Quiet Quitting & The Great Retrenchment: How These Work Trends Will Affect The Future Of Work

Every year brings with it new work trends. In 2020, it was remote working and mental health that became a talking point for many companies and their employees In 2021, The Great Resignation took center stage as many workers, buoyed by a tight labour market, realised they could easily find better jobs than the one they are currently working in.

While some of these work trends like The Great Resignation may have dissipated, others like remote working and mental health have evolved (work from anywhere anyone?) and will likely be vital components of a better and more holistic work environment in the future.

2022 brought upon us more such work trends. The most prominent of which is quiet quitting.

Merely trying to define what quiet quitting is can already ignite a debate. Proponents of quiet quitting would say that it’s simply workers doing what they are supposed to in the first place, as opposed to being expected to do more. Others who are less enthusiastic about quiet quitting may describe it as slackers in the office who are trying to do as little as possible while still getting paid each month.

In an article we wrote earlier this year, our writer makes the argument that if we see quiet quitting as just taking back our work-life balance, it may resonate with you” and that “quiet quitting has its appeal as a way to recalibrate our lives”

While the term “Quiet Quitting” is new, what it aims to describe in the workplace isn’t. For many years, most companies already had workers who are contended to do their jobs without wanting to hustle beyond what is needed.

Similarly, “quiet firing”, where companies choose to “manage out” employees who are underperforming by not giving them promotions and increments are not new tactics in the workplace. They have and will continue to exist, moving forward. It’s just that we now have a term to describe such actions in the workplace.  

Perhaps not coincidentally, the term quiet quitting was coined in 2022, after The Great Resignation ran its course. In other words, there were folks who make the decision to quit during The Great Resignation and others who decided that their jobs were good enough to stay (or isn’t bad enough to leave), just that they don’t wish to do more.

The biggest risk of quiet quitting is that workers may be asked anyway by their companies to leave, and this leads to the next trend that we are seeing – The Great Retrenchment.

Will Retrenchment Become Normalised? 

In the past months, we have seen many of the biggest and sometimes, most profitable, companies, laying off their employees. These include Alibaba, Amazon, Meta, Tesla and Twitter. Closer to home, the likes of Shopee and Carousell have also had retrenchment exercises.

There are two interesting observations worth noting.

The first is that unlike past retrenchments in Singapore, many younger workers are now the ones being affected. So, the notion that only older workers will be let go during a downturn while younger folks hold on to their job is no longer true.

Secondly, it’s no longer companies that are bleeding money that are now retrenching workers. Today, even the most profitable companies in the world are choosing to retrench workers just because their profits have declined.

One example is Meta, the parent company of Facebook. Looking at headline news, you would be forgiven for assuming that the company is struggling. However, while growth has tapered off for Meta, it’s still an exceptionally profitable company that has earned about USD18.5 billion in the first 9 months of 2022. This is not a company that is going anywhere anytime soon.

Another example is Amazon. Though the company posted two-quarters of losses (3 months ending March 2022, 3 months ending June 2022), it’s still overall a profitable company and has a zero chance of failing anytime in the foreseeable future. In the 3 months ending September 2022, it also posted a net income of USD 2.87 billion. Even after its share price has declined 50% this year, its market capitalisation is still about USD850 billion currently. Yet, this has not deterred the company from using retrenchment as a method to rightsize itself to profitability.

The point is that retrenchments are no longer just last-resort decisions made by management who have no choice but to roll the dice for the company to survive. Rather, they are now strategies deployed by companies to increase profits during periods when interest rates are high, and short-term profits and cash on hand are valued much more by investors. One trend worth following is to see whether retrenchment ends up being normalised in the workplace moving forward and whether we would see more companies, even among those that are highly profitable, using retrenchment as a simple solution to increase profitability.

Read Also: Would The Great Resignation Become The Great Retrenchment?

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

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