Rethink Mental Health

The Unmet Needs Behind the ‘Quiet Quitting’ Trend

By Delvina Miremadi-Baldino, Ph.D., Ed.M., CAPP

A new buzzword, quiet quitting, has taken social media by storm, leaking into the workplace and painting quite a confusing picture of the current workforce. This phrase seems to refer to someone discreetly leaving their position, as confirmed by the Webster’s Dictionary definitions of the two words, quiet (free from noise or uproar) and quitting (to depart from). It infers that someone isn’t working but still earning a paycheck. 

In reality, this term does not describe an employee who isn’t doing their job or who has left their position; it simply means they have left behind the idea of ‘hustle culture.’ They have set boundaries for doing their job, as outlined in their job description. They may do it well but nothing more. Coined by TikTokker @zkchillin in a July 25 post, he describes quiet quitting as “quitting the idea of going above and beyond at work. Work is NOT your life. Your worth is not defined by your productive output.” [1]

To better understand why this trend is happening and what to do moving forward, we must begin with a deeper understanding of the individuals and their motivations, not just the label.

Inside ‘Quiet Quitting’

It’s important to point out that quiet quitters are fulfilling their job duties. The difference is that they are no longer willing to sacrifice their wellbeing to try and keep up with the old ‘hustle culture’ that has long been the norm. Giving ‘110 percent,’ staying long hours, and going above and beyond the job duties are no longer accepted by the post-pandemic workforce. Employees want more than the old ‘work is life’ culture. They want work to be their job, and then they want to leave it behind and go home to a fulfilling life with meaningful nonwork activities and a robust social life. 

Let’s unpack the last two years for this workforce population and unearth some of the potential root causes for this shift in mindset and approach to work. For many months that eventually extended to years since 2020, workers have faced unprecedented changes in their daily lives— how they socialized, how they participated in milestone gatherings and celebrations, and where, when, and how they play and experience happiness and joy. 

Meanwhile, the world they were exposed to was one of economic, political, and environmental strife. There was heightened racism and violence against Black and Asian Americans, the increased loss of loved ones and friends to COVID-19, suicide, or violence, the war in Ukraine, climate change disasters, political unrest, and significant inflation. All of this has created a perfect storm of uncertainty, unpredictability, anxiety, and fear.

The Impact

The impact of all of this on the individual must be recognized when considering how the needs of the future workforce will be different as a result. Rarely does a generation of workers experience a global crisis of this magnitude, and it’s taking a toll. 

Unlike recent generations, whose main concerns when entering the workforce were finances, body image, and family or personal relationships, 35 percent of the new generation of workers have reported that uncertainty about the pandemic and fear of infection are among their leading sources of stress.[2] They also experienced extreme disruptions to their educational and career pursuits, and more than half report that the pandemic has made it harder to have fun and has negatively impacted their happiness and mental health. 

We would be remiss if we didn’t at least acknowledge these extreme circumstances and look to the professionals and research for answers. While some might want to avoid using the term ‘trauma,’ it seems to perfectly encapsulate the experience of COVID-19 for employees and the detrimental impact it has had on their mental, physical, social, and emotional wellbeing.

According to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, trauma is “an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual wellbeing.”[3] There is also a term, ‘collective trauma,’ that refers to the impact of a traumatic experience that affects and involves entire groups of people and communities and can change the entire fabric of society.[4]

The current workforce has lived through this collective trauma, marking a critical point in their lives. They were isolated in a world of uncertainty, separated from coworkers and loved ones, and masked with the fear that their own breath could harm or kill their friends, family, colleagues, or elderly loved ones. 

Another aspect of the trauma experienced over the last two-and-a-half years is how it affects the brain. Traumatic stress is associated with changes in the brain and body that make optional functioning difficult. The repeated and chronic activation of the fear center of the brain, coupled with impaired functioning of key parts of the brain responsible for emotion regulation, impulse control, executive functioning, learning, and memory, can be a contributing factor to the changes in mindset, mental health, and behavior we are currently seeing in the workforce.[5]

A Path Forward

Our job now, as employers and leaders, is to look to this population with compassion and hope. As explained in an article by the Harvard Business Review, compassion takes us beyond sympathy and empathy and gives us a clear path to act and move forward. Whereas sympathy is “I feel for you,” and empathy is “I feel with you,” compassion is “I am here to help.” [6]

Compassion moves us beyond our emotions (and in this case, unhelpful labels like ‘quiet quitters’) and taps into our intention to help the person who is suffering. The current workforce is suffering from the traumas of the last few years and is responding with self-preservation through ‘quiet quitting.’ It’s not that they don’t care about working; it’s just unreasonable for them to heal and find their way through this mess without taking a step back to prioritize their wellbeing and happiness so that they can build a life with meaning and purpose. 

It’s time for leaders to acknowledge these concerns, lead with compassion, prioritize mental health, and provide better access to preventative tools and resources and a culture of wellbeing. If we can show workers that we value their wellbeing through organizational policies and programs that support their mental health, we can help fulfill their unmet needs and regain hope for an engaged, productive, and happy workforce.

CredibleMind is the one-stop shop for your employees’ mental wellbeing. Let us help you turn the Great Resignation into the Great Renovation.

[1] Zaid K [zaidleppelin]. (2022, July 25). On quiet quitting #workreform [Video]. TikTok.

[2] AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. (2021, December 6). Gen Z and the Toll of the Pandemic. AP-NORC Center.

[3] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014, October). SAMHSA’s Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach.

[4] Erikson, K. T. (2006). Everything in its path: Destruction of community in the Buffalo Creek Flood (Nachdr.). Simon & Schuster.

[5] Bremner J. D. (2006). Traumatic stress: effects on the brain. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience, 8(4), 445–461.

[6] Hougaard, R., Carter, J., & Afton, M. (2021, December 23). Connect with Empathy, But Lead with Compassion. Harvard Business Review.

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