hustle culture means for Americans’ commitment to their jobs, while some young professionals are praising it.”

Sage or Slacker?

Framed one way, quiet quitting is the pursuit of a healthier mindset about the role work plays in your life. But for many, it’s also about doing the bare minimum, often in jobs where more is required. Therein lies the rub. It might be easy to dismiss any real worry about the staying power of the movement were it not for a recent Gallup poll. But the details included in another recent article in the Wall Street Journal, specifically one anecdotal note from a young female worker, certainly causes for concern.

“Jim Harter, chief scientist for Gallup’s workplace and well-being research, said workers’ descriptions of “quiet quitting” align with a large group of survey respondents that he classifies as “not engaged”—those who will show up to work and do the minimum required but not much else. More than half of workers surveyed by Gallup who were born after 1989—54%—fall into this category.

Paige West, 24, said she stopped overextending herself at a former position as a transportation analyst in Washington, D.C., less than a year into the job. Work stress had gotten so intense that, she said, her hair was falling out and she couldn’t sleep. While looking for a new role, she no longer worked beyond 40 hours each week, didn’t sign up for extra training and stopped trying to socialize with colleagues.

“I took a step back and said, ‘I’m just going to work the hours I’m supposed to work, that I’m really getting paid to work,’” she said. “Besides that, I’m not going to go extra.” Not exactly what you want to hear when you’re the president or CEO of a company.

Nobody wants their employees’ hair falling out because of work stress, but I also don’t want to hear “I’m not going to go extra.”

What I really want to know is what’s driving the mindset? Why is it growing? And what can we do to address it respectfully and effectively?

The Trouble With Quiet Quitting.

Let me be clear about one thing – advertising isn’t now, nor has it ever been, for the faint of heart. It often requires long hours, acute attention, and all kinds of personal sacrifices. If someone is hired to work a certain number of hours as in retail, or fast food, I understand the mindset of working those hours and no more. But in businesses like ours, we don’t hire people to work a block of hours. We hire them to do a job and sometimes that job takes longer than 9 to 5. Should companies abuse that? Of course not. But most of the people I know in our business know what lane they signed up for. I know there are many in our industry and others that either don’t agree with that mindset, or don’t think expectations even matter. But I do. And I think that may be a real part of the problem driving this concept of quiet quitting.

There are clearly companies that take advantage of their people, who work them to death with no regard for their well-being, life balance, or mental health. Those are clearly a problem and should be avoided at all costs. It may require faith and bravery but there is always an alternative to working in a toxic culture. If your job is taxing your health and your soul, by all means quit it and find a place that matches your expectation.

This is Why Company Culture Matters.

In our book, “The Voice of the Underdog,” we lay out the seven foundational elements required to build a lasting and meaningful company culture — safety, vulnerability, purpose, belonging, creativity, connection, and North Star leadership. I believe all employees want to be a part of something meaningful and bigger than themselves. But that takes buy in. It also takes congruence from leadership where their words and actions match up. You can’t tell people “we’re in this together,” and then do or say things that contradict that. Yes, young professionals need to better understand that paying your dues and earning your way isn’t Boomer BS. I know Gen Z wants to walk in the door and make an immediate impact but one extraordinary way to do that is showing leadership you know how to listen, how to study, and yes, how to go above and beyond. Not because it’s some unfair expectation for getting ahead. But because you’re proud of your contribution, you want to set yourself apart, and you see making the most of the opportunity you’ve been given as a virtue, not a weakness.

Quiet Quitting Isn’t the Answer.

For any young professional reading this who is struggling at work, here is my advice: quiet quitting isn’t the answer. But not for the reasons you think.

If you ever feel the need to coast at work and not give it your all, quitting isn’t a bad idea. But don’t do it quietly. Look for a company that inspires you. The issue could be your job. But I’d be willing to bet it’s the company culture that’s the problem.

There’s a saying in parenting that the days are long, and the years are short. The same goes for your career. Find something you love to do and then find a group of people you love to do that something with. Do that and I bet you see the real motivation behind going above and beyond.

MIKE SULLIVAN is president and CEO at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top Dallas advertising agency for digital, social, mobile and user experience. For more about challenger branding, advertising, and marketing, leadership, culture, and other inspirations that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on all of our posts.

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Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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