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Work-to-rule (also known as an Italian strike, or a slowdown in US usage, called in Italian a Sciopero bianco meaning "white strike",[1]) is a job action in which employees do no more than the minimum required by the rules of their contract or job,[2][3] and strictly follow time-consuming rules normally not enforced.[4] This may cause a slowdown or decrease in productivity if the employer does not hire enough employees or pay the appropriate salary and consequently does not have the requirements needed to run normally.[5][6] It is a form of protest against low pay and poor working conditions,[3] and is considered less disruptive than a strike; obeying the rules is not susceptible to disciplinary action or loss of pay. It can also highlight rules that are technically in place but impractical and thus hamper the organization, if they were to be followed as written.

In practice, there may be ambiguous conditions – for example, a contract that requires working additional hours when necessary, or a requirement to work to operational requirements. In such cases, workers have been recommended to ask for a written direction to carry out the work, which can be used as evidence if necessary.[7]


Work-to-rule may be employed formally or informally by workers and organizers as an alternative to traditional strike action in contexts where strikes are prohibited, either by law or due to lack of workforce union participation or political will. Work-to-rule has been employed in sectors where striking is prohibited, including education,[8] policing,[9][10] and healthcare,[11] as well as in authoritarian societies such as Russia which prohibit strikes generally.[12] In this respect, work-to-rule tactics can resemble other forms of industrial action such as an overtime ban or blue flu.

Quiet quitting[edit]

Quiet quitting is a specific, often spontaneous or grassroots application of work-to-rule tactics.[13][14] Despite the name, the philosophy of quiet quitting is not connected to quitting a job outright, but rather, employees avoid going above and beyond at work by doing the bare minimum required and engage in work-related activities solely within defined work hours.[15] Proponents of quiet quitting also refer to it as "acting your wage"[16] or "calibrated contributing,"[17] and say that the goal of quiet quitting is not primarily to disrupt the workplace as part of an organized movement, but to avoid occupational burnout and to reassert autonomy and work-life balance on an individual level.

There are no verifiable sources as to who coined the phrase, but some suggest that Marge Ryan was the first to put this action (non-action) into place around the time of 1998 at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Recently, she began "quiet retiring" where she does even less work.[18] It was also thought to be inspired by the tang ping ("lying flat") movement that began in April 2021 on Chinese social media and became a buzzword on Sina Weibo.[19][20][21] Later that year, Chinese Internet users combined tang ping with involution, a process researched by American anthropologist Clifford Geertz in his 1963 book, Agricultural Involution. The book gained attention in the late 1980s from social sciences research about China which led to the term "involution" gaining great attention in China.[22] In 2020, "involution" became one of the most commonly used words on Chinese-language media, where it is used to describe the feeling of exhaustion in an overly competitive society.[23][24]

After tang ping became a buzzword and inspired numerous Internet memes, business magazine ABC Money claimed it resonated with a growing silent majority of youth disillusioned by the officially endorsed "Chinese Dream" that encourages a life of hard work and sacrifice with no actual life satisfaction to show for it.[25] An editorial published in the journal of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers defined quiet quitting as a rejection of "hustle culture" and the belief that value of work is intrinsically tied to number of hours.[26]

Quiet quitting is a mindset in which employees deliberately limit work activities to their job description, meet yet not exceed the previously established expectations, never volunteer for additional tasks and do all this to merely maintain their current employment status while prioritizing their well-being over organizational goals. Employees quiet quit due to lack of extrinsic motivation, burnout and grudges against their managers or organizations. Quiet quitting may have mixed effects, while it helps workers avoid burnout, the practice may jeopardize their professional careers. Though the term is new, the ideas behind quiet quitting are not and go back decades.[27] The phrase, "quiet quitting," became popular during 2022 in the United States, mostly through the social video platform TikTok.[28] In 2022, quiet quitting experienced a surge in popularity in numerous publications following a viral TikTok video[29] which was inspired by a Business Insider article.[30] That same year, Gallup found that roughly half of the U.S. workforce were quiet quitters.[31]

