The “silent shutdown” struck a chord. This means more time for friends, family and personal activities, not to mention the secondary hustle and bustle. But the latest workplace trend has its drawbacks.
TikTok and Twitter are full of explainer videos and endless interpretations. Despite what the name suggests, quietly quitting doesn’t mean handing in a letter of resignation. Instead, it’s a stealthy retreat from the culture of turmoil that dominated the pre-pandemic era of giving up everything in pursuit of ambition. Silent Surrender is the new moniker for doing the bare minimum of the job description.
Should you also quietly stop? Here’s why and why not:
Zaid Khan, 24, who created a popular silent abandonment video on TikTok, said he started exploring “labour reform” and the r/AntiWork subreddit during the COVID-19 lockdown when his work has become very consuming.
“I realized that no matter how much work I put into it, I wouldn’t see the payoff I expected,” Khan, a software developer and musician, said in an interview. “Overwork only gets you so far in corporate America. And as many of us have experienced in recent years, mental and physical health really takes a back seat to productivity in many of these structured corporate environments.
According to a report released by the American Psychological Association in January, the type of burnout and stress Khan has experienced has reached unprecedented heights across all industries during the pandemic.
Organizational psychologist Ben Granger, head of employee experience consulting services at polling firm Qualtrics, said quiet shutdown can be a way to protect mental and physical health in a toxic work environment. But staying in miserable work and doing the bare minimum means giving up the fulfillment that can come from good work.
For his part, Khan ended up quitting for real for a new manager who respects his work-life boundaries. “He tells me all the time, your health comes first,” he said. “If you ever need to take a day off or need to take time off, there’s a lot more than work we do.”
Antrell Vining, 25, works as a project manager in the financial sector. As a side hustle after hours, he creates social media content about the tech industry and the working lives of Millennials and Gen Z. After dropping out of medical school to pursue a career in technology, he works to help others make similar career changes. With nearly 30,000 followers on TikTok, Vining makes money by offering career and resume consulting services and through corporate partnerships, he said.
For him, quitting quietly means setting boundaries so he has the time and energy to pursue his passion project.
In one video, which satirizes the silent shutdown in action, he shuts down his laptop in the middle of a Zoom meeting at 5 p.m. sharp.
A streak of entrepreneurship has coincided with the pandemic, and a record 5.4 million new businesses were started in the United States last year, according to census data.
“Everyone is some kind of entrepreneur these days and we would much rather put that extra energy into our own businesses outside of a 9 to 5,” Vining said via email. “Once 5 p.m., I take a break and get to work on my own stuff or spend some much-needed time with my friends and family,” he said. “I love creating content that reminds people they should do the same.”
Of course, not everyone is comfortable with quitting quietly. There are many reasons why people feel the need to keep their jobs at all costs, whether it’s healthcare, a steady paycheck, or any other perks that traditional corporate jobs provide. Putting that at risk may be too big a bet to make.
Jha’nee Carter, 38, who calls herself the Queen of HR on TikTok, said the silent shutdown has added risks for marginalized groups. “Can minorities afford to do this in corporate America? In my opinion, I’m going to say no,” Carter, a business coach and content creator, said in a video.
Structural inequalities remain in many sectors in the United States: gender and racial pay disparities, as well as a general lack of diversity in leadership suites, are well documented.
“If you quit quietly and don’t go above and beyond, unfortunately in corporate America, minorities are held to a different standard,” she said. “We are looked at differently, there are always unconscious biases, and so we have to go above and beyond to be successful. We can’t risk being seen as underperforming, if we don’t meet those expectations, we’re first on the chopping block.
The silent abandonment has gone viral at a time of great uncertainty in the job market. With a war for talent and more jobs than workers in the entire economy, employees have taken over their bosses. But a looming recession and layoffs at top companies such as Apple Inc., Peloton Interactive Inc. and Walmart Inc. indicate the balance of power could be shifting.
A new survey by consultancy PwC found that half of respondents in the US said they were downsizing or planning to do so. A July report from Joblist, a job search platform, found that 60% of job seekers feel more urgency to find a new one now before economic conditions change.
“Companies are firing people fast,” Carter added in her video. “And so, if you’ve decided to quit quietly, I really hope you quietly ask a recruiter to look for another job for you.”