Nor is the philosophy behind “quiet quitting” a strictly American idea. It bears a lot of similarity to recent trends among Chinese millennials such as “touching fish” (mō yú), in which young people exchange tips on how to waste time on the clock by drinking eight glasses of water a day or exercising in the office pantry.

Is quiet quitting really a bad thing?

Whether or not people are markedly more disaffected at work than they used to be, it makes sense that the concept of quiet quitting has taken off in the wake of related trends like the Great Resignation and the anti-work movement. And given that higher employee engagement is linked with greater productivity, it also makes sense that companies and managers are worried about the spread of quiet quitting amongst their staff.

But for workers, quiet quitting doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re spending eight hours a day feeling miserable or checked out. In a viral post that’s garnered 3.5 million views, TikTok user Zaid Khan defines quiet quitting as “quitting the idea of going above and beyond” and “no longer subscribing to the hustle-culture mentality that work has to be your life.”

This approach—fulfilling your job requirements but refusing to log long hours without added compensation—sounds less like giving up and more like striving for fair pay and a reasonable work-life balance. “The main confusion seems to be what any of that has to do with ‘quitting,’ as opposed to just…meeting your job expectations?” Danielle Cohen recently observed in New York Magazine’s The Cut.

Doing the minimum and feeling psychologically detached from one’s job could mean—as one career coach recently told the New York Times—that people are missing out on a chance to feel real purpose in their lives. But it’s also highly possible that self-identified quiet quitters are trying to locate their sense of purpose and identity in areas outside their jobs—whether that’s friends, family, hobbies, activism, spirituality, creative pursuits, or any combination thereof.

Meanwhile, it’s true that someone who decides to turn in a merely adequate performance may find themselves less likely to get promoted and more likely to get laid off. But companies regularly pass over deserving candidates for promotions. They also lay off hardworking people all the time, because they’re eliminating entire teams or because of innumerable other factors ranging from seniority to personal relationships. Some quiet quitters may figure that if they lack career growth opportunities and job security, there’s not much point in channeling all their energy into work.

All in all, quiet quitting doesn’t seem to have many concrete downsides for employees. It’s a much bigger problem from the perspective of a boss who’s long relied on employees doing work that isn’t accounted for in their salaries or job descriptions. But if quiet quitting takes hold, perhaps companies will be forced to adapt their business practices accordingly—whether that means hiring more workers to achieve productivity goals rather than expecting people to put in 10-hour workdays, or paying overtime to employees when they burn the midnight oil.

📬 Sign up for the Daily Brief

Our free, fast, and fun briefing on the global economy, delivered every weekday morning.