Industry observers argue the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the social movement of quiet quitting, with a resurgence in labor sentiments among Generation Z as a result of the economic fallout.[32] A 2021 survey conducted by the American Psychological Association revealed that forty percent of US workers surveyed intend to change jobs, which the report attributed to lack of compensation for the amount of stress and burnout endured.[33]

In 2023, a trend called quiet cutting was seen where employers would reassign rather than lay off employees, suggesting a possible shift in workplace power.[34]


While individual contributors might think in terms of otherwise "engaged workers setting reasonable boundaries", their employers might see them instead as "slackers who are willfully underperforming".[35] Depending on jurisdiction, work-to-rule may sometimes be considered by employers as malicious compliance, and they may attempt to pursue legal action against workers. While generally not grounds for legal retaliation on an individual basis, employers may attempt to enforce onerous contract terms such as:

They may also take standard forms of action especially where custom terms were not negotiated during the offer:

The employer counterpart of 'quiet quitting' is 'quiet firing', in which an employer deliberately offers only a minimum wage and benefits and denies any advances in the hope that an unwanted employee would quit.[36][37] The term has also been used to refer to employers reducing the scope of a worker's responsibilities to encourage them to quit voluntarily.[35] "Quiet hiring" is another related term that has been used to describe a strategy by employers to give additional responsibilities and unpaid extra workload to hard-working employees.[38]

In countries or sectors where other forms of striking is regulated or illegal, work-to-rule tactics may be subject to scrutiny or punishment.[12] In the United States, work-to-rule tactics which are coordinated by a labor organization or its agents may be ruled and treated as a strike under the National Labor Relations Act, and may be interpreted as failure to bargain in good faith, a requirement of collective bargaining.[39][40] In the case of non-union workplaces, employees suspected of work-to-rule tactics, organizing, or quiet quitting, may be fired if their employment is considered at-will, though such termination may still be considered wrongful if there is overt evidence it is done to infringe on workers' protected rights to organize.[41]


Cases of work-to-rule tactics have included:

  • UK postal workers normally arrived an hour before their official start time, did unpaid overtime at the end of deliveries, used their own (uninsured) cars for deliveries, and carried mailbags too heavy by health and safety guidelines. During a dispute they arrived at start time, stopped deliveries at the end of their allotted shift, only used official vans, and weighed mailbags to keep within the limit.[42]
  • French railway workers, who are not allowed to strike, were required by law to be sure of the safety of all bridges the train had to pass over; if doubtful of safety they had to consult other train crew members. During a dispute they inspected every bridge, and consulted; trains did not arrive on time.[4]
  • Austrian postal workers normally accept without weighing all items that are obviously not overweight. During a dispute they observed the rule that all mail must be weighed, taking it to the scales, weighing, and then taking it back. The office was crammed with unweighed mail by the second day.[4]
  • German doctors, who are not permitted to strike, have employed work to rule tactics in protest of announced caps on insurance reimbursement.[11]
  • Workers may have the right to a specified number of toilet breaks; they may insist on taking the maximum allowed during a dispute.[4]
  • During a work-to-rule strike, teachers may choose to instruct students during classroom hours only; and not participate in extra-curricular activities such as sports, tutoring or meetings before/after school.[43] Such tactics are associated with a significant reduction in standardized test scores by students at affected schools.[8]
  • Actions taken by police in the United States, including coordinated use of sick days, and declines in tickets issued and arrests made, may resemble work to rule tactics, however the exact terminology is disputed,[10] partly because police are prohibited from striking,[9] partly because of the contentious relationship between police, police unions, and the labor movement as a whole.[44]
  • In a large multinational corporation, software engineers were expected to be on call 24/7 without additional compensation, often resulting in unpaid overtime and disrupted work-life balance. [45]

