Gen Zers like myself are finally entering the workforce. And while we’ve all quickly adapted to the office’s specific brand of oat milk, and the best bike route, what our generation of chronically-online, social media-savvy employees weren’t accounting for, is all of the ghastly and archaic technology left over from the 90s and early 00s.
I’m of course talking about machines like the daunting and imposing photocopier, or the printer that sits neglected, making whirring noises as though it’s threatening to explode every time someone reaches for the ‘on’ button.
Moving away from the safety and comfort of a Google Docs link or an AirDrop is a genuinely scary step to take when approaching your new office job. And apparently, this is a genuine symptom of a generation that has been praised as ‘tech-savvy’ and ‘digitally native’ their whole lives. Sure, content creators like Corporate Natalie help the transition, but it’s not always a smooth ride.
Garrett Bemiller, a 25-year-old New Yorker who works as a publicist, told The Guardian that “things like scanners and copy machines are complicated,” and shared that the first time he had to copy something in the office, he found himself having to reattempt several times. Luckily, veteran office workers quickly came to his aid.
Sarah Dexter, associate professor of education at the University of Virginia, told the publication that “there is a myth that kids were born into an information age, and that this all comes intuitively to them.” In reality, we’re not the all-knowing tech gods that so many millennials and gen Xers expect us to be—we still need to be taught how to use things.
The main difference is that we were brought up in an age of extreme user-friendly tech. There is a certain degree of intuitiveness that comes from being so familiar with the internet and apps, but this doesn’t always translate to a long stagnant office culture dynamic—one that seems to so often be living in the past.
Desktop computing is far less instinctive than the mobile, social world that gen Zers roam. It’s true that loud office computers and dense file systems are daunting for the information age.
This one is somewhat embarrassing, but a lot of us don’t seem to understand buttons either. You can’t swipe this computer screen open, as one Reddit user had to make evidently clear with the implementation of a sticker to point out the ‘on’ switch on-screen:
The struggle to adapt to the office environment was given a name by tech giant HP in a survey from November 2022. Dubbed ‘Tech Shame’ by the company, the research found that young people were far more likely to experience embarrassment over tech illiteracy or even a dodgy Wi-Fi connection than their more mature peers.
Debbie Irish, HP’s head of human resources in the UK and Ireland told WorkLife that the amount of shame younger colleagues experience may be a result of things like a lack of disposable income to afford better hardware and internet, versus older more seasoned employees, who are more likely to have higher wages. This divide between the old and the new may be why quiet quitting was such a prevalent trend in 2022.
Hybrid working is part of the problem, and needless to say, our time out of the office as a result of the global pandemic (remember that?) have made office tech seem even more alien to us.
Accessibility is taken for granted today thanks to the apps we find ourselves trapped in. Max Simon, corporate life content creator, told The Guardian that “it takes five seconds to learn how to use TikTok, you don’t need an instruction book, like you would with a printer.”
There is a clear divide between our paperless tech literacy and the physical machines we may encounter in our office jobs. We’ve been made shy because of the emphasis that is placed on us as tech-savvy, when in reality, we just know how to use google to solve our problems. It won’t be long before AI has us all out of the door anyway.
It was the spring of 2022 when Esther started withdrawing from the rat race their corporate life had customarily evolved into. “At one point I was logging over 44 hours a week just to be seen as a ‘productive employee’,” they admitted. “I had a life out of work, but I had no time to live that life after I left my office.”
It wasn’t until May of that year that the 24-year-old took a step back and started performing at, what their co-workers labelled as, “their bare minimum.” In practice, Esther clocked off and headed back to their apartment at the end of their shift, didn’t succumb to unpaid overtime and avoided putting their hands up for extra work. “I stopped responding to emails after I’d left [the office]—something that I used to do while working from home last year,” Esther said, adding how they always felt like they were at work even after having put their laptop away.
To date, Esther believes the voluntary shift they had implemented into their work life helped improve their mental and physical wellbeing—although it took a toll on the number of projects they used to sift through each day in their office. “It definitely gave me more time to spend with people I care about in my personal life and reflect on where I see myself professionally.”
But little did Esther know they would be one of the earliest envoys for a new breed of workers who are increasingly re-evaluating their priorities and unsubscribing from the hustle culture mentality we’ve all been brought up with. Welcome to the controversial—depends on who you ask—world of ‘quiet quitting’, a work culture trend TikTok touts as the ultimate hack to tackle burnout and get a renewed sense of job satisfaction.
According to TikToker @zkchillin, one of the creators credited with introducing the term to the gen Z-first platform, quiet quitting (also known as ‘coasting’) is a workplace shift where “you’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond.”
Without actually handing in your resignation, “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 creator went on to state in a viral video. “The reality is that it’s not, and your worth as a person is not defined by your productive output.” To confirm all of your suspicions, yes, quiet quitting ultimately refers to the practice of simply doing the job you were hired to do, no more and no less.
So what does quiet quitting look like when deployed in both office and work from home settings? “When we think of quiet quitting as going from exceeding expectations to simply meeting them, it may include arriving and finishing work on time, taking a proper lunch break, and not checking your emails or answering calls outside of work,” career and wellbeing coach Charlotte Grimmel told SCREENSHOT.
“However, to me, quiet quitting also has an air of minimal engagement, meaning you may not help your co-workers, say no to any new projects or responsibilities, do the bare minimum and simply clock in and out.”
Look at it this way, if quiet quitting was a subculture, you’d see members gathered on a Discord server with the tagline ‘Work to live, not live to work’, as they play Beyoncé’s brand new single ‘Break My Soul’ on repeat and sing along to the verses: “They work me so damn hard / Work by nine, then off past five / And they work my nerves, that’s why I cannot sleep at night.” Oh and you can definitely visualise them cancelling Kim Kardashian even more for her viral comments urging other women in business to “get your f*cking ass up and work.”
According to a 2022 workplace report by marketing research firm Gallup, only nine per cent of workers in the UK are engaged or enthusiastic about their jobs, ranking 33rd out of 38 European countries. An NHS staff survey conducted in the autumn of 2021 also showed that morale had dropped from 6.1 to 5.8 out of 10, while staff engagement fell from 7.0 to 6.8.
In the same year, a LinkedIn survey found Americans to be “sheltering” in their jobs as they waited for the COVID-19 pandemic to blow over to seek better career opportunities. Some of the top reasons participants gave for staying in their jobs included “collecting a steady paycheck, taking advantage of company benefits, wanting to wait for a more favourable job market, and having no time or energy to focus on a job hunt.”
When queried about the rise of quiet quitting in 2022, Grimmel explained how reasons for going down the path will ultimately vary. “But in many ways, I see this as the result of a process many people went through during the pandemic: re-assessing their priorities and their work lives,” she said. “In doing so, they have gained a new perspective on the ‘rat race’ and their own work-life balance.”
According to the expert, it’s also becoming increasingly difficult to make the age-old hustle culture mentality relevant again after this shift, even though several businesses are trying to reel back to how things were before the pandemic.
“Another thing that comes to mind is a general mental fatigue many of us are feeling after the past two years. A large group of people are simply feeling chronically exhausted and overwhelmed, and quiet quitting may well be a result of that,” she continued.
Mehar Sindhu Batra, founder and CEO of MSB Vision, further echoed these thoughts by stating how people have had the time to reflect on their expectations, career choices and the kind of life they want for themselves in the long run following the pandemic.
“Things have shifted, mentality and thinking have certainly changed,” the expert explained, as she went on to highlight the difference between quiet quitting and the Great Resignation. “People who are stuck in a toxic work environment have learned to stop investing their time and effort in doing something they aren’t satisfied with and have held back giving it their 100 per cent on a daily basis (known as quiet quitting) or have outrightly quit their day jobs, taken a risk and started pursuing something that fuels their passion (aka the Great Resignation).”
On TikTok, posts about quiet quitting have allegedly been inspired by Chinese social media, where a now-censored hashtag, #TangPing (translates to ‘lying flat’), went viral following the county’s shrinking workforce and unchecked obsession with long working hours. On the platform, quiet quitting is recommended as an effective way to treat burnout while renewing one’s sense of contentment.
But how fine is the line between the practice effectively tackling burnout and evolving into phase two of the Great Resignation? “If a person is genuinely not enjoying what they’re doing, if their passion lies elsewhere, they shouldn’t waste their time doing a job that doesn’t satiate their passion for working,” Batra said. “Quiet quitting implies that they work at the same unsatisfactory job for other reasons such as financial security, procrastination or simply lack of motivation to find a job that’s more fulfilling.”
The CEO went on to state that if a person likes their job, but faces burnout, they could “try quiet quitting for a short while, self-reflect on what’s causing that and try to strike a balance to jump back in when they feel better.”
In my chat with Devika, who was once a design lead at a fashion brand headquartered in India, the gen Zer highlighted how some employees simply can’t afford quiet quitting. In a country which drills the so-called affirmation “work hard and you’ll get far” worse than its nutritional obsession with almonds, Devika had always wanted to quiet quit her job following multiple fallouts and lack of encouragement but didn’t have the option to do so. “I was in a higher position and I had people working under me, some of whom quiet quit themselves,” she admitted. “So whether I gave my 100 per cent or not, I was ultimately held answerable to the higher ups.”
With no raise or signs of progress at her workplace, Devika eventually handed over her resignation in May 2022 and quit the firm the following month. “I reached a place where I was like, ‘Hey, I’m exhausted by everything and this is where I finally draw the line’,” she said.
Krishna, a freshly-graduated copywriter, also mentioned how—although he always gives his 110 per cent at his job—has quiet quit impressing his manager at work. “Quiet quitting is good if you have a game plan,” he said, adding how there’s a possibility that others can capitalise their progress at the expense of someone else’s voluntary withdrawal from daily tasks.
According to Batra, this is one of the major risks involved with taking this approach in one’s career. “If people overdo quiet quitting, it could pose a threat to their job. If an employee doesn’t take initiative and is a silent worker, there are many others who could swoop in, take their position and prove themselves to be better at the same job,” she explained.
“Quiet quitting is only justified if you want to pause the chaos for a short period of time without compromising on the quality of your work. It’s not a long-term solution. So if you feel like you’re dealing with this, take some time off and talk to your mentor, coach or manager and figure out what’s important for you going forward.”
As of today, it’s no surprise to see quiet quitting being used synonymously with ‘laziness’, ‘sneaky slacking’ and ‘snoozefest’. In fact, our bouts with corporate and hustle culture make the practice look like a shameful and radical transgression when it’s anything but—provided you’re aware of the boundaries you’ve set for yourself.
“On the surface, quiet quitting may seem like an ideal way to tap out of stress without losing the security of your job,” Grimmel explained. “However, we know that work can be an important source of engagement and meaning. It can help us to feel like we’re contributing to something greater than ourselves—all of these are key elements to flourishing in life.”
According to the expert, while realistic workloads and appropriate boundaries are incredibly important, prolonged disengagement won’t increase your happiness in any way. “If you’re considering quiet quitting, I’d recommend you take a closer look at what’s really going on. If it’s a serious case of dissatisfaction, it’s important that you address the root of this,” she advised. “If you’ve simply realised that work shouldn’t take over your entire life and you’re setting boundaries and standing up to hustle culture for the first time—more power to you.”
Either way, at the end of the day, just remember that your worth is not defined by the work you do and your job doesn’t have to be your identity unless you willingly choose to make it so yourself. So go ahead and mute your Slack after work on days that you feel like taking a well-deserved break and shake off those Sunday night dreads with some mind-numbing scrolls through TikTok. Allow yourself to channel the ultimate ‘gen Zers entering the workforce’ energy.