The post-COVID phenomenon of ‘quiet quitting’ is widespread in the UK, with younger employees being the most likely to be working significantly fewer hours than before the pandemic, according to new research from The Inclusion Initiative at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
Younger, degree-educated workers belonging to the ‘laptop class’, who enjoy the ability to work from home, are leading the ‘quiet quitting’ trend, researchers found, suggesting that remote-working is enabling it.
Researchers say this could possibly be problematic for UK economic growth because unpaid overtime has been a key contributor to business productivity since the 2008 global financial crisis. Equally, they recognise the potential for employees being better able to focus away from the unproductive distractions of office life.
Overall, younger generational cohorts were found to be working up to 56 hours (7 days) less per year than before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrating a shift towards greater work life balance. This was more pronounced in the Generation Z and Millennial cohorts – those born in 1997-2004 and 1981-1996. Baby Boomers, born 1954-1964, were the only generation found to be working at pre-pandemic levels, while Generation X, born 1965-1980, showed only a modest decline in hours worked.
Men were more likely to ‘quiet quit’ than women. Overall, reduction in hours worked since 2019 were 33 hours per year for men, compared to 21 hours for women.
While ‘quiet quitting’ trends were generally consistent across industries, there was stronger evidence for it in finance, technology and professional services (46 hours per year in the period compared to 2019), with reductions being the lowest in manufacturing, agriculture, energy and construction (seven hours). The public sector saw more modest reductions in working hours than any other sector.
Overall, it found that the UK workforce reduced hours by 28 hours per year post-pandemic. Hours lost were most notable in 2022, with hours down by 36 hours. Given the 24,568 million UK full-time workers in 2022, the findings equate to over 55 million discretionary hours lost to the labour market per year between 2019-2022, 48.1% of which is accounted for by Millennials.
This is the first study to show evidence of the ‘quiet quitting’ phenomenon in the UK and complements similar, recent findings from the US. The decline in hours worked in the UK is even more notable, exceeding declines in the US by more than 50%. The study points to younger workers placing greater priority on leisure, work-life balance, and wellbeing than previous generations. However, reduced hours may also signal that the generation of younger workers establishing their careers post-2008 global financial crisis are not as invested in future career prospects with their employers post-COVID.
The paper concludes: “The total number of hours per week showed declines consistent with the ‘quiet quitting’ phenomenon. Specifically, hours declined in three of the four generational cohorts, and this was more pronounced in younger generations (i.e., GenZs; Millennials). Baby Boomers were the only generation found to be working hours consistent with pre-pandemic levels.”
Odessa S. Hamilton, Behavioural Scientist at LSE’s The Inclusion Initiative and lead author, said: “Our analyses help to size the impact of ‘quiet quitting’ on the UK economy and to uncover latent differences between groups. Given the gravity of this impact, we must now consider what is driving this behaviour and the idiosyncrasies among groups, so that we can take steps to temper this trend.”
Daniel Jolles, Behavioural Scientist at LSE’s The Inclusion Initiative, said: “Our research raises important questions about who in our society can ‘quiet quit’, with reductions in working hours driven by younger, degree-educated workers with roles that enable them to work from home. Although ‘quiet quitting’ is commonly linked to the social media trend, the reduction in working hours represents a significant part of the broader transformation in the post-COVID work landscape for this group of UK workers.”
Dr Grace Lordan, Director of The Inclusion Initiative at LSE, said: “Our work highlights that younger workers in the so called ‘laptop class’ have the highest tendency to quietly quit. There may not be implications for productivity, assuming that the hours are coming from unproductive activities like pointless meetings. It does though highlight a clear preference for greater work-life balance, and with the big potential for artificial intelligence to complement these same roles that these workers occupy. I expect they will be able to save even more hours in their working week in the near future.”