Although the term quiet quitting was popularised in 2022,[46] aspects of quiet quitting have existed in the workplace and popular culture for much longer. The film Office Space (1999) depicts a character engaging in quiet quitting; in the film, Ron Livingston's character Peter Gibbons abandons the concept of work entirely and does the bare minimum required of him.[47]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "English translation of 'sciopero bianco'". collinsdictionary.com. Retrieved 29 December 2022.
  2. ^ "work to rule". Collins Dictionary.
  3. ^ a b "work-to-rule". Cambridge Dictionary.
  4. ^ a b c d "Work-to-rule: a guide". libcom.org. 11 November 2006.
  5. ^ Morgan, Gareth (1998). Images of Organization. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications. p. 165. ISBN 0-7619-1752-7. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  6. ^ "Air Canada Hit By Work-to-Rule". The Sun. Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. 9 December 1968. pp. 1–2. Retrieved 12 January 2019.
  7. ^ "Working to Rule". Unite. The union for staff at the FCA. 20 April 2022. Archived from the original on 2 July 2022.
  8. ^ a b Johnson, David R. (December 2011). "Do Strikes and Work-to-Rule Campaigns Change Elementary School Assessment Results?". Canadian Public Policy. 37 (4): 479–494. doi:10.3138/cpp.37.4.479. ISSN 0317-0861.
  9. ^ a b "INJUNCTION ENDS A POLICE STRIKE". The New York Times. 28 January 1971. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 6 April 2023.
  10. ^ a b Sestanovich, Clare (6 January 2015). "A Short History of Police Protest". The Marshall Project. Retrieved 6 April 2023.
  11. ^ a b Tuffs, A. (8 February 2003). "German doctors "work to rule" in protest at government plans". BMJ. 326 (7384): 303. doi:10.1136/bmj.326.7384.303. S2CID 71455189.
  12. ^ a b Р, Ахмадуллин Ильдар (18 December 2020). "Итальянские забастовки в России". Социологические исследования (in Russian) (10): 95–105. doi:10.31857/S013216250009284-5. ISSN 0132-1625. S2CID 234678765.
  13. ^ "Column: 'Quiet quitting' is just a new name for an old reality". Los Angeles Times. 25 August 2022.
  14. ^ Lord, Jonathan (9 September 2022). "Quiet quitting is a new name for an old method of industrial action". The Conversation.
  15. ^ Multiple sources:
  16. ^ "Business". The Economist. 1 September 2022.
  17. ^ Reddy, Venk (19 December 2022). "Quiet Quitting? Quiet Firing? More Like Quiet Retiring". GuruFocus. Osterweis Capital Management. ProQuest 2755632700.
  18. ^ Hitt, Tarpley. "The Libertarian Who Supposedly Coined "Quiet Quitting"". Gawker. Retrieved 15 October 2022.
  19. ^ Perisha Kudhail (31 August 2022). "Quiet quitting: The workplace trend taking over TikTok". BBC.
  20. ^ Henry Bodkin (7 August 2022). "Workers embrace the bare minimum in 'quiet quitting' trend". The Telegraph.
  21. ^ "China's new 'tang ping' trend aims to highlight pressures of work culture". BBC. 3 June 2021.
  22. ^ Picoche, Ariane (17 January 2022). "Tang ping: the Chinese millennials lying flat to protest against overwork". Welcome to the Jungle. Archived from the original on 28 September 2022. Retrieved 24 September 2022.
  23. ^ Liu, Yi-Ling (14 May 2021). "China's "Involuted" Generation". The New Yorker. Retrieved 28 March 2022.
  24. ^ Wang, Qianni; Ge, Shifan (4 November 2020). "How One Obscure Word Captures Urban China's Unhappiness". Sixth Tone. Retrieved 28 March 2022.
  25. ^ James, Claire (22 June 2021). "Why Chinese youth are 'lying flat' as a form of resistance to CCP rule". ABC Money. Retrieved 15 July 2021.
  26. ^ "Editorial: Reversing the Quiet Quitting Trend". www.aiche.org. 3 October 2022. Retrieved 22 March 2023.
