Is quiet quitting a fight for self-care in the workplace?

Is quiet quitting more than just a viral social media buzzword? With a drastic change in workplace culture post-pandemic, is it time for workplaces to reevaluate their culture?

Social media has a new workplace buzzword – quiet quitting – a term coined to describe how people are increasingly showing up to work and doing no more than what is in their job description. This is not because they are inherently lazy but because they are overworked, burned out and, possibly, underwhelmed.

The procurement sector hasn’t escaped The Great Resignation, where record numbers of people are leaving jobs around the globe. “With increasing opportunities against the backdrop of the supply chain crisis, it comes as no surprise that supply-chain managers have increasingly sought out greener pastures,” Kory Kantenga, a senior economist at LinkedIn says.

New generations entering the workforce want to view their job as something that supports their dreams, not defines them. The idea of the “dream job” is fast being updated as new generations view work as only one aspect of their life, not the sole reason they exist. This goes against the long-prevailing hustle culture that holds the mentality that people work all day every day chasing professional goals. 

The hustle culture is addicted to the grind, but there is a change coming. 

Quiet quitting signals a changing of the guard

While quiet quitting could be hiding a bigger burnout issue in the workforce, it can also be viewed as a sign of generations evolving and changes in what employees value, for example a healthy work / life balance. 

These evolved values are rubbing up against the systems that we have operated in for so long, and now there is a changing of the guard occurring. The world context that most millennials grew up in supported a hustle mindset: you work harder not smarter. The boomer generation would seek a job for life, where it was valued to get into a respected organisation and work your way up. Gen Z are entering the workforce in the context of a global pandemic, something no generation has faced in recent memory.

When old behaviours creep in

While there is a lot of focus on the benefits and value of hybrid working as a post pandemic response – it’s not the only drawcard for an employer to offer, and for many people they could do this before the pandemic. 

As COVID now ebbs into our everyday life, people are expected to be grateful for the ability to work from home and are increasingly expected back in the office. The old guard and the old system came marching back in.

One of the toxic workplace traits that we have to evolve beyond is the desire for presentism and traditional views on productivity – and that’s where quiet quitting comes in.

Fighting the productivity myth

Presentism is a term used to describe an employee/employer relationship, where if your direct manager can see you visibly working then you are doing your work. Working in sight of the manager (at the office) is the only acceptable form of working.

The presentism mindset, in relation to productivity, extends this further and denotes that a worker is only productive if they are visible in the office and are working non-stop for their allotted contracted hours. 

Is the new era of workplace culture already over?

Pre-pandemic, the workplace culture started to shift the dial on what it means to be productive. When the pandemic hit and we all suddenly worked from home, it seemed like it was the last push needed to usher in this new era of thinking. But it was only temporary. 

For many Gen Z workers who may have begun full time employment shortly prior to, or during, the global pandemic, this drastic shift in working environments and expectations might be behind this new wave of “quiet quitting”.

Who does this shift in workplace culture affect most?

People who identify as female and people who are primary caregivers for their families are hit hardest when workplaces begin to tighten their definition of a hybrid workplace. The evidence is clear, and it is not hard to expand the thinking to see that it is any person who is in a similar position: the primary carer; the person who tends to keep the household running; the person who manages the dependents. 

In some households, this is shared equally and therefore has a double impact.

Through quiet quitting, young people are taking back/owning their value

Younger generations with a different definition of career success combined with outdated workplace cultures and high degrees of remote working has resulted in an increase in the feeling of being disconnected. Or worse, not feeling good enough.

The problem with imposter syndrome

With the re-emergence of presentism and traditional definitions of productivity, we also see the reemergence of imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome was first described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the ‘70s and had positive intentions to label the feeling of uneasiness in order to identify it and seek to rectify it. It also sought to help explain the gender gap in regards to workplace promotions and pay. 

However, its unintended consequence was the implication that the person experiencing imposter syndrome needs to take action to remedy themselves, rather than the workplace changing or adapting to meet the needs of individuals. 

In an acclaimed HBR article authors Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey write that “confidence doesn’t equal competence. We often falsely equate confidence — most often, the type demonstrated by white male leaders — with competence and leadership. Employees who can’t (or won’t) conform to male-biased social styles are told they have imposter syndrome”. 

A personal example

A peer recently told me that they were suffering with extreme imposter syndrome and were told it was a badge of honour by their manager, as “the people that doubt themselves are the best leaders”. 

While the sentiments of this may have some grain of truth (as it implies self awareness and a desire to do a good job), it sets up the individual to continually subvert their needs to those of the organisation. 

In the process this individual had lost their sense of value and connection to their work and were sent down a rabbit hole to “fix what was wrong with them” – AKA our friend, imposter syndrome.

Fix the system not the symptom

When we seek to label imposter syndrome as ball and chain to bear we miss opportunities to explore broader and more meaningful conversations about the system that created this paradigm in the first place. 

Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey note that “leaders must create a culture for women and people of colour that addresses systemic bias and racism. Only by doing so can we reduce the experiences that culminate in so-called imposter syndrome among employees from marginalised communities – or at the very least, help those employees channel healthy self-doubt into positive motivation, which is best fostered within a supportive work culture”.

Is quiet quitting relegated just to Gen Z? No. The new generation is helping to show that the systems we religiously subscribe to are broken. Quiet quitting can be viewed as an individual protest movement to start putting our self-worth first above the never ending demands of an organisation.

Take charge of your career: register for Bravo – The Event and join its network of international Procurement success stories

Find more Career Development news, insights, and best practises at