Many workers have been embracing the "quiet quitting" concept as they seek more balance in their personal lives, arguing they ought not to do more than what their jobs entail.

On-the-job stress rose from 38 percent of those polled in 2019 to 43 percent the following year with women in the US and Canada facing the most pressure.
On-the-job stress rose from 38 percent of those polled in 2019 to 43 percent the following year with women in the US and Canada facing the most pressure. (AP Archive)

Some American workers are embracing the concept of "quiet quitting" as they push back against what some see as the stifling trap of constant connectivity.

They are drawing a line at the 40-hour work week, limiting after-hours calls and emails and generally, if softly, saying "no" more often.

Maggie Perkins –– who lives in Athens, Georgia –– was racking up 60-hour weeks as a matter of course in her job as a teacher, but the 30-year-old realized after her first child was born that something was wrong.

"There's pictures of me grading papers on an airplane on the way to vacation. I did not have a work-life balance," Perkins explains in a TikTok video about how she chose –– though she did not have a name for it back then –– to begin "quiet quitting."

Perkins told AFP news agency she eventually left her job to pursue a PhD but remains an advocate for her former colleagues – producing videos and podcasts with practical tips on making their workload fit inside their workday.

Slackers or balance seekers?

The buzzword seems to have first surfaced in a July TikTok post.

In the words of user @zaidleppelin, "You're not outright quitting your job but you're quitting the idea of going above and beyond. You're still performing your duties but you're no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life."

That post went viral, drawing nearly a half-million likes. 

Responses bubbled over with a sense of shared resentment and newspaper columnists spilled ink all summer trying to decipher the phenomenon.

For the debate soon erupted: Are "quiet quitters" merely trying to draw boundaries in pursuit of a reasonable work-life balance, more associated with a European lifestyle than with always-on US work culture?

Are they slackers with a trendy new name? Or are they people at genuine risk of burnout who would do best to quit outright?

Data suggests the need for greater balance is real.

On-the-job stress rose from 38 percent of those polled in 2019 to 43 percent the following year as Covid-19 upended the world of work, advice firm Gallup found, with women in the United States and Canada facing the most pressure.

'Workers refusing to be exploited'

Similar dynamics helped fuel the "Great Resignation" – the surge in employees leaving or switching jobs amid pandemic-related pressures.

Many "quiet quitters" say they are perfectly willing to work hard but only for the hours the job is meant to entail. Their motto: "act your wage."

Some observers are sceptical, of course, contending that offices have always had their share of clock-watchers and prickly workers claiming certain tasks are not their responsibility.

Going further, Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, panned the phenomenon as "a step toward quitting on life."

But former US labour secretary Robert Reich summed up the forceful counterargument, saying "Workers aren't 'quiet quitting.' They're refusing to be exploited for their labor."

Philip Oreopoulos, a labour economist at the University of Toronto, said one solution is better communications to clarify employer expectations before accepting a job.

"If you need to be on call at home, then they should clearly state that," he said.

And if things do get out of hand –– and quiet quitting won't fix the problem –– aggrieved workers do have one asset to fall back on: a historically low unemployment rate.

"Come to an employer and say, 'I have an opportunity with another firm and I'm thinking of taking it,'" Oreopoulos said. "It's a good time in general to be asking for a raise."

Source: AFP