Antiwork and the Rejection of Hustle Culture: A Guide for HR Leaders
Discover what managers can do to help keep their employees engaged and decrease the frequency of quiet quitting within their teams.
By now you’ve probably heard the terms “quiet quitting,” “antiwork,” and “anti-hustle” being used in the media. Recent research has also shown that employees adopting these mentalities are on the rise. According to Pew:
- 50% of the workforce, or maybe even more, are quiet quitting
- The amount of actively disengaged employees has increased to 18% in 2022, up from 14% in 2020
- The ratio of engaged to actively disengaged workers is the lowest in almost a decade (1.8 to 1)
While these trends are cause for concern for managers and employers, the “antiwork” or “quiet quitting” mindset isn’t the issue itself. Rather, they are symptoms of larger company-wide red flags to be addressed.
With this in mind, what can managers do to help keep their employees engaged and to decrease the frequency of quiet quitting within their teams?
Below we look at what these terms mean, and what managers can do when this behavior becomes problematic.
What is quiet quitting and antiwork/anti-hustle culture?
First, let’s clarify what each term really means.
Quiet quitting is when an employee chooses to do only their assigned work, and nothing more. They don’t go above and beyond, and at the end of the day, they sign off rather than taking on more work or working after hours.
“Antiwork” is used to describe people who want to work exactly as much as needed to do their jobs (and not more), because any additional work simply creates excess wealth for businesses and management.
This antiwork mentality has been around for decades but saw an uptick during the pandemic. Reddit, for example, now has 1.7 million users subscribed to the “r/antiwork” subreddit, up from 100,000 before March 2020.
Anti-hustle culture is about people being against the idea that dictates people should “rise and grind” and work more than 40 hours per week. This is in direct contrast to Elon Musk’s famous tweet, where he wrote: “There are way easier places to work, but nobody ever changed the world in 40 hours a week.”
Anti-hustle culture is about people being against the idea that dictates people should “rise and grind” and work more than 40 hours per week.
Antiwork and anti-hustle are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably to describe a similar sentiment.
Quiet quitting: A problem or an exercise in boundary-setting?
Whether or not you think these trends are positive or negative will depend on who you ask.
Some managers will experience these trends negatively, as their employees are no longer willing to put in the extra work that many managers have become accustomed to seeing.
Some have gone so far to say that quiet quitting is contributing to a lack of productivity and even inflation.
Contrary to these beliefs, Leadership and Mindfulness coach, Isabel Duarte, says she doesn’t think quiet quitting is a negative term worth validating, at least on the surface.
She says “I think it’s positive that people are realizing that life is about more than work and that there is so much more that matters than only being an exemplary employee. Coming into work with the boundaries set around that shouldn’t be portrayed as being half-way out the door.”
Despite this position, Duarte explains that there are indeed behaviors that managers should look out for that are problematic.
She says, “I always encourage managers to look out for behaviors that may be symptomatic of lack of motivation, not so we can fix and restore their productivity, but so they can investigate the root causes.”
Boundary-setting at work
There is nothing inherently wrong with an employee doing their job well, consistently, and setting boundaries after a certain hour.
The reality is, only so many opportunities for advancement exist on each team.
If you think about workers who perform their jobs well and consistently, this might actually be describing “rock star” employees. These workers are dependable and predictable, and have no desire to rise through the ranks of a company.
If you had an entire team of employees who all wanted to rise through the ranks, you’d find yourself in a bind. The reality is, only so many opportunities for advancement exist on each team.
As a manager, having a handful of employees who want to rise with a handful of employees who simply want to do their jobs provides balance on your team.
Why are more employees than ever adopting an “antiwork” or “anti-hustle” mindset?
The reason we’re hearing more about setting healthy boundaries, and more people being anti-hustle, is because it is a notable shift from the pre-pandemic hustle culture.
What the pros are saying
Organizational psychologists and even LinkedIn are revolting against the term, and reminding people that it simply means having a life outside of work.
And having a life outside of work is exactly what many people are prioritizing: 58% of respondents in 1 study said “they wouldn’t accept a job if they thought it would negatively affect their work-life balance.” Another 33% said they’d rather be unemployed than unhappy in a job.
Who it affects the most
The rise in an antiwork mentality could be related, in part, to people being asked to go back into the office, depending on who you ask. In fact, 36% of respondents in 1 McKinsey study reported negative mental health effects when working from the office. Some reasons for this include:
- Parents feeling stressed about getting COVID at work and spreading it to their families
- Losing the autonomy they had during work from home
- Returning to a more rigid schedule by being back in the office
It’s important to note that most people adopting an antiwork or anti-hustle mindset are not against all forms of labor. They are against toxic workplaces and abusive managers who try to squeeze more work out of people than is healthy.
Quiet quitting becomes problematic for companies when employees start disliking their jobs and losing their motivation. This can cause their mentality to shift from doing well in their jobs to simply picking up a paycheck. These are the people your company should be focused on.
Quiet quitting becomes problematic for companies when employees start disliking their jobs and losing their motivation.
While it’s true that there’s technically nothing “wrong” with an antiwork mindset, it becomes an issue when it’s impacting an employee’s performance, their team, and the wider company.
