Hustle Culture vs. Quiet Quitting: How Bosses Can Walk the Line

UPDATED: February 20, 2024
PUBLISHED: February 20, 2024
Boss talking to his employees on their level because he understands the difference between hustle culture vs quiet quitting

For some, shining attention on the international burnout rates for employees caused a cascade of workplace environment changes. Bosses had to look long and hard at the culture they’d built and make a variety of decisions—including if a caregiver would be penalized for heading out of work a little early, if a team member could do the same job remotely and whether the end of “hustle” culture would mean a decline in profits. 

Some rose to meet the modern demands of the workplace, integrating wellness programs and more one-on-one meetings to ensure workers’ satisfaction. Others solidified their traditional expectations, including Wayfair CEO Niraj Shah, who was recently criticized for sending employees a memo that condemned laziness, told workers not to “shy away” from long hours and requested they be responsive and blend their work and home lives. 

Another CEO of Kyte Baby, Ying Liu, was recently the center of a media storm after denying a request to work remotely from an employee and new mother of an adopted NICU baby. These cases show the many decisions leaders are making on behalf of, or in spite of, their employees’ best interests across the corporate landscape today.

Hustle culture vs quiet quitting: Where do bosses fall?

With terms like “quiet quitting” and “lazy girl jobs” still circulating on TikTok like wildfire, business leaders must ask themselves and their teams—who are we? What do we represent? And where do we find the happy medium when it comes to hustle culture vs quiet quitting? Because right now, on the one hand, we have burnout, and swinging too far the other way, there’s not enough quality work getting done. It’s not an easy time to be a leader, especially if you want to be in the lead. And it’s a predicament that seems here to stay.

Ian Williamson, dean of the Paul Merage School of Business at University of California, Irvine, predicts a workplace landscape in 2024 of “continued evolution toward more holistic work environments, thanks to a continued shortage of workers and a continued diversification in the workforce.” He adds, “This will increase expectations on employers to consider how they can best create inclusive environments that meet the expectations of a wide range of employees.”

The data shows managers are between a rock and a hard place

A 2023 survey by Resume Builder found that 98% of managers disapprove of employees quiet quitting, and that same percentage also believed their direct reports should do more than the bare minimum. New workplace trends point to employees’ desire for “quiet” leadership—less micromanaging, more autonomy. 

“They want to be trusted… ditch all the unnecessary meetings,” one Tiktoker explains. “Just do better.”

Other data shows 67% of companies believe quiet quitting is still a key concern going into 2024.

“Mid-level managers in particular are caught between ‘quiet quitting’ and hustle culture. More senior leaders require hustle and are laser-focused on profits, growth and scale,” says 

Barbara Palmer, founder of Broad Perspective Consulting in Los Angeles. “At the same time, mid-level managers may be faced with junior resources who are looking for better work-life integration, a focus on well-being, less hustle and more culture. The work needs to get done, but employees may want to set boundaries, and those two things may be in conflict.”

Customer satisfaction sometimes eclipses company culture

In business, the customer has the ultimate say. The problem is, some customers aren’t as concerned with company culture—they’re more concerned about the company delivering. Marc Cenedella, founder of Leet Resumes, a professional resume writing company, and Ladders, a career site for six-figure jobs in New York, says this is the concern for many bosses. 

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“I’m seeing many leaders taking the position that the problem with the desire to replace hustle culture with quiet quitting, work–life balance, etc., is that the customer doesn’t have the same desire. Customers are demanding, customers can be unreasonable and customers will take their money and their business elsewhere if they aren’t getting what they want,” Cenedella says. He explains that this is causing some CEOs to take the stance that while it might be in the best interest of the worker to not have to work so hard, the customer just doesn’t care. “As a result of that perspective, we really do not see bosses trying to change their workplace culture from hustle culture to quiet quitting.”

Some companies can afford to be more lax

Why are some companies pushing for employees to be scrappier, more involved and more present, without the flexibility and benefits we see modern workplaces pushing toward? Cenedella says it comes down to whether they can afford to be—which is what might distinguish a small company from an established Fortune 100 when it comes to culture. 

“For employees who are looking for a more reasonable working style expectation, larger, more established, wealthier companies are almost always a better place to go than a company that is trying to make its name in an industry and is scraping and struggling to make a name for themselves… the Fortune 100, some of the largest tech companies, and many of our not-for-profit institutions have a work–life balance mindset that is congenial for people looking for a less strenuous work life.”

Avoid an all-or-nothing stance when it comes to hustle culture versus quiet quitting

It’s unlikely that a struggling business will instantly switch from a corporate, traditional structure to a more flexible, hybrid workday with cushy leave policies overnight. Kristin Lytle, CEO of The Leader’s Edge, is an executive coach who has decades of experience working directly with top leaders who have spent time thinking and writing about and discussing modern workplace trends. She’s a fan of the 85% rule, meaning that nobody, even top employees, can be “on” 100% of the time. Instead, 85% is the number to watch for to ensure engagement in your staff.

“It’s important to recognize that people have off days, whether they are sick or handling a family/personal matter. As long as the team is working to deliver outcomes more often than not, then you as a leader shouldn’t judge a few off days as a signal of their overall dedication. This grace allows people to be more authentic and recognizes we are all human,” she says.

In addition, there are seasons to hustling, and it shouldn’t be a permanent state of being for any employee.

“Just because someone isn’t hustling now doesn’t mean they will not hustle in the future. Also, if someone isn’t ‘hustling,’ it doesn’t mean they are not contributing and fulfilling their obligations to the team or organization. I encourage leaders not to jump to conclusions—only thinking in extremes is a sign of immature leadership,” Lytle says. Instead, she hopes that leaders will be generous, check in with their employees if they see a dip in productivity and understand that behaviors do not have to be permanent. 

She takes the same 85% rule with her own workplace satisfaction—she aims to enjoy work 85% of the time, leaving room for the occasional normal frustrations on a project or with a co-worker. This take can help leaders avoid an all-or-nothing approach to adopting new trends.

Consider how work and home life have already blended

For bosses who think employees still aren’t hustling or carrying their weight and who worry they are posting their quiet quitting videos all over TikTok, Lytle asks them to tune into the fact that modern work–home life has already blended quite a bit. While you might think their in-office lunch break was too long, could you see them last night when they were squeezing in a run-through of that presentation ahead of bedtime or checking their work email?

She points to a survey showing that 64.2% of employees said they “always or usually” respond when contacted outside of work hours. “Different times and different technology mean it’s critical for leaders to understand that career success can also be defined in different ways,” she adds.

Adopting a more holistic and balanced approach might prove more beneficial, she advises. “Assuming your talent should be busy every hour of the day is equally irresponsible, if not more so.”

Palmer adds that this can come down to simply getting to know your employees well, including their work habits. “[Doing this] can unlock the highest level of productivity. And having an open dialogue about skill set, career aspirations and professional goals enables managers to better support their employees where they are.”

In the end, supported employees are not only more productive, they also stay longer at the company, and provide more profit and value than hustle culture ever could.

Photo by fizkes/