Employers aren’t too worried about workers joining the quiet quitting movement, says Wharton management professor Matthew Bidwell.
In the current tight labor market, they are far more concerned about recruitment and retention than a TikTok-inspired trend that describes doing the bare minimum at work.
“Their big questions are: How do we hang on to people? How do we find new people, the right people? And how do we strike this balance between giving people the flexibility to work from home, which they want, while also maintaining some cohesive organizational culture,” Bidwell said during an interview with Wharton Business Daily on SiriusXM. “I think those things, much more than quiet quitting, are what’s on people’s minds.”
The quiet quitting movement began making headlines in August, a month after Zaid Khan, a 24-year-old engineer from New York, posted a video about it that quickly went viral with more than 8 million views. Quiet quitting is not about ghosting work or deliberately performing poorly enough to be fired. It’s about leaving the office after eight hours, not answering emails at night, and not going above and beyond required duties.
“You’re still performing your duties, but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life,” Khan said in the video. “The reality is it’s not, and your worth as a person isn’t defined by your labor.”
“I think most people are somewhat pessimistic about the labor market, but we’re not seeing it yet.”— Matthew Bidwell
The trend has been taking off as workers emerge from pandemic-related burnout and self-reflection about what’s really important in life. But Bidwell said the current generation of workers isn’t the first to feel conflicted; tension between building a successful career and a fulfilling personal life has always existed. Most people simply don’t have enough time or energy to do both.
“If I would go back over the last 30 years, I bet every year you would find an article that describes how young professionals today are discovering there’s more to life than work and describing a trend of young professionals giving it all up to form a small artisanal business and that sort of thing,” he said. “We’ve always seen this tension.”
In his work, Bidwell often talks with executives and HR professionals, and they tell him that quiet quitting isn’t the thing that keeps them up at night. They are always concerned about productivity and getting the best performance out of their employees, but that has taken a temporary backseat to more urgent worries over burnout and resignations. Nearly 4.3 million workers voluntarily quit their jobs in August, marking a record over the last two decades of government data.
“Whether that will continue to be the case is probably the question that everyone is asking,” Bidwell said about the high rate of resignations.
The professor said the labor market is “really confusing” right now for employers because the numbers don’t make a lot of sense. Interest rates are rising, GDP is flat, and the tight labor market is just beginning to soften — although not by much. Unemployment rose by two-tenths of a percent in August to 3.7%, which is still historically low.
“It’s bizarre. We’ve got all these indicators pointing in completely different directions,” Bidwell said. “I think most people are somewhat pessimistic about the labor market, but we’re not seeing it yet.”