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‘Quiet quitting’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing — it just needs a rebrand

Instead of deriding the phenomenon, lawyers need to better understand — and potentially rename — the idea of pushing back against hustle culture, writes Matthew Kay.

user iconMatthew Kay 06 October 2022 Big Law
‘Quiet quitting’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing — it just needs a rebrand
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The idea of “quiet quitting” really gained traction on social media in recent weeks and is the idea that workers just do their contracted hours and what is required of them, without going above and beyond to get ahead. It’s been linked to post-pandemic inertia, the big resignation and general employee disillusionment and disconnect. Remote working has also been blamed.

In Australia, the trend has reportedly hit home, with lively discussion feeds online where users have shared their “quiet-quitting” stories, and as you might imagine, it’s also gained traction in the legal sector. Lawyers Weekly reported recently “that quiet quitting is becoming more common in a post-pandemic market, where it was ‘scarcely previously seen’ in the legal services market”.

But what really is quiet quitting, and is the backlash against this trend justified?


As with many trends that are created on social media and find traction on the internet, opinions have been fierce and polarised — some have embraced the support for an improved work/life balance whilst others have bemoaned under-ambitious workers not pulling their weight.

What TikTok videos fail to communicate is the nuances of so-called quiet quitting, why it’s happening, and if it really is a bad thing. Immediately, the name “quiet quitting” has negative connotations, but is it really a negative if employees are deciding to set boundaries and just do the work they’re contracted to do? Post-pandemic, we have seen how burnout has pushed many lawyers to their limits. Boundaries have become blurred after long, intense periods of working from home and an “always-on” culture arising from these blurred boundaries.

For many lawyers, both in private practice and in-house, workloads also increased over the past two years as businesses and individuals grappled with lockdown restrictions, social distancing and supply chain issues. This has created a perfect cocktail of stress, long hours and fatigue. All of these factors have contributed towards the global “Great Resignation”, seeing employees taking a step back from their roles and now, this so-called “quiet quitting”. However, it’s important to remember that quiet quitting isn’t anything new. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, consultants Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman recognise that “‘Quiet quitting’ is a new name for an old behaviour”.

Of course, no matter what it’s labelled as, quiet quitting could be considered a problem and likely indicative of a much wider, systemic issue of disengaged, unsupported employees who — rather than communicating with their bosses about workload and expectation — decide to simply take a step back. As the Harvard Business Review piece said — “quiet quitting is about bad bosses, not bad employees”.

For law firms and legal teams, “quiet quitting” coming to light in the team is a good reason to take stock and focus on creating an environment where people do feel motivated, supported and excited to work. Flexibility and communication are often key to ensure employees want to work hard, and it’s also important that an engaged and motivated employee doesn’t have to consistently work long hours to prove their worth. Running a modern workforce is all about making a business attractive to people from a diverse talent pool.

At Vario, we deliver a range of professional services to our legal clients, one of which is providing a flexible legal provision. Over the years, we’ve learnt from parachuting contract lawyers into projects that setting clear parameters is essential, as well as focusing on the importance of work/life balance, and that is what motivates many lawyers to choose to work as a contractor.

Whilst on paper, the idea behind “quiet quitting” is healthy — setting clear work/life boundaries — the name itself and the negative connotations it denotes are less helpful. In fact, the idea that someone should have to consistently go over and above is completely counterintuitive to many of the other trends we’re seeing; for example, the desire for more flexibility, agility and autonomy, the backlash against presenteeism and the growing understanding and acceptance of the mental health implications of a poor work/life balance.

However, if “quiet quitting” is being used as a byword for disengagement, that is an issue that firms need to address. Ultimately, “quiet quitting” isn’t necessarily a bad thing — it just needs to be understood and, possibly, rebranded.

Matthew Kay is a partner and the managing director of Pinsent Masons Vario.

To read Lawyers Weekly’s recent coverage on “quiet quitting”, see below: