The Unifying Philosophy Behind Quiet Quitting, Tangping and Overemployed

By

Jocelyne Gafner

Published September 21, 2022

Jocelyne Gafner is a writer and editor for Indeed with five-plus years of experience in content creation. She is passionate about the power of words and their impact on equitable access to information.

Expectations for full-time salaried workers can differ wildly depending on position and company culture. Now, with the advent of remote work, there are new variables and questions one might consider. 


Since the onset of the pandemic, multiple workplace movements have gained steam, suggesting that a growing percentage of the workforce feel that going above and beyond at work isn't in their best interest. And, with the advent of remote work, a wave of employees are hyper-optimizing the blanks in their schedules with side hustles and some have even joined in on the highly controversial practice of balancing multiple full-time jobs from the comfort of their homes. 


In this article, we will look into the unifying philosophy behind trending workplace movements including quiet quitting, tangping and “overemployed.”


What is quiet quitting, tangping and “overemployed?”


The following three workplace trends experienced some degree of virality within the past two years and are presented in reverse chronological order starting with the most recent. All of the trends are extremely polarizing and it is important to note that Indeed does not endorse or encourage any of the workplace movements discussed in this article, but seeks only to provide a snapshot of current perspectives as they relate to the world of work.


Quiet quitting


The concept of quiet quitting has reached a fever pitch on social media and #IRL leaving (what feels like) few who have not expressed their opinion on the movement. At its core, quiet quitting rejects the idea of intentionally attempting to exceed expectations at work. Instead, workers gradually disengage from doing anything beyond the minimum needed to keep their job. 


As countless other articles have pointed out, quiet quitting has nothing to do with quitting and everything to do with avoiding the “grind” for an employer's benefit. Perhaps the only accurate word in the name of the movement is quiet since the rapidly increasing number of employer-facing articles with titles like “10 Signs Your Employees Are Quiet Quitting” suggest many employers have difficulty ascertaining whether or not they have any quiet quitters amongst their employees.


One reason employers may find it difficult to assess whether or not they have quiet quitters in their ranks is likely because the concept of quiet quitting is not new. There have always been workers who find anything beyond their job description to be just that. The trend has incited highly opinionated rebukes from every end of the spectrum. 


There are many emerging opinions, however, that believe that the values of quiet quitting are completely reasonable and should be standard practice. They seem to raise the question of what a job is meant to be if not completing the tasks delineated in a job description while setting healthy boundaries to promote work-life balance.  


Still, the hope for many businesses is likely that employees are energized by their work and feel the initiative to go above and beyond. But, what propels employees to work beyond their job description? A recent article from the Harvard Business Review argued that an employee's level of productivity is directly tied to the support they receive from their supervisors. According to the data, HBR “found that the least effective managers have three to four times as many people who fall in the “quiet quitting” category compared to the most effective leaders.”


Quiet quitting: a response to quiet firing


Quiet quitting does not happen in a vacuum—it is likely a symptom of an overarching problem in the workplace. Like the other workplace trends covered below, it is a response to dissatisfaction in the workplace, and in this specific case, there is even a word for it: quiet firing. 


The actions that fall under quiet firing can range from passive decisions like a lack of raise or promotion for an extended period of time to purposefully acting unkindly or rude to an employee with the hope of making them want to quit. There is reason to believe that the former—the uncertainty about progress within a company, is one of the driving factors behind all of the workplace trends explored in this article. 


Tangping


Tangping, a movement that translates to “lying flat” began trending in China in April of 2021 and is fundamentally the same as quiet quitting: a rejection of overworking. The concept of overworking is taken to the extreme in China, where the hyper-competitive nature of the workplace demands an unspoken agreement that employees will adhere to a “996” schedule in order to succeed, often without overtime compensation.


 996 refers to a 72-hour work week and stands for 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., 6 days per week—it is the norm for most Chinese workers even though it has been deemed illegal by the Supreme People’s Court of the People’s Republic of China.


With younger generations facing worse economic outcomes than their older counterparts, working harder than necessary is perceived as futile. The common response is the abandonment of a consumer-driven lifestyle in favor of a reduction of working hours. The Chinese government is strongly opposed to the movement and has gone so far as to censor tangping-related content on various online platforms. 