How to spot an antiwork mindset among employees
While it’s unlikely an employee will approach you and announce that they have an antiwork mindset, there are some telltale signs you can look out for as a manager.
It’s important to note that an internal widespread antiwork mindset usually indicates problems at your company. If you want to tackle an antiwork mentality, you’ll need to get to the root cause of the issues.
Some issues to look out for include:
- Higher turnover than usual or absenteeism
- Employee burnout
- Bad managers
- Lack of employee appreciation or recognition
- Lack of meaningful and engaging work
Issues to look out for and how to motivate your people
Issue 1: Higher turnover than usual or absenteeism
There are many factors that lead to turnover, and not all of them indicate a problem. What you should be keeping an eye on is your turnover rate increasing.
How to improve the situation
This is likely the most complex problem to solve, because people leave for a variety of reasons, and 1 solution does not fit all. So we have a checklist here to get you started. Some of these retention strategies include:
- Showing your people that you appreciate them.
- Promoting training to demonstrate internal job mobility (rather than leaving for another opportunity).
Issue 2: Employee burnout
Workers can become antiwork if they feel burned out. Since the pandemic began, burnout has been on the rise.
Some reasons for this include:
- 56% of workers feel an expectation to “always be on.”
- 30% say taking on responsibilities outside their contracted job has contributed to feeling burned out.
In order to combat burnout, many employees are now making firmer boundaries with their workplaces.
How to improve the situation
Some ways to tackle burnout include:
- Training your management team on what it means to lead with empathy.
- If your budget allows, investing in healthcare and mental health resources (70% of small business employees in a Zenefits survey said they’re unlikely or very unlikely to accept a job that doesn’t offer health benefits!)
- Respecting your employees’ working hours and encouraging them to log off after work.
Issue 3: Toxic management practices
After collecting feedback in an exit interview or engagement survey, you might discover a toxic manager.
One study found that over half of people who quit do so because of a bad manager. Some people might choose to stay at the company and instead start “quiet quitting,” as leaving the company may not be an option for them.
How to improve the situation
A bad manager that is causing your people to either leave or quiet quit needs to be addressed immediately.
Some ways to address this include:
- Getting to the root of their behavior: First, empathize with them, especially if the behavior is new. Have they always had negative reviews? If not, it’s worth exploring what caused this change of behavior.
- Consider their employment: If the behavior isn’t new or you’re consistently getting negative feedback about an individual, it’s worth reconsidering their employment at the company. It’s important to take the consequences of toxic managers seriously because even after they leave, it takes significant effort to reinstate a positive working environment.
Issue 4: People don’t find their work engaging or meaningful
According to Deloitte, “Today’s workers seek to identify with an organization’s purpose, longing to connect at a deeper level to align their personal wants and desires with the organization’s mission.” If people don’t feel their work is meaningful or engaging, they might gravitate towards quiet quitting.
Gallup found that 50% of employees now make up “quiet quitters.” They connect this trend directly with low engagement.
Moreover, people are truly working for more than just a paycheck. One Harvard Business Review report found that 9 out of 10 workers were willing to take a pay cut for more meaningful work. This means that if you don’t provide engaging and meaningful work to your employees, you might see an upward trend of people simply doing the minimum requirements to get by.
How to improve the situation
Low engagement requires long-term planning to fix. We put together an extensive guide here. Some ways you can start to address issues around low engagement include:
- Conduct an employee engagement survey to see where your company currently lands.
- Use motivation matrix exercises.
- Provide training to managers on how to motivate and coach their teams.
Issue 5: People don’t feel appreciated or that their efforts are being recognized
According to Gallup, employees who received daily feedback from managers are 3 times more likely to be engaged at work compared with those who get feedback once a year or less. So, if you’re looking for easy ways to engage your employees, feedback can go a long way.
When employees don’t feel appreciated, or they don’t receive feedback on their performance, they can quickly become disengaged, which can lead to quiet quitting.
How to improve the situation
You don’t have to wait for Employee Appreciation Day to make your people feel valued — especially because workers who feel appreciated are more likely to be engaged.
Investing in an employee recognition program is well worth the time and cost. According to Gallup, “16.1 million dollars could be saved in annual turnover costs at a 10,000-employee organization by creating a culture of recognition.”
We put together a guide here on how to show your people recognition and appreciation. Some ways to do this include:
- Making recognition public: You can offer praise in a company-wide email.
- Implementing peer-to-peer recognition: Some employees prefer praise from a fellow colleague, instead of someone from management.
- Offering professional training and development: Providing upskilling opportunities can demonstrate to your people that their careers can advance at your company.
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Employee priorities have shifted, and companies might have to adapt
There’s been an unmistakable mindset shift since 2020. Duarte explains: “I think after the pandemic, people are realigning with their values and realizing that there’s more to life than hard work. I’d say it’s a mix of existential dread plus feeling like we lost time, plus wanting to have meaningful time and experiences.”
When it does become an issue is when there are noticeable changes in an employee’s approach to work and how they behave in the office.
These issues will be clear. They include absenteeism, lower engagement, and signs of burnout. Tackling these company problems will help your people find motivation and engagement, and stay with your company.
It’s not that people don’t want to work; it’s that there’s a rise in employees rejecting hustle culture, and the expectation that they should be available to work around the clock.