What’s behind TikTok’s work trends? Burnout and low pay

“She’s quiet quitting and using her spare time to rage apply to lazy-girl jobs.” That sentence makes sense, believe it or not. And with workplace hashtags like these going viral among Gen Z on TikTok, it’s no wonder managers are concerned. What do all these TikTok work trends mean — and is it even possible to keep younger workers happy?

Thankfully, it’s easy to answer both questions. The short version is that younger workers want work-life balance. Want to keep them happy to reduce turnover and maintain productivity? Give them what they want — they’re being surprisingly reasonable, after all.

Gen Z work expectations

Survey after survey suggests managers and older colleagues find the workplace attitudes of subsequent generations alarming, seeing them as lazy and entitled. But they’re simply refusing to continue the toxic workplace traditions of their predecessors.

The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns sparked this. There’s nothing like a constant stream of death tolls in the news to act as a memento mori that life’s too short to work a job you hate. And that sparked the “Great Resignation”, which saw a record 47 million Americans quit their jobs in 2021, and another 50 million do the same the next year, across all generations, not just younger cohorts. “Quite a lot of people feel this way,” said Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at the University of Manchester.

But the roots of these workplace changes go deeper, says Cooper. Younger millennials and Gen Z grew up watching their parents working long hours only to be laid off during the 2008 recession and subsequent firing rounds, hurting their confidence in employers and corporations. “They saw that, and it affected their DNA when they started work,” Cooper said.

There’s more. Stagnant salaries mean mortgages and starting a family are out of reach for longer, so it’s less necessary to have steady work. That, paired with staff shortages, making it easier to find a new job, discourages company loyalty. Plus, flexible working means less social time in the office, so that needs to happen during off hours.

In short, myriad factors are playing into a generational shift that could change work for all of us — for the better. But first, we have to understand what it is these savvy younger staffers want out of work.

Handily, trending TikTok terms can help. The original TikTok work trend is “quiet quitting”: this means phoning it in, showing up to work but only doing the minimum. “All of these phrases are symptomatic of something deeper,” Cooper said. “Quiet quitting is the epitome of this. I need a job, but I don’t want to kill myself working like my parents.”

Akin to that is “act your wage”: doing the work you’re paid for and nothing above and beyond. No extra hours, no extra effort — until you get that promotion or pay raise, at least.

A further extension of that idea is the “lazy girl job”. This is a dream role that you seek out, rather than a reaction to existing workplace woes. Coined by TikToker @Gabrielle_Judge, this work is flexible, easy to do and has a solid salary; she points to vague, “non-tech tech roles” like “customer success manager”.

Stuck in a job you hate? Try “rage applying” — submitting your CV for new roles while sitting at your desk. There’s also “resenteeism”, or staying in a job you hate because you can’t afford to quit. “Career cushioning” means having a backup in case you quit or are laid off.

And there are more. “Chaotic working” is the office counterpart to “malicious compliance”; show how much you hate your job by being really great to customers, perhaps offering them discounts or freebies. Then there’s bare-minimum Mondays; if you end your weekend with the Sunday scaries, then ease into your work week by doing very little on Monday morning.

Employers fight back

Employers and managers are also jumping in with their own work trends. The counter to quiet quitting is quiet firing, when the best projects or promotions are withheld from those who only work their hours. Or there’s quiet hiring, when companies refuse to hire more staff when needed, dumping the work on existing employees or hiring freelancers to help instead.

“Copycat layoffs” are when companies all seem to make cuts at the same time, as the tech industry’s mass cull of 2022. If everyone’s doing it, why not cut a bit of dead wood?

Before managers get too uppity about how workers are rebelling by working the hours they’re paid to do and the role they’ve been asked to fulfil, they should check themselves in the mirror — or the selfie mode on their phone between scrolling TikTok work trends.

Better managers should listen and make changes. Lost productivity due to burnout is expensive, as is hiring new staff when they inevitably quit. Managers may look back on their own careers and see long hours of toil that brought them to their current leadership positions, but rather than condemn younger generations for refusing to follow such a rough path, perhaps it’s time to make work better. Given staff shortages and the rise in labour movements, managers might not have a choice if they want their pick of talent. “We need to adapt to them to retain them,” Cooper said.

Perks that matter to Gen Z

Forget the in-office perks like yoga and ping-pong tables. Younger people want better pay, flexible hours and location, and personal time to lead their lives. It’s just work-life balance with a TikTok spin.

Indeed, it’s best to set aside assumptions about generation gaps, as such requests aren’t new. Gen Z has merely creatively rebranded long-running workplace complaints — if you can read through that list of hashtags and not think “yeah, I’ve been there”, then you’ve had a lucky career.

The TikTok generation isn’t lazy or entitled, just innately talented at marketing and communicating thanks to social media. “I think Gen Z and young millennials have got it right — they don’t have to tolerate what their parents did,” said Cooper.

NEXT: Read Nicole’s verdict on how the world of work will look in 2030

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Nicole Kobie
Nicole Kobie

Nicole is a journalist and author who specialises in the future of technology and transport. Her first book is called Green Energy, and she's working on her second, a history of technology. At TechFinitive she frequently writes about innovation and how technology can foster better collaboration.