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A look at 'quiet quitting' — and whether it's a good or bad thing

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Closing your laptop at 5 p.m. sharp, doing your assigned tasks and no more, spending more time with your family - now, are all these admirable actions demonstrating that you have set boundaries or examples of the latest workplace trend that some are calling quiet quitting? Well, Amina Kilpatrick is an engagement editor here at NPR, and she has been looking into quiet quitting. Hi, Amina.

AMINA KILPATRICK, BYLINE: Hello.

KELLY: Hi. OK, so start with just the term quiet quitting and whether that's even the right way to describe it because it sounds like quiet quitting doesn't actually involve quitting your job.

KILPATRICK: Yeah, completely right. Quiet quitting doesn't actually involve quitting. It confused me when I first heard of the term as well. Instead, it's been deemed a response to hustle culture and burnout. Employees are, I guess, quitting going above and beyond, declining to do the tasks that they are not being paid for. It all started on the platform where most things have started to go trending these days - TikTok. In July, a video was posted that went viral, sharing a user's experience encountering quiet quitting for the first time. In the following weeks, many users have shared their own responses, and the hashtag #quietquitting now has over 12 million views on the platform.

Quiet quitting is in line with a larger reevaluation of how work fits into our lives and not the other way around. As Gen Z is entering the workforce, the idea of quiet quitting has gained traction as we are dealing with burnout and never-ending demands.

KELLY: And as a proud Gen Xer, I got to (laughter) - wondering if there's a generational divide on this. We were all told, work hard and you'll reap the rewards. For people who think quiet quitting is not necessarily a bad thing, just tell me more about critics of the term.

KILPATRICK: So critics of the term believe that it places the onus on the worker for doing the job they're being paid for and thus quitting. You know, workplace culture has gone through so many different changes during the COVID-19 pandemic, you know, with the great resignation.

KELLY: Yeah.

KILPATRICK: You know, some workers are negotiating for better work conditions and benefits with newfound leverage. Others have expressed the desire for a less rigid line between, you know, work and their personal selves, you know, trying to do what more closely aligns to their values instead of sit down, shut up and go home.

KELLY: Right.

KILPATRICK: So here's Ed Zitron, the CEO of EZPR, a media consulting business for tech startups.

ED ZITRON: Quiet quitting is just capitalism crying. It is just a term that exists where remote work has made it harder to force workers to work longer hours because the office was great at creating dogma.

KILPATRICK: He believes the term stems from companies exploiting their employees' labor and how these businesses benefit from a culture of overwork without additional compensation. It's reasonable for employees to push back against that, he told me.

ZITRON: The only thing that should be discussed here is why the word quitting is being used to refer to people who are both employed and literally doing their job. All that this conversation is, is a way of demonizing workers who aren't doing free labor.

KELLY: Free labor - all right, Amina, so is there a solution here? If we are a boss or, you know, in a work environment and we see a colleague quietly quitting, what do we do?

KILPATRICK: Well, for Zitron, who doesn't even believe that quiet quitting really exists, he would say, pay them for extra work. For workers, there's really nothing wrong with doing the work you are paid for. If you feel like you're experiencing burnout at work, setting boundaries can help you regain some control. Additionally, working on addressing any workplace conflict head-on can make a situation easier, or it might just be the sign that it's time to move on.

KELLY: All right. Amina Kilpatrick, thanks for coming and sharing your reporting.

KILPATRICK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Amina Kilpatrick
Amina Kilpatrick is an assistant engagement editor for the Newshub team distributing stories to Facebook, Twitter, third-party platforms and more.