The term “quiet quitting” was first popularised on TikTok in July 2022 [1]. Subsequently, it received a mix of responses from both employees and employers. On one hand, some view it as a way of safeguarding employee mental health, claiming it to be an antidote to “hustle culture”. On the other hand, some believe it to be a rather emotional response that can affect one’s professional development and display of work ethics. 

But what exactly is quiet quitting? Is this act ideal in countering the dangers of hustle culture?

Quiet Quitting in Singapore context

“Quiet quitting” is an attitude of sticking closely only to what is required in the job scope and completing the bare minimum. Oftentimes, employees adopt the attitude to “quit” the cycle of overworking and overtime, a common aspect of Singapore’s hustle culture

In a 2019 study done by tech company Kisi, it was found that Singapore is known to have long work hours such that we are ranked second most overworked country among 40 cities [2]. 73% of Singaporean employees are unhappy with our 45 hours work week, with 62% feeling burnt out [3].

Reasons people quiet quit

Individuals find themselves “quiet quitting” for reasons such as:

Frustration with heavy workloads over long periods of time

We may be frustrated from receiving too much work from our employers, but we may find it difficult to communicate that with our employers, often because of the apparent gap between employers and employees. As a result, we engage in “quiet quitting” behaviours to express our frustration.

A call for work-life balance

To achieve work-life balance, we have to maintain a healthy balance between our work life and personal life [4] — having ample rest on days without work and finding time for family and friends while meeting work deadlines.

However, we may find ourselves worrying about work on the weekends, or struggling with our workload even on our days off. If we are unable to feel fulfilled in both aspects of our lives, we may have a tendency to “quiet quit”.

Possible sign of approaching burnout

As part of the hustle culture, we often push ourselves beyond our limits to achieve our definition of success, without any complaints about our overwhelming workload. Consequently, we find ourselves defining our worth by our level of productivity. However, if we were to continuously prioritise our work over our mental health, we may eventually lose sight of the reason for our efforts, leading to burnouts [5].

Burnouts occur when we are emotionally exhausted from our workload and we may likely cope by “quiet quitting”. 

Individuals who are going through burnouts, may experience:

  • Loss of passion for the job or industry
  • A sense of pessimism
  • Apathy towards job
  • Lack of capacity to continue going on full-drive at work 

Is quiet quitting bad?

The act of “quiet quitting” can take on different meanings, depending on how it is done. Usually, we may not be able to set firm boundaries for ourselves at the workplace, leading to miscommunication and burnouts. Therefore, it is essential for employees and employers alike to create a space for open communication and enforcement of boundaries, especially if the workplace has a culture of expecting employees to overwork.

However, it is also worth considering: 

1. Have you had a sit-down conversation to discuss your workload with your supervisor?

It is often considered more respectful to tactfully communicate your struggles before acting out. Moreover, your boss can be given this chance to make things right for you without hurting the relationship going forward.

For instance, we can tell our boss:

  • “I have been having difficulty handling my workload lately, will it be okay for us to discuss it for a bit?”
  • “I understand I have not been able to meet my deadlines recently… Honestly, I have been struggling with some personal issues. Will it be alright for us to discuss the possibilities of reducing my workload?”

2. What can excellence look like, within the working hours and scope that you are responsible for?

Working overtime too often or being flooded with too many projects is not ideal, especially for our mental health. But it is also our responsibility to evaluate our own work ethics and ask ourselves:

  • “How are we handling our workload on a daily basis?”
  • “Are we able to prioritise the more important deadlines?”
  • “Are we working within our means to meet these deadlines?”

Responding to quiet quitters

For employers, it can be a rather tough situation to be in when noticing signs of “quiet quitting” in their employees. Despite employers having good intentions to improve employee mental health, we may not know the appropriate compromise for both parties even after opening up discussions about boundaries. In that case, there are a few pointers for employers to take note of, to better convey concern for employees’ mental health [6]:

Have an understanding of what is making the employee overwhelmed

When discussing with employees about their workplace concerns, employers can seek to understand areas that could be affecting their mental health (eg. workload, working style, workplace culture, or personal life issues). Thereafter, make the necessary adjustments after coming to a consensus from both parties.

Give clear guidelines when setting boundaries for workload/working overtime

Setting guidelines and boundaries can prevent the intrusion of employees’ personal time. When employers are not clear about the workplace boundaries, employees may not have a good gauge of their work performance. Therefore, it helps to be explicit, for example, when explaining what constitutes an “after office hours” emergency and when employees have to reply to work messages.

Express recognition and appreciation for employees’ efforts and improvements

When employees experience a lack of recognition for their work, they may eventually feel disheartened to continue putting in the effort, resulting in “quiet quitting”. To show appreciation for employees’ efforts and improvements, employers can practice giving verbal appreciation, free meals, and so on.

Normalize the need for breaks and slow-paced seasons

Often, breaks are frowned upon as employers worry about complacency among employees. However, constant hustling may not be the answer either. Instead, employers can encourage employees to take the necessary breaks to recharge. Additionally, prioritising tasks during slow-paced seasons can be helpful. For instance, employees and employers can come to an agreement on more urgent tasks that need to be done and identify those that can wait.

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[1] Christian, A. (2022). Why ‘quiet quitting’ is nothing new. BBC.

[2] Today Online. (2019). Singapore ranks 32 out of 40 for work-life balance, second most overworked city. TODAY. 

[3] Singapore Business Review Staff Reporter. (2022). Singapore named most overworked country in APAC. Singapore Business Review. 

[4] Mental Health Foundation. (2021). Work-life balance. Mental Health Foundation. 

[5] headversity. (2022). The Toxicity of Hustle Culture: The Grind Must Stop. headversity. 

[6] Robinson, A. (2022). Quiet Quitting: How to Prevent & Combat it at Work. teambuilding.