By now you’ve probably read more than a few articles discussing the trend known as quiet quitting—abandoning the idea of going above and beyond at work. (Is it good? Is it bad? Is it even happening at all?) But log onto TikTok and you’ll find plenty of stories of people riding that wave—”acting their wage”, not overtly worrying or stressing, and asking to be valued—with the hashtag #quietquitting, which has received more than 120M views and sparked a national debate on hustle culture and burnout.
It’s not entirely surprising as a trend, during a time when workers are re-evaluating everything from what hours they’re available to where they punch keys. The ethics of the practice aside, for some, there may be silver linings. In closely re-examining their relationships to their jobs, people are discovering something’s broken—and waking up to something new. No one knows this better than Leigh Henderson, an influential voice on #quietquitting on TikTok.
Henderson left a 15-year career in corporate HR to escape a miserable work environment and become a creator. “I was so out of whack, and it hurt in all ways,” she says. After her departure, she became a career coach, and launched HRManifesto, a site that helps people survive—and escape—toxic work settings.
Here, Henderson shares what opportunities exist for creators right now, the key things employees and employers should take away from this heated debate, and what quiet quitting means for the future of work.
The idea behind quiet quitting isn’t new, so why are people talking about it now?
Well, it’s several things. We’ve got the convergence of four generations in the workplace: the baby boomers, the Gen X’ers, the Millennials, and now the Gen Z’ers. And every generation is motivated and driven by different things because of the way they grew up. For example, Gen Z is the generation of “quiet quitters”—AKA people who don’t put work first above all things—but if we look at who raised them, is it any surprise they wouldn't invest everything in their job after watching their parents get laid off, 9/11, wars, and the financial crisis?
On top of that, we’re finding ourselves in very volatile and high-stress times, which has caused people to go through stages of re-evaluating their relationship with life and work, resulting in resigning to reshuffling and now quiet quitting.
And one of the newest things we have now that we didn’t have before are large social platforms, like TikTok, that are giving people a voice. Before, we would just all talk about it insularly within our organizations, like complaining at the watercooler, but now people are taking those complaints to social media. So the nuance is that we're taking conversations that have traditionally and historically just happened in the workplace and now we're bringing them into our lives.
One common struggle for people who quiet quit is work-life balance. How do you draw the line between sane work schedule and complete demotivation?
Having boundaries and balance means that you have that life piece, but you also have joy at work. You see an impact that you're making. You feel as though there's movement and progression in what you're doing, and that there's purpose.
Demotivation is typically coupled with a lack of joy, discontentment, depression, anxiety—just complete disengagement. One is very forward thinking and the other feels like a flat line, like there’s nothing to look forward to. You should be able to maintain a healthy work-life balance without feeling demotivated if the job is a good fit.
Are there any upsides to this trend on an individual level?
Quiet quitting can inspire folks to really do some self-reflecting and think about their current situation and whether or not they’re satisfied. In a majority of cases of quiet quitting, people are probably experiencing something to disengage from. So this should be a wake-up call to analyze, “Do you fit? Do you feel comfortable? Have you outgrown the organization? Has it outgrown you? Are you as satisfied as you could be with how you spend the majority of your time?” It’s providing an opportunity to explore and find your authentic self, which is a privilege.
For me personally, asking myself those questions led to actually quitting, but the second I stopped working in the corporate world, I started writing and creating content. Gone are the days I don’t get to be my whole self [and now] I can have a career being the creative that I truly am.
Speaking of creatives, what opportunities does this discussion establish for aspiring creators?
It certainly leads to introspection. People are asking, “Do I only want to do what I'm actually paid to do so that I could carve space for what brings me joy? And is what brings me joy more on the creative side? And maybe I don't feel fulfilled in that way during my 9-to-5.” I have a couple friends who left their 9-to-5 because they recognized and realized that it didn’t bring them joy or satisfy that creative need the way content creation does. Content creation is a medium that really adds value for folks who consider themselves artists. So quiet quitting has inspired aspiring creators to try and get themselves out there in a different way.
What advice would you give to these creators?
First, I want to recognize that I have the absolute privilege to be my authentic self. I had paid my dues, saved money, and was already at a point in my career where I was like, “anything goes.” So I could be brave and courageous and explore my other passion, which was being a creator. And I do think that there's this stereotype or this generalization that all influencers make a ton of money, but it doesn’t always work that way. It’s a real thoughtful decision you have to make. Do good work, but have boundaries so that you can start to foster and nurture something creative outside of work and see where it takes you.
When it comes to quiet quitting, what role do employers have?
I think it's important that companies recognize that having great talent is a privilege. Workers have choices and because we’re so much more global, especially with remote work now, people can choose where they want to work. Workers vote with their feet every single day by choosing to go into their place of work, so I hope through this discussion companies are reminded that they are accountable for employee engagement.
Beyond paying employees, companies need to give them a place worth working for, where they are feeling connected and have a sense of belonging. They also need to have a high “say do” ratio, meaning that they are actually going to do what they say. Many companies lack that accountability and responsibility to the promises that they made their employees at the start.
Another thing that organizations need to do is create cultures and environments that people can actually be successful and supported within. For example, managers need to be open to feedback, there needs to be trust between everyone, and there needs to be lines of communication internally. Employees shouldn’t need to worry about anything other than focusing on doing impactful work. If they’re in a toxic work environment, they can’t focus on doing a wonderful job. What they’ll do instead is disengage for self-preservation, AKA quiet quitting.
Is any of this going to leave long-lasting impact or permanently change our work culture?
This is just part of a larger conversation that we will continue to have as our society shifts. What this really does is promote a better way to have very open conversations and share our opinions on what we want societally as it pertains to work. And although change may come slow, it eventually comes.