Overemployed


Around the same time as #tangping began trending, overemployment became a mainstream concept after the subreddit (/r/overemployed) experienced a surge in popularity in 2021. Overemployed is a workplace trend that questions what full-time salaried employees can ethically do with any gaps in their schedules if they work for a company from home. 


To be overemployed is to simultaneously work two or more full-time salaried jobs that are either remote or hybrid. Normally being overemployed is managed in secrecy and requires careful balancing since most who are overemployed work the same 9-5 schedule for their multiple jobs. 


Those who describe their experience being overemployed speak about the need to cautiously schedule meetings without overlapping schedules from job one and job two (referred to as j1 and j2 in the forum) and the mental gymnastics required to jump from one work environment to the other.


For many, working one full-time job is daunting enough—who are these confoundingly efficient professionals that manage multiple jobs and flit from work biome to work biome executing their tasks well enough to continually collect multiple paychecks while still working only 40 hours per week total?


Related: FAQ: What Is a Remote Position and What Does It Entail?


Overemployed workers discuss balancing multiple jobs


One of the most popular types of posts on the overemployed subreddit is the workplace setup post. Those who are overemployed post photos of their workplace set up to show how they manage multiple jobs per day. Long desks with multiple computers set up side-by-side with anecdotes about waking up and rolling down the line ad infinitum litter the feed. 


If you follow the subreddit long enough you will also see two common PSAs posted on the feed. One is a warning: the people who are most successful at holding down multiple jobs are those who have enough experience under their belt to be able to execute their job efficiently with some degree of automation. According to the subreddit, the overemployed lifestyle is not recommended for the beginner, the entry-level worker


The other PSA is a reminder of why the movement exists in the first place—stories of mistreatment at the hand of employers come off as a call to arms. These posts give shape to the movement. While successfully managing overemployment is most effectively executed by people in highly specialized roles who have learned ways to automate their tasks, the mentality behind overemployment is being seen in a much wider demographic. 


Related: 10 Tips for Managing Two Full-Time Positions


The philosophy behind quiet quitting, tangping and overemployed


Since 2020 scores of unsatisfied workers have taken to the internet to commiserate and address their qualms at work. The past few years have collectively held us in a state of uncertainty and the consequences are forging philosophies on how to handle perceived employer shortcomings. 


The founder of the overemployed subreddit and website cites being passed over for a promotion he thought he had in the bag as his overemployed origin story and similar accounts can be found on every page of the subreddit as well as from practitioners of quiet quitting (suffering from quiet firing) and tangping. In the case of the overemployed founder, the frustration of missing out on a promotion then turned to fear as layoffs began to increase


Many people who took on multiple jobs claim that they never intended to do so long-term. They were simply trying to secure a job that seemed like a safer bet to transition to only to realize that they were capable of managing their time so they could keep both jobs. Many even got more jobs, with a recent poster boasting that he had just secured his eighth full-time job (j8).


On a deeper level, though, the general sentiment among the three movements is that the current work-scape has de-incentivized going above and beyond.


All three philosophies believe that going above and beyond should come with a raise. Since a raise or promotion is not guaranteed the solution is to meet expectations but not exceed them—to be perfectly average. The overemployed folk have taken it one step further and given themselves a raise. 


What are the risks of partaking in the current workplace trends?


Perhaps the biggest risk associated with all three workplace trends has to do with the missed opportunity to foster optimal workplace wellbeing. A recent Indeed commissioned survey found that a sense of community at work and energizing work are the two biggest factors that drive workplace wellbeing. Because all of the trends covered in this article call for disengaging from the workplace cultivating workplace wellbeing as we understand it is unlikely. 


As for the overemployed, currently, there’s no law that says holding two jobs is illegal, but some companies have written policies that prohibit these practices. But, even if you are not breaking any laws or terms specified in your contract, some employers may not take kindly to an employee working multiple full-time jobs that interfere with one another. There is a reason the overemployed choose to live their multiple work lives in secret.



Related: Effective vs. Efficient: What's the Difference?


Indeed does not endorse or encourage any of the workplace movements discussed in this article, but seeks only to provide a snapshot of current events in the workplace.


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