From shift shock to resenteeism – which workplace trends are here to stay?

Two years ago, the so-called great resignation became the first in a slew of terms coined to describe emerging HR concerns. It’s time to sift the fleeting buzzwords from those with lasting relevance

230817 Workplace Buzzwords

Rage applying. Hush trips. Overemployment. Since the end of the Covid crisis, the world of white-collar work has been flooded with new terms to describe ever more specific trends.

Arguably, most are little more than formulaic buzz phrases, coined in the hope of giving the creators their 15 minutes of fame. But their proliferation highlights the sheer scale of change that office workers have experienced. In little over three years, we’ve had enforced remote working, the great resignation and the great return, with a touch of economic upheaval sprinkled in for good measure.

Since the World Health Organization declared the Covid emergency over in May, it seems that there are just as many people questioning the value of work as those who are desperately clinging to their jobs through successive rounds of mass layoffs.

Our language has been changing to reflect the post-pandemic reality. As Rani Molla at Vox puts it, terms such as quiet quitting “manage to be both meaningless buzzwords that elicit eye rolls and succinct ways to capture real workplace phenomena”. 

But are all equally deserving of your attention? Clues might be found in internet search data.  Raconteur analysed Google search statistics for several key phrases to find out which have flamed out and which may have more longevity. (NB: because Google Trends data displays relative search volumes for each phrase, their absolute popularity is not comparable – one term’s peak may represent thousands more searches than another’s.)

Quiet quitting and its imitators

Quiet quitting is arguably the best-known phenomenon. The term burst on to the scene last summer, going viral on TikTok and inspiring thousands of articles (with Raconteur being no exception). It describes workers who do the bare minimum required of them, feeling disengaged from their employers.

While the actual phrase may have fallen from favour, it does seem to be based in reality. There has been a growth in the number “actively disengaged” workers since Q2 2022, according to an analysis published by Gallup in May. 

There’s less firm evidence for the dozens of imitators the term inspired, from loud quitting (leaving a job dramatically), to quiet firing (nudging employees to quit) and even quiet thriving (making active choices to feel more engaged at work).

Our verdict: we doubt that we’ll be using these phrases in five months, let alone five years, but the original term did spark a much-needed conversation.

When workers don’t want to work

One thing that many white-collar workers seemed to take away from the Covid crisis was the feeling that their jobs were unimportant – especially compared with those of the key workers who kept things going while millions were on furlough – and therefore not worth getting stressed about. That shift has been evident in the many buzzwords relating to slacking off, dropping out and generally giving less of a damn.

Taking a bare minimum Monday basically means quiet quitting, but only on the first day of the week. Lazy-girl jobs? These are simply low-stress roles for those who just want an easy pay cheque. Resenteeism? Turning up to the office, but not being happy about it, especially having been obliged to relinquish remote working. 

There has been internet interest in all these terms, but it hasn’t lasted to a significant extent, perhaps because so many people indulged in such behaviour long before the pandemic. That said, overemployment – holding down more than one full-time role – would have been all but impossible to pull off before the remote working age.

Our verdict: the terminology may change, but being fed up at work is eternal.

The great reshuffle

At a time when even some of the world’s most profitable firms are making mass layoffs, it’s not surprising that many neologisms have concerned the act of switching employers.

For instance, there has been a huge spike in interest in career cushioning. This means forming a plan B – by networking, perhaps, or collecting job offers from other firms – to provide a soft landing after redundancy. A related, but less focused, trend, is known as rage applying. This is the term applied to someone who expresses their anger with their employer by firing off a salvo of CVs to several other companies.

But the two phrases with the most staying power are about what happens after workers switch jobs. Shift shock is the realisation that a new role is not all it was cracked up to be – perhaps prompting the new recruit to boomerang back to their original employer.

Our verdict: quitