Turns Out Quiet Quitting Is Actually Just… Us Being Human

Quiet quitting

‘Quiet quitting’ — a mindset shift that sees you rejecting the idea work must take over your life — was easily the biggest career trend of 2022. But was it actually a new trend or just a name given to a fundamental aspect of human nature? The two authors of the article ‘Are Our Brains Wired to Quiet Quit?’ for the Harvard Business Review think the latter.

“In the face of persistent and inescapable stressors, people often respond by simply giving up,” David Rock and Jay Dixit write. “When nothing is in your control, why even try?”

Originally called ‘learned helplessness’, and developed in the 1960s, the theory has since evolved and been renamed ‘default passivity’. The new theory, studied by neuroscience, says that shutting down and passively accepting the status quo is the normal human response to prolonged aversive events. It’s not learned — it’s our default.

In other words, when we’re in the middle of a two-year-long pandemic or working in a job we hate, it’s human nature to just give up.

Related: Career Cushioning Could Help Keep You in a Job, So How Do You Do It?

Related: Considering ‘Quiet Quitting’? A Career Coach Shares 4 Things to Keep in Mind

“People have been stressed for years, but they don’t have the freedom to just up and quit,” Rock and Dixit write. “Feeling powerless to escape a stressful situation, they respond in a way we now know is normal and predictable: by becoming passive.”

They wind up only doing the bare minimum. Also known as quiet quitting, which, if you remember last year, was first introduced to us by TikTokker @zkchillin who described it as “still performing your duties, but you’re no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life”.

So, all that said, what can managers do about employees tempted to quiet quit? Rock and Dixit suggest two options. Firstly, look for opportunities to give employees more autonomy. Secondly, encourage employees to exercise the autonomy they already have by making their own decisions whenever possible. This will help employees develop their own ‘locus of control’.

If, on the flip side, you’re an employee considering quiet quitting, know that that doesn’t necessarily need to be framed as a negative thing.

“It doesn’t mean that workers who ‘quiet quit’ are slacking off,” Sally McKibbin, Career Coach at job listing site Indeed says. “It’s simply learning when and where to put healthy boundaries in place to create a sustainable and fulfilled life outside of your professional obligations.”

Bottom line: while all signs point to quiet quitting in fact being just in our human nature, there are things both managers and employees can do to both stay motivated and put boundaries in place. Sounds like a good plan for 2023 to us.

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