Quiet Quitting Culture and its Future
Using social media intelligence to monitor a labor market debate
Henry Chapman, Research and Insights Analyst
6 months of the quiet quitting debate
The debate over quiet quitting blew up online, beginning in late-summer of 2022. Quiet quitting refers to the behavior where workers do the absolute minimum required by a job. It represents a sharp departure from hustle culture where younger workers felt the need to work longer hours and begin side businesses to succeed in the tough economic climate (overworking to compete for promotions and raises eventually became a byproduct of hustle culture).
In this brief, we examine the labor market conditions that caused the emergence of quiet quitting and take a look at forces that may impact the future of this trend.
Tight labor market and quiet quitting
After years of post-recession anxieties over wage growth and employment opportunities, American workers emerged with newfound bargaining power. US domestic unemployment throughout the post-pandemic recovery (2021-2022) has held steady at a 50-year low. Additionally, the conditions of life during the COVID-19 pandemic caused millions of people – mostly overworked and undercompensated essential workers – to voluntarily leave their jobs, beginning in late 2020 (#greatresignation). Even today, as layoffs are mounting, employers are having a much harder time finding and retaining employees.
Quiet quitter demographics
Quiet quitters are predominately millennials burned out from hustle culture which emerged from the Great Recession. Infegy Atlas age data showed that 53% of people posting about quiet quitting fell between the 25-44 year old age group. Additionally, quiet quitters are heavily concentrated in a low-wage earning bracket. Through our analysis, we found higher than average engagement (24%)from people that make between $0 - $25,000 a year. Interestingly, both men and women were equally likely to post about quiet quitting, despite more women than men joining the labor force in the last few years.
Wage growth and labor unions
The tight labor market, increasing wages, and increased participation in labor unions have enabled quiet quitting. Historically, employers have had the upper-hand in maintaining the labor market. They hired and fired based on the company’s bottom line. Now, low unemployment rates have empowered workers to advocate for themselves. This power grab has manifested in the growing popularity of labor unions. Infegy Atlas has shown a 29% post-volume growth in the conversation about labor unions over the last two years. This online attention to labor has been corroborated by well-publicized union growth at large companies like Starbucks and Amazon.
Emergence on Reddit
While the debate over quiet quitting exploded on TikTok and Twitter, worker discontent has developed over the long term on more hidden Reddit communities like r/AntiWork and r/WorkReform starting in 2013. Infegy Atlas data shows that r/AntiWork has very low sentiment, where lower-wage workers vent about issues with managers and worker abuse. r/WorkReform tends to be more policy focused, where community members talk frequently about unionization, worker strikes, and employment policy.
The geography of quiet quitting
Conversations discussing quiet quitting matched the political geographical polarization of the United States. Infegy Atlas geographic distribution data noted a high concentration of quiet quitting-related conversation in liberal hubs like New York, Massachusetts, Colorado, Illinois, and Washington. There was comparatively less conversation about quiet quitting in the more conservative areas of the country.
The future of quiet quitting
As the US Federal Reserve continues to raise interest rates, most economists expect the economy to contract in 2023. This contraction will mean increased layoffs, some of which have already begun in large tech companies like Amazon, Meta, and Salesforce. It remains to be seen whether these tech layoffs will expand to the broader economy, and whether the loosening of the labor market will translate into less bargaining power for lower wage workers.
The tight labor market and increasing wages in the United States have given workers more bargaining power. This can be seen in the growing popularity of labor unions and the emergent trend of quiet quitting.
Quiet quitting has been particularly prevalent among millennials and low-wage earners and is more common in liberal areas of the country. However, with the Federal Reserve raising interest rates and economists predicting an economic contraction in 2023, it is uncertain whether this trend of worker empowerment will continue, or whether layoffs will weaken the bargaining power of lower-wage workers.