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World discovers ‘quiet quitting’ long after Korea did

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Screen capture of Zaid Khan's TIkTok video on quiet quitting [SCREEN CAPTURE]
Screen capture of Zaid Khan’s TikTok video on quiet quitting [SCREEN CAPTURE]
“Quiet quitting,” which refers to only doing assigned regular jobs and refusing to go above and beyond at work, has become a post-pandemic phenomenon in the United States — but Korea might be ahead of this curve.

Korean workers, even before the pandemic, were getting serious about work-life balance and trying to get beyond workaholic ways.

In a survey conducted last December by Saramin, a Korean online recruitment website, some 70 percent of 3,293 respondents said people shouldn’t work more than what they get paid. Among that 70 percent of respondents, people in their 20s and 30s outnumbered people in their 40s and 50s.

After-work life is a new focus of concentration for Korean workers these days.

“After I finish my tasks during office hours, I take a lecture on web novel writing,” said a 30-year-old office worker.
“Writing relieves my stress from work and makes me feel like I am doing something I want to do.”

Instead of working overtime for their main employer, some people are putting hours in for another — and making a bit more money.

According to a survey conducted by Newworker, a gig worker platform, in May, around 40 percent of office workers responded that they have experience in doing a side job. Some 57.9 percent said they are willing to look for a side gig for financial reasons.


The quiet quitting trend spread in the United States after Zaid Khan, a 24-year-old engineer from New York, uploaded a 17-second video on TikTok in July.

“You’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond,” Khan says in his video.

“You are still performing your duties, but you are no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentally that work has to be our life.”

The video went viral, resulting in 3.5 million views, over 4,500 comments, and around 490,000 likes as of Tuesday.

The message has really caught on among employees in their 20s and 30s — the millennials and Gen Z — leading them to actively share videos with the hashtag “quiet quitting.” The main message: work should not be the highest priority in one’s life.

Quiet quitting has even prompted a not-very-quiet backlash. Despite the spread of the trend, some share critical views on the situation.

“Quiet quitting isn’t just about quitting on a job,” wrote Arianna Huffington, Founder of the Huffington Post and Thrive Global, in a LinkedIn post, “it’s a step toward quitting on life.”

But others believe quiet quitting is a reasonable choice made by employees who are exhausted by too much overtime at work and mass layoffs that occurred during the pandemic. In the United States, the Great Resignation started during the pandemic as people started bailing out of jobs. Low pay and toxic corporate culture were some — but not all — the reasons.

But resigning or quietly quitting are not parts of American corporate culture.

“For many companies, a workforce that is willing to go beyond the call of duty is a critical competitive advantage,” the Harvard Business Review said in a report on Sept. 15.

The opposite is a phenomenon called hustle culture, which Koreans are very familiar with. Hustle culture refers to a mentality of working every day and pursuing rapid growth. That culture is revered at startups, but it can lead employees to experience burnout.

To deal with quiet quitting, the Harvard Business Review advises companies to redefine core job tasks, listen and invest in workers and retain positive aspects of their corporate cultures instead of assuming that hustle culture is embraced by all.

BY YU SUNG-KUK [cho.jungwoo1@joongang.co.kr]