“Leaving quietly” is the latest buzzword to describe disengagement at work

Go out at 5 p.m. sharp, only do the daily tasks assigned to you, limit discussions with colleagues and do not work overtime.

These are the hallmarks of “silent withdrawal,” a term coined to describe how people approach their work and professional lives differently to manage burnout.

The phrase – which is not actually meant to lead to a resignation – exploded into the popular lexicon last week when a TikTok video gone viral.

« I recently heard about this term ‘silent shutdown’, where you don’t quit your job outright, but you give up on the idea of ​​going beyond it, » creator Zaid Khan said in the video, which has since raised 3.4 million. views.

The sentence also resonates. While the words « quit smoking quietly » are loaded, conjuring up images of being lazy or worthless for some, others say the approach frees up time to spend with family and friends, or to care. self.

In short, it is a renewed commitment to life beyond the workplace. But behind the trend hides a starker reality.

Employees want to be fairly compensated for the extra time and work, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates burnout and mental health issues. The ball is squarely in the court of employers, managers and executives, experts say.

New buzzword, same spirit

While the phrase “quit smoking quietly” may be a new coinage, the mentality behind it is not. The phrase “work to rule,” for example, describes industrial action in which employees strictly perform the work set out in their contract, without undertaking additional work.

Meanwhile, the pejorative « retired in place » – or RIP – suggests a worker mails it in, doing just the bare minimum to avoid being laid off while waiting for pension benefits.

« I kind of laugh about it because, to me, it’s common sense, » said Sarahrose Werner, a retired Saint John tax preparer who « quietly stepped down » about 30 years.

Sarahrose Werner, a retired Saint John tax preparer, chose to cut back on her job in her 30s after a 50-60 hour work week left her mentally drained. (Sarahrose Werner)

“I’ve learned from my own experience that…constantly going above and beyond can earn you a few extra bucks if you get paid by the hour, but it doesn’t necessarily earn you the loyalty of your employer,” Werner said.

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic sparked a major economic movement, The Great Resignation, which saw people leaving their jobs or changing professions en masse, as they reassessed their relationship to work during an upsetting health crisis.

A May 2022 poll by RBC Insurance suggested that more than a third of recently retired Canadians between the ages of 55 and 75 had retired earlier than expected. Another third decided to retire early because of the pandemic.

While Statistics Canada reported in March that a big resignation hadn’t really taken off in this country, the agency said the third quarter of 2021 saw a 60% increase in job vacancies over employment levels. before the pandemic.

The silent abandonment and grand resignation point to a marked cultural shift from the early and mid-2010s, when the ‘bustle culture’ paved the way for ‘grinding’ and ‘girl patronage’ – of ideas that prioritized work over everything else, with the belief that such effort made employees more desirable to managers, helping them move up the corporate ladder faster and generate more revenue.

WATCH | Canadians are changing professions because of the pandemic:

Burnout causes workers to reconsider their careers

From working long hours to battling Zoom fatigue, many people have experienced burnout during the pandemic. Many of them are reconsidering their careers as a result – prioritizing their mental health above all else.

As the pandemic enters its third year, experts say remote and hybrid models are here to stay, and employees are reassessing the time they spend commuting, working overtime and generally investing in low-paying and low-paying jobs.

“I think what often happens is that people – a lot of young people in particular – take on more transactional jobs,” said Tim Magwood, CEO of 1-DEGREE/Shift, a human resources consultancy. in Toronto.

« So it’s just a job and a paycheck, and there’s no real learning, » he said. « There’s not really a sense of purpose. »

Most employees have found that they « work in systems » that don’t reward consistently going above and beyond, said Karen K. Ho, a freelance business and culture journalist in Richmond Hill, Ont.

« The Hustle culture has been repeatedly shown to only benefit companies and their leaders, through bonuses, increased productivity, increased revenue and profits, etc. », Ho said.

Employees who generate increased productivity at the lower level earn the same amount of money, she said, while being told that « the basis for meeting expectations exceeds expectations. »

Responsibility lies with employers

Some companies are requiring employees to return to work in the office, which in itself has become a point of contention. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, for example, made headlines in June when he told company employees they had to go back to the office or lose their jobs.

« We’ve seen people can be productive at home, » Ho said. older adults, such as parents, or young children. »

While Statistics Canada reported in March that a big resignation hadn’t really taken off in this country, the agency said the third quarter of 2021 saw a 60% increase in job vacancies over employment levels. before the pandemic. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Werner, who chose to cut back on her 30s after a 50-60 hour workweek left her mentally taxed, said an employer once suggested she ride a bike and not walk to get herself get to work so she can work more hours.

« It was long before anyone talked about work [and] used the term work-life balance,” she said.

The term silent resignation has also drawn criticism, even from those who generally favor the underlying idea, as it suggests that the employee is falling short, rather than the employer.

According to Ho, quitting quietly is a misnomer: It ignores the fact that people are seeing their grocery bills, fuel costs and housing prices go up, often without even a raise in pay, a she declared.

“You literally stagnate because you’re not earning more, you’re not getting promoted – and that’s why a lot of people quit their jobs,” she said.

The term « silent resignation » has drawn criticism, even from those who are generally supportive of the underlying idea, as it suggests that the employee is falling short, rather than the employer. (Submitted by the Lawson Health Research Institute)

Some employees advocate for policies, benefits, and working conditions that support work-life balance. During the pandemic, Ontario advocates pushed for a “right to disconnect” bill. Now in effect, the legislation requires most employers to have a written policy outlining how workers can opt out after hours.

But critics say it’s not working as well as it should, with a glaring loophole that allows employers to take advantage of it by vaguely wording their policies.

Leaders who expect employees to hold to rigid work ethic standards after the pandemic-induced shift in workplaces are expecting a rude awakening, Magwood says.

« We really have to adapt, and one size doesn’t work anymore, » he said.

Werner agrees the pandemic has given people the space to rethink their lives.

« With the baby boomer generation retiring, there are simply fewer workers to take their place, » she said. « I think young people are smart enough to realize that it highlights their work and gives them a bit more leeway to make choices. »


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