Quiet quitting: what TikTok has to say about "silent quitters

After the "big quit", the quiet quitting appeared in July 2022. With this term, the Gallup polling institute refers to people who "don't go above and beyond at work, and are content to meet their job description". Does silent resignation reflect a gradual disengagement from one's professional duties? Is it a prelude to professional change?

Sylvie Rascol-Boutard, University of Montpellier and Aurélia El Yacoubi, University of Montpellier

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To try and understand this supposedly silent phenomenon, we went to investigate a rather noisy place: TikTok. All videos posted between July and December 2022 were analyzed, along with their comments, which emerged by entering the keywords "quiet quitting".

The videos feature a wide variety of profiles from all over the world. The manual and automated textualanalysis we carried out, which was the subject of a paper presented at the 2023 congress of the Association francophone de gestion des ressources humaines(AGRH), highlighted a number of major features of the phenomenon.

Reasonable or lazy?

"No longer committed", "no involvement", "disconnected from the company's values","defined by something other than work". Those who resign silently are first and foremost witnessing a loss of meaning and discomfort at work. Manifest signs of this silent resignation are disengagement, demotivation and detachment from work. Their wishes include a better work-life balance and greater respect for their private sphere. Silent resignation can even be presented as self-evident: it's just a matter of "doing your job normally", of "working in a sensible way"; it's even sometimes asserted virulently.

Some then continue to work as normal, but without exceeding certain self-imposed limits: "no overtime","no additional tasks". They say they "do the bare minimum"; they may also knowingly "hand in work late", or even claim "non-compliance with schedules".

Many people play with the limits of what they can (and can't) do. "Taking breaks" is allowed, but overdoing it is unprofessional, even prohibited. The issue is the blurred boundary between what the employee establishes and what is acceptable to the employer. Often, the silent resigner is qualified as such, because the boundary, if crossed, is hardly perceptible or reprehensible. This is referred to as "withdrawal" behavior.

More critical approaches to silent resigners come from people in management positions. For them, the silent quitter is lazy, "lazy". They lack ambition and are "cheating their employer". Their behavior is counter-productive, a waste of the company's time, and they "don't want to move on".

Taking a back seat

Several reasons are put forward to explain the silent resignation. The first relates to remuneration below the level expected given the work accomplished: the wish is to "work at the level of ["his"] salary". A perceived injustice would thus be redressed.

Another family of reasons concerns the perceived work overload. The silent quitter has "no time, no vacations"; he suffers from "overwork". They may also feel that they have "no recognition from ["their"] employer for ["their"] work". Some of the reasons given also concern societal issues to which they are reacting: a "deep malaise [" inherent in "] the world of work" as a whole; "post-Covid reflection and questioning"; or "the aftermath of the big resignation".

When this takes the form of withdrawal behavior, is it an upstream phase of professional change? Perhaps these silent resigners are engaged in a gradual process of organizational disinvestment. Withdrawal behavior could be a protection used by the individual, a strategy of psychological disinvestment to, for example, guard against a possible burn-out.

Waiting for a change, our tiktokeurs would maintain a minimal level of activity. They might also calculate their involvement at work in order to become more involved in their private sphere, naming this posture by a fashionable term. Finally, because they're on their way out, at the end of their contract for example, they would naturally disengage from the organization and their work. We therefore have a number of hypotheses as to their subsequent career paths, which could be explored in more in-depth, longitudinal research.

For HR, spotting weak signals

Nonetheless, this research opens up new prospects for human resources managers in terms of detecting professional transitions before they actually occur.

In the run-up to a professional change, weak signals are emitted. Silent resignation could be one of them. By identifying disinvestment, however inconspicuous, or refusal to take on responsibilities or work overtime, the human resources manager can detect individuals who need to be re-engaged with the work team. He can also facilitate their professional transition, whether internal or external to the organization.

Our research does not allow us to draw any definitive conclusions over the long term: silent resigners may or may not decide to leave, to continue behaving in this way or not. And the social network studied is not without its limitations and biases. However, the richness of the verbatim data, the diversity of the respondents, and the consistency of the data and their analysis with the literature on professional change make it a fascinating source of material, particularly for understanding a phenomenon that claims to be silent.

Sylvie Rascol-Boutard, Senior Lecturer in Management Sciences, University of Montpellier and Aurélia El Yacoubi, PhD student in Management Sciences, University of Montpellier

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.