Creator of ‘quiet quitting’ trend quits loudly

The pioneer behind the anti-work trend has officially called it quits, after labelling the practice “unsustainable”.

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Helena Young

In a sign that the UK’s employee engagement crisis might be coming to a head, the originator of the ‘quiet quitting’ buzzword has found his voice, and recently quit out loud.

The term quiet quitting took the working world by storm last year. Employees from across the globe admitted to playing part in the trend. The idea is essentially the modern version of phoning it in: employees do the work they are paid for – no more, no less.

Zaid Khan originally coined the phrase in protest at the stress that his tech job was causing. But, speaking to Business Insider earlier this week, he announced he had left his corporate job in January after growing disillusioned with his own invention.

Now, Khan is encouraging more people to find work in an industry they feel excited by. “It wasn't until I made the decision to actually leave my job that I felt this enormous weight lifted off my shoulders,” he told Insider. “It's a decision that I wish more people could make.”

Quiet quitting signals breaking point for burned out workers

Quiet quitting hit the headlines last year, as employees took to social media websites to announce they had essentially mentally checked out of their jobs.

Across various talking heads, UK workers told of how they planned to draw boundaries between work and personal commitments. They would not quit their job, but would instead quit the ‘rat race’.

No longer going above and beyond in their career, they argued a job is simply a way to pay the bills, not for professional or personal development.

Managers naturally panicked about the loss in productivity and output the quiet quitting trend might cause. However, the craze is reflective of a much larger engagement crisis that has been threatening UK offices for the past three years.

An employee survey carried out in May found that UK workplaces ranked as some of the worst globally for employee engagement and enthusiasm. Company employees increasingly report feeling stressed out and overwhelmed by their current workload.

Four in five workers say workplace burnout has had an impact on their health and wellbeing – a figure that has contributed towards the record numbers of staff leaving the workforce due to poor health.

Generational divide

Rather than blaming the business world in general for the quiet quitting phenomenon, Khan is instead pointing the finger at another source: managers.

“Poor management is truly to blame for disengaged employees,” he told Business Insider. “If you don't feel like you're part of a team or in some sense connected to your work, of course you're gonna be alienated.”

Khan’s comments are reflective of the current disconnect between managers and their younger reports. One recent survey of UK managers found that 37% think younger employees lack effort and motivation.

Gen Z staff members, who were also the first cohort to enter the workplace post-COVID, have driven a shift towards greater work-life balance over the past two years. But their differing opinions on ideas like flexible working has seen them lock horns with bosses.

The disagreement seems to be values-based. Having contemplated what they truly want out of a career, this new group now wants to find work in a career they are truly passionate about. Many have begun freelancing on the side to explore alternative career options.

This behavioural change is now testing workers' ability to teamwork, as a generational divide towards attitudes to working stirs up workplace conflict. Khan told Business Insider that he decided to leave his job after coworkers expressed frustration with his lack of productivity.

According to him, many Gen Z employees now feel at odds with colleagues who, in their view, must be working a job they hate.

“Maybe they got a cool title,” he told Business Insider. “Maybe they got the house and the car that they wanted, but do they actually feel like they lived? That self-awareness seems to be more and more common in my generation.”

Could meaningful work be the next trend?

It seems the quiet quitting phase, then, is drawing to a close. Young workers like Khan are instead pivoting towards a new trend: that of meaningful work.

The concept refers to a focus on finding a purposeful job, where the worker feels fulfilled and valuable, and their day-to-day role is working towards a goal that they are personally motivated to reach.

While tempting to dismiss this group as a minority in the workforce, its impact has already been substantial. Company values are increasingly being used by employees, customers, and partners to judge how meaningful an organisation is.

In fact, LinkedIn reported a 154% increase in values-related terms on entry-level job posts between 2020 and 2022. In response, it unveiled its own values-based job search tool for candidates.

This technique of hiring people who share similar beliefs to the business, known as values-based recruitment (VBR), could be the answer. It helps companies to find workers who are motivated and passionate about their jobs, as well as being qualified for the role.

For the business, it means adding a brand’s personality and characteristics – like mission statements and information on company culture – to internal and external messaging, to make clear what its leadership stands for.

Employers need to prepare for the next wave of ‘loud quitters’. Those leaving the quiet quitting era have likely spent the last few months searching for a Plan B job in the background. Now, it seems they are ready to leave, setting employers up for a spike in staff turnover.

Answering their demands by repositioning your company as a meaningful, purpose-led workplace could be the best way to resolve the divide.

Doing so will help you to find workers who are willing to go above and beyond to grow the company and reach a shared objective. And, it tells your current workforce that, unlike staff, the business won’t go quietly.

Related reading: learn about 50+ employee benefits and perks you can use to boost your company offering and improve staff morale.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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