It started, as many trends do now, with TikTok.
“I recently learned about this term called ‘quitting,’ where you don’t just quit your job outright, you quit with the idea of going above and beyond,” a man calmly recounts on the New York footage.
“You still do your job, but you no longer follow the culture’s mindset that work should be your life,” the voiceover continues as a clip shows a hand playing with bubbles coming out of a device.
The video garnered more than 400,000 likes, and soon it seemed like everyone was talking about “leaving it alone,” the hot new trend. As summer turned into fall, more TikToks were created, talk shows ran jokes about the phenomenon, and the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg published more than a dozen articles about quitting. Talk show titan Dr. Phil devoted an entire television episode to it.
Now that the new year is upon us, the flow of TikToks has slowed down. Google searches for the term “leave alone” are down. Business Insider announced “RIP, Quiet Resignation,” with reports that workers have returned to the 50-hour work week after some companies, particularly tech companies, began laying off workers and freezing open roles.
But while “leave it alone” seems different here today, a viral trend gone tomorrow, amid the current economic climate, the ethos that leave it alone represents for workers is likely here to stay, experts say. Even if it’s not neatly packaged in an alternation.
Leaving alone was never really new. Between 13% and 20% of Americans report being actively engaged at work since Gallup began conducting employee engagement surveys in 2000.
For some, leaving it alone just works. do your thing, go home and forget about it. Treating what many people have always done by not volunteering for extra work as a new trend shows how much the Covid-19 pandemic has affected people’s relationship with their work. The pandemic has forced many people to reassess their priorities. Did they put work before family, friends, their own health?
The change has even been embraced by the US Surgeon General’s Office, which in October issued guidance on workplace health and wellness that encouraged managers to listen to workers, raise wages and limit communication outside of work hours, among other things.
“More and more workers today are concerned about making ends meet, dealing with chronic stress and balancing the demands of work and personal life. Their mental health toll is rising,” said US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in the guidance.
“The pandemic … has created disabilities among many workers who no longer feel that sacrificing their health, family and communities for work is an acceptable trade-off.”
Christina Banks, director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Healthy Workplaces at the University of California, Berkeley, says the emergence of layoffs speaks to a decline in personal motivation around work, in part due to ongoing burnout.
“Leaving it alone makes a lot of sense. People lose that intrinsic motivation and don’t want to work as hard as they used to,” Banks said.
While Covid-19 exacerbated the loss of motivation, workers had already begun to feel disengaged in the years leading up to the pandemic.
“Before the pandemic, there were unrealistic expectations of what people should be doing in their jobs, going above and beyond what they’re being paid for, or pushing themselves to the limit,” he said. “People don’t want to go back to work, get under the same pressure cooker.”
In his book The Importance of Work in an Age of Uncertainty, Boston College professor David Bluestein reports that even before the pandemic, “people were already feeling a sense of uncertainty about work, a sense of the erosion of the institution of work.”
“Over the past 50 years, workers have lost more and more autonomy and protections and have been treated as commodities,” Blaustein said. “Organizations have really prioritized profits and productivity, and I think people are really feeling that.”
A 2015 paper estimated that workplace stress from layoffs, job insecurity and toxic work cultures could lead to more than 120,000 deaths a year and $190bn (£156bn) in healthcare costs. And this was before the epidemic, when there was no risk of getting sick with Covid-19 at work.
For workers who could do their jobs remotely when the pandemic began in the spring of 2020, it provided some respite.
“The experience of people working effectively without the extra mental challenges, physical challenges, organizational challenges that they faced when they were in the office gave them a different perspective on how they might live their lives and work in the future,” Banks said. : .
Bluestein sees quiet resignation as a companion to the Great Resignation, which saw the national resignation rate rise from 1.6% in April 2020 to 3% in November 2021, the highest since the government began tracking resignation numbers. More than 47 million Americans left their jobs in 2021. In a survey of quitters, Pew found that low pay, opportunities for growth and feeling disrespected were the most cited reasons for quitting.
“Leaving it alone is part of a bigger picture of a period of reimagining the institution of work,” Blaustein said. “The pandemic was really a trigger for working people.”
Such was the case with “Kenny,” a middle school teacher in Iowa who wanted to identify himself by a pseudonym for fear of professional repercussions. When the pandemic forced classes to go remotely, it finally revealed what work-life balance can look like.
When Ken returned to teaching in person, he began to relax, even though the term had not yet been coined. She refused to stay up late in appreciation and saved her energy for family and friends. He thought of less fun activities for his class and no longer stayed late to talk to students. Although the more fulfilling relationship with teaching is gone, Ken said he needs to get some of his personal life back.
“I kind of realize that I miss having friends, I really miss spending quality time with my family when I’m not completely exhausted,” she said. The pandemic “has given a lot of teachers an opportunity to just be like, ‘Wow, I’m really enjoying family time and I’m not feeling exhausted.’
In a survey released in February by the National Education Association, 55% of educators considered leaving the profession early. Ken said he is ultimately changing careers at the end of the year and leaving his time alone.
Teachers are “supposed [students’] counselor, their second parents, their police officers,” he said. “We’re nowhere near getting what it would take. That’s the most important thing for burnout, which requires us to do a lot of different, extremely important things.”
While leaving it alone may not be the trend it used to be, Blaustein believes its manifestation points to something bigger that’s likely to stick around.
“People are really rethinking their relationship with work,” he said. “We don’t know where this is going to land, and it may not actually land. It can continue to be a very organic, dynamic process.”