Anti-ambition is flourishing on TikTok. Everywhere you look, the youths are making fun of “girlbosses” and evangelizing the “soft life.” People are so burnt out they’re striving for mediocrity and Side-Character Energy. By now you’ve probably caught wind of “quiet quitting,” a confusingly named concept that has recently exploded on the app, triggering many, many opinions.
Advocates of quiet quitting seem to agree that the basic principle is not overworking, though what exactly that means or how it is achieved is subject to individual interpretation. In the spirit of the great resignation, it’s often framed as some kind of life hack for “quitting” without losing your salary — which of course, by definition, isn’t quitting. The term seems less indicative of a definitive life change and more a shift in attitude. In a video that’s been credited with helping the term go viral, Zaid Khan introduced the concept as “not outright quitting your job but quitting the idea of going above and beyond” and linked quiet quitting to the belief that “your worth as a person is not defined by your labor.”
Another user, Gabrielle Judge, explained, “You’re still performing your duties, but you’re kind of doing the bare minimum and escaping from that hustle culture.” Other videos reference sticking to your working hours and not taking on extra work unless you’re paid for it. In one especially confusing TikTok, Clayton Farris proclaimed that since quiet quitting, “Nothing’s changed. I still work just as hard. I still get just as much accomplished. I just don’t stress and internally rip myself to shreds.”
It’s not entirely clear where the term “quiet quitting” came from. Some have speculated it’s an evolution of a Chinese movement called “Tang Ping” or “lying flat,” a similar rejection of China’s own overworking culture that took off last year and was condemned by the Chinese Communist Party and censored on social media. “Quiet quitting” has been used in the U.S. since at least March, when YouTuber Timothy Ward described it as doing “just enough to get by and not get fired” — also known as “coasting,” an approach to work which existed long before the current hashtag cycle.
If anything, it seems like quiet quitters are just striving to set healthy boundaries between their jobs and their personal lives. Fully logging off at the time you’re supposed to: great. Not doing free labor for your employer: also great. The main confusion seems to be what any of that has to do with “quitting,” as opposed to just … meeting your job expectations?
Scrolling through “quiet quitting” videos feels a little like watching TikTokers read my union contract as if it’s a magical text offering the key to happiness. To be fair, for many people, it clearly does feel revelatory. The principles of quiet quitting are certainly not what my internship programs, career prep courses, mentors, even my family, led me to believe about work, which is that you get promotions by proving you’re working the hardest, being the first one at the office, saying yes to everything, and taking on work above your pay grade in the hopes that you’ll get a raise for it down the line.
Many workplaces thrive on their ability to exploit their employees’s willingness to go above and beyond, which is probably why the idea of employees refusing to do work outside their contracts has been met with so much hand-wringing. A spate of corporate leaders have already swooped in to reinforce the tenets of hustle culture: Arianna Huffington penned a lengthy LinkedIn diatribe calling the term an “invasive species” and proclaiming, “quiet quitting isn’t just about quitting on a job, it’s a step toward quitting on life.” Businessman Kevin O’Leary said in a CNBC video that “you have to go beyond because you want to. That’s how you achieve success.”
Maybe so. But it appears more people are questioning who is actually served by the stress of overtime and hours of uncompensated labor. Not everyone has the privilege to actually quit, and not everyone thinks of work as something they have to be passionate about or fulfilled by. Whatever quiet quitting is, its resonance suggests more of us are finally recognizing our jobs for what they are: the stuff you have to do to earn a living.
But likening that change to “quitting” only reinforces the same nonstop hustle culture that’s gotten us here: If you’re not putting 110 percent into your job, you might as well not be working at all. I’m all in favor of sticking to what I was paid to do — but as long as I’m still employed, I’ll just be calling that work.