Quiet Quitting: The Work-Life Debate Is Having Another Viral Moment

A viral TikTok has reignited a debate around how people approach their jobs.

Erin Carson Former Senior Writer
Erin Carson covered internet culture, online dating and the weird ways tech and science are changing your life.
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Erin Carson
5 min read
A woman sits with a laptop, looking out a large window with her dog.

Quiet quitting is gaining steam on TikTok.


Months after "the Great Resignation" entered the collective vocabulary, the question of what, exactly, a person owes their employer is having yet another viral moment. 

At the end of July, @zaidlepppelin posted on TikTok about a phrase called "quiet quitting." It's the idea of meeting the requirements of a job and not much more. The video has since racked up more than 3.5 million views, while the hashtag has more than 81 million views from other TikTokers chiming in with their views on the broader idea, and even the term itself.

The concept is reigniting another debate over work-life balance, with proponents saying it's just a necessary call for boundaries while critics bemoan a perceived lack of initiative and slacker attitude. 

As always, it's not clear cut. Here's what you need to know about quiet quitting. 

What is quiet quitting?

Quiet quitting is the idea of doing your job and nothing more. In the original viral TikTok, @zaidlepppelin described it like this: "You're still performing your duties but you're no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life. The reality is it's not, and your worth as a person is not defined by your labor."

Is quiet quitting new?

In a word, no. 

"It's popular now because of the hashtag," said Jha'nee Carter, who goes by @_thehrqueen on TikTok where she talks about leadership and employee advocacy.

Although the phrase "quiet quitting" has only gained traction in the last few weeks, the struggle to find a balance between work and personal life is far older. The National Labor Union first (if unsuccessfully) asked Congress to establish the eight-hour work day in 1866. 

A century later, American pop group The Vogues sang about the bliss of being off the clock in their 1965 song Five O'Clock World: "It's a five o'clock world when the whistle blows. No one owns a piece of my time."

These days, you're more apt to hear about achieving a healthy "work-life balance." 

The trend shows up globally at times, too. In July 2021, Brookings wrote about the "lying-flat" movement in China, where a culture that prioritizes overwork started to clash with a feeling of stagnation among workers, particularly among younger people. In April of that year, the concept went viral.

"For some, 'lying flat' promises release from the crush of life and work in a fast-paced society and technology sector where competition is unrelenting. For China's leadership, however, this movement of passive resistance to the national drive for development is a worrying trend," the article said, also explaining that China has aimed to "end its reliance on imported technology," hence driving a particular pressure in the tech sector. 

What's the controversy?

Some of the controversy around quiet quitting surrounds the question of whether this is a healthy approach to your job, or whether you're being a slacker. 

"The tether to the workplace … the expectations and exploitation of employers is so extreme now, that just doing your job is considered quitting," said Leigh Henderson. You might have run into Henderson on TikTok as @hrmanifesto, where she uses her more than 15 years of experience in the corporate world to talk about everything from dealing with your toxic job to interviewing for a new one.

She was initially confused by the idea of quiet quitting, thinking how is that "different from just work life balance, creating boundaries, having priorities, and just having a life?" Henderson says it should the be responsibility of employers to keep their employees engaged.

And on TikTok, people have questioned whether anyone should be expected to put in more work than they're being compensated for. 

Not everyone sees it that way. Kevin O'Leary from ABC's Shark Tank took to TikTok to say, "Quiet quitting is a really bad idea. If you're a quiet quitter, you're a loser." O'Leary did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a video on CNBC, he said you're hired at a company to make the business work, and you should go above and beyond because you want to – and that's how to get ahead.

TikTokers have pointed out that to the ears of an employer, quiet quitting could sound like suddenly getting less out of their employees, regardless of whether those employees were getting paid to do the extra work anyway.

What's more, the term itself – quitting – has a negative connotation. Henderson thinks of it as "quiet survival," and it's something she's done in her own career. In a follow up TikTok, Henderson said, "I was saving myself from the toxic work environment and protecting myself from the toxic work environment that my employer not only established and facilitated but continually benefited from." 

Why are people talking about quiet quitting now?

The easy answer is that this particular TikTok went viral at the end of July. But circumstances have been ripe for this for much longer, according to Matt Walden, managing partner at Infinity Consulting Solutions, who has been working in the recruiting space for more than two decades. He pins some of this moment to burnout. 

For one, Walden looks to the pandemic – as employees shifted to remote work, often it could be more difficult to compartmentalize work and home life. It's easy to keep your laptop open and answer a few extra emails while cooking dinner, perhaps. 

"Work from home was a blessing for many. And for others, it had people working more than they've ever worked, unknowingly, in isolation," Walden said. 

Quiet quitting also comes in the wake of the Great Resignation, the term for the phenomenon of American workers quitting their jobs in record numbers, often to pursue better pay, benefits and flexibility, or even just to dodge going back to an office. A July report from McKinsey called it the "quitting trend that just won't quit." Although open jobs in the US fell to 10.7 million in June from 11.25 in May, the report said it's likely openings won't return to a more normal range for a while.

Another possible facet is a backlash to hustle culture – the mentality that calls for optimizing every minute of your life for productivity and glorifies non-stop work. 

Henderson also pointed out that there's a whopping four generations in the workforce now, bringing with them different perspectives, attitudes and experiences which inform their relationship with work. 

"Make no mistake that Gen Z employees watched those Gen X parents stick the finger right to corporate America," Henderson said.

Who is quiet quitting?

While there are no numbers on quiet quitting, Walden said he wouldn't characterize this as a tidal wave trend. Though Gen Z is being largely associated with quiet quitting, demographic breakdowns from the Great Resignation show they're not the only generation reappraising work. 

And not everyone has the luxury of quiet quitting. 

"In order to climb that corporate ladder as a person of color, I believe that it's a necessity to go above and beyond," Carter said, talking about how those in minority groups, like people of color, don't always have the same resources available to them, so upping their skills, getting in the right rooms with the right people to network, and the like takes more work. She also says it takes learning to advocate for yourself in order to not end up burned out and exploited.