  27. ^ Serenko, A. (2024). "The human capital management perspective on quiet quitting: Recommendations for employees, managers, and national policymakers" (PDF). Journal of Knowledge Management. 28 (1): 27–43. doi:10.1108/JKM-10-2022-0792. S2CID 258026195.
  28. ^ "If Your Co-Workers Are 'Quiet Quitting,' Here's What That Means". Wall Street Journal. 12 August 2022.
  29. ^ Teitell, Beth (16 September 2022). "As quiet quitting goes viral, it's turning into the pumpkin spice of 2022". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 23 September 2022.
  30. ^ Seward, Zachary M. (26 October 2022). "The guy who inspired the 'quiet quitting' movement is back to working 50 hours a week". Quartz. Retrieved 3 November 2022.
  31. ^ Harter, Jim (6 September 2022). "Is Quiet Quitting Real?". Gallup.com. Retrieved 6 September 2022.
  32. ^ Formica, Sandro; Sfodera, Fabiola (17 November 2022). "The Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting paradigm shifts: An overview of current situation and future research directions". Journal of Hospitality Marketing & Management. 31 (8): 899–907. doi:10.1080/19368623.2022.2136601. S2CID 253077483.
  33. ^ "The American workforce faces compounding pressure: APA's 2021 Work and Well-being Survey results". www.apa.org. Retrieved 22 March 2023.
  34. ^ Smith, Ray A. (28 August 2023). "You've Heard of Quiet Quitting. Now Companies Are Quiet Cutting". WSJ. Retrieved 14 October 2023.
  35. ^ a b Miller, Karla L. (8 September 2022). "Actually, we've been 'quiet quitting' and 'quiet firing' for years". The Washington Post. Retrieved 12 September 2022.
  36. ^ Miller, Karla L. (1 September 2022). "After 'quiet quitting,' here comes 'quiet firing'". Business. The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2 September 2022. Retrieved 21 September 2022.
  37. ^ Borchers, Callum (29 September 2022). "Employers strike back at 'Quitters'". The Wall Street Journal. pp. A12.
  38. ^ Breen, Amanda (9 September 2022). "Google's 'Quiet Hiring' Method Is Bad News for 'Quiet Quitters'". Entrepreneur. Retrieved 13 September 2022.
  39. ^ "National Labor Relations Act". www.nlrb.gov. Retrieved 28 March 2023.
  40. ^ "Collective bargaining (Section 8(d) & 8(b)(3)) | National Labor Relations Board". www.nlrb.gov. Retrieved 6 March 2023.
  41. ^ "employment-at-will doctrine". LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 6 March 2023.
  42. ^ "Royal Mail strikes suspended for talks as work to rule continues". libcom.org. 10 August 2007.
  43. ^ "'No concerts, no meetings: what work-to-rule means for students and teachers'". 29 November 2016.
  44. ^ Nolan, Hamilton (13 June 2020). "It's time to kick police unions out of the labor movement. They aren't allies". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 10 April 2023.
  45. ^ Weerarathna, Ranitha; Rathnayake, Nilmini; Yasara, Inuri; Jayasekara, Piyumi; Ruwanpura, Dewni; Nambugoda, Sachindra (14 December 2022). "Towards work-life balance or away? The impact of work from home factors on work-life balance among software engineers during Covid-19 pandemic". PLOS ONE. 17 (12): e0277931. Bibcode:2022PLoSO..1777931W. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0277931. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 9750026. PMID 36516135.
  46. ^ "'I was working 60 hours a week so I quiet quit'". 30 August 2022.
  47. ^ Albom, Mitch (28 August 2022). "Mitch Albom: The only thing new about quiet quitting is the name". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved 5 September 2022.

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