I’ve seen a lot of articles about “quiet quitting,” and most lack deeper insight into Gen Z’s work and career ethos. The term itself is misleading, since it’s not about quitting at all. “Quiet quitting” is performing the tasks required by one's job description, within a reasonable timeframe allocated to work hours. It’s about unsubscribing from the belief that work is a core tenant of one’s life, worth, or personality.
Gen Z reports the least positive outlook and highest prevalence of mental illness of any generation for a complex host of reasons, and to provide context it may be useful to explore our shared life milestones. There was job insecurity from the 2008 financial crisis, major social welfare programs like Obamacare and the unsure fate of social security. More recently we witnessed inflation driven by the pandemic, global instability, and war, while our government narrowly avoided “catastrophic economic default.”
It would be remiss not to include how social justice and personal safety has also influenced our generation’s work mindset. Major themes include school shootings, gay rights, Black Lives Matter, border walls, MeToo movement, and climate anxiety. Of course we were impacted by pandemic and growing up digital native, too.
I haven’t seen articles correlate “quiet quitting” with the burnout many of us likely feel after a two decades-long brutal showdown with education. 58% of current grads are in student debt, we all saw the nepotism-related college admissions scandals at so-called “elite” institutions, and we have mixed feelings on affirmative action.
88% of college students report extremely high stress levels and the top worry is exams. The American Addiction Centers found the second and third most common stressors are “academic performance pressure” (82%), and studying (74%). This alludes to a larger issue around burnout, extreme societal pressure, and poor mental health outcomes for our generation.
Previous generations experienced “extremely demanding and often unfair/emotionally abusive” workplace culture. That harm sounds a lot like the familiar reality of our country’s exacting relationship with test scores, extracurriculars, resume builders, and college admissions.
Business articles about “quiet quitting” cite “Gen Zers as less likely than their elders to go along with long hours and overbearing bosses” and are more likely to uphold personal-professional boundaries. If that sounds like we’re quitting, fine. But it sounds to me like Gen Z is protecting their well-deserved peace.
Perhaps Gen Z’s “quiet quitting” is the disengaged and disappointed withdrawal of a highly ambitious generation disillusioned with the American Dream.
Now that Gen Z has arrived, they feel the workplace doesn’t care about them. Gallup reported younger workers declined over nine percentage points among those who “strongly agree that someone cares about them, encourages their development, and they have opportunities to learn and grow.”
Before employers and managers can fully engage Gen Z employees, we must collectively acknowledge our most stressed-out generation and consider how to repair the debt, distrust, and disillusionment the system caused them.