“Quiet quitting” is quite the rage on TikTok and has now appeared in mainstream media, including NYT, WSJ, NBC, Fox, etc. Gen Y Millenials (born 1981 to 1996) and the younger Gen Z (born 1997 to 2012) are particularly influenced by this trend of quiet quitting. The most influenced might be Gen Z, about 60% of TikTok users. The trouble is that these are impressionable young people growing up into teenage and young adulthood.
Naturally, managers are quite alarmed because it turns out that we are increasingly moving from the information age to the knowledge age. And to become a knowledgeable expert on anything needs 10,000 hours of work, as Malcolm Gladwell highlighted.
Everyone cannot become an Instagram/TikTok/YouTube star, just like most people are not able to make it to stardom in Hollywood or Broadway. And to sustain stardom in social media is hard and needs a lot of “work” ( yes, 10,000 hours), the very thing that quiet quitting objects to. Becoming a TikTok star involves posting frequently and making a persistent effort to come up with posts, graphics, and videos that inspire, outrage, and generally resonate with your audience.
What is Quiet Quitting?
As far as we can tell, quiet quitting is working your hours without putting your heart and soul into it. If you are a Barista at Starbucks you deliver the coffee with or without a genuine, enthusiastic smile. Is that a problem for Starbucks? Yes, it is because suddenly, the $5-10 fancy latte does not seem that special to the customer. More importantly, if a Barista serves without enthusiasm and spirit the bigger loser is the Barista, as we explain next.
Concept of Karma
Disclaimer: We do not claim expertise in theology or religious studies. Please consult whatever source or religion you prefer.
Organized religion arrived with agriculture. Agriculture is much harder sustained work than hunting and gathering. Authors like James Suzman point out that religion was needed to manage agriculture. People started living as a community in the village and domesticated animals with the goal of agriculture. Working on a farm involves hard deadlines. Feed the animals on time, milk the cows on time, and collect eggs on a timely basis. You cannot delay seeding or harvesting.
One of the fundamental ideas in Hinduism and later Buddhism is the idea of Karma or duty. When you do your duty sincerely as an offering to God without expecting any personal benefit or results, you are blessed and are rewarded in this life or your next birth. It turns out that when you work and derive purpose, meaning, and satisfaction from work – it becomes like play. Results follow incredibly, although Hindu scripture sternly asks you not to look for personal benefit. Since you are not thinking about any personal results or benefits you are completely free of “attachment” to the fruit of your efforts. This is naturally very hard to do, but if you can do it there is no stress while doing the work. And certainly no stress after work hours. The relevant verse from the Bhagwad Gita is Chapter 2, Verse 47.
In Christianity, the Calvinist Protestant work ethic is “work is worship,” and scholars believe this was a big driver of the Industrial revolution. And if you think about the success of America since its founding days by the pilgrims.
From the Industrial age (Henry Ford/ Taylor), we moved to the service age, and we believe that Gen Z and younger Gen Y are confusing the upcoming knowledge economy with the service economy as they justify quiet quitting.
Service Economy vs. Knowledge economy
In the service economy, you had the Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) worker who went through work training at, say, McDonald’s. The model of such training is wonderfully explained in the Netflix movie “The Founder.” However, today just observe the kind of specific requests that the customer has, for example, a burger with mayo and no lettuce. It does matter to the customer if they get what they ordered and the order taker and kitchen can get their act in sync. The competitive landscape has changed as you notice the extreme personalization at Subway. Or the special feeling at Chick-Fil-A.
A QSR worker focused on making a customer happy is likely to learn more about customer service than a student taking a marketing class. And that knowledge is tacit because the worker “knows” but can’t necessarily explain the steps that lead to customer happiness. (Oh well, a marketing class will help such an engaged worker far more than an inexperienced or disengaged worker). And that knowledge is valuable in creating more growth opportunities for such a worker in other industries or as an entrepreneur even in unrelated fields.
Our dear readers would know plumbers and electricians who know and care about what they are doing and a majority who do not. Both groups are qualified, have passed exams, and yet have been quietly quitting for years. Services like Angi and HomeAdvisor have high valuations because they try to separate the quiet quitters in the trades.
Moving up the knowledge chain, consider orthopedic surgeons. As pointed out in an earlier post Propublica has a public database of surgeons with fewer vs. more complications, as evidenced by repeat visits and insurance claims. Consider this: all surgeons are competent, qualified, tested, and certified. A majority, though, are like the majority of quiet quitting plumbers. They have personal competence, but someone in their team might drop the ball, and they don’t have the dedication to see that all pieces of their process (eg good physiotherapy after surgery) are working well.
To summarize, in every field of work, you already have many folks functioning as quiet quitters.
We just can’t afford the younger Gen Z to start quiet quitting.
To any quiet quitters among our dear readers: We confess to quietly quitting on many fronts but then recall the words of a mentor, “Every morning I wake up to a fresh start and convince myself that I have zero laurels I can rest on”!
And so we soldier on. And urge our dear readers to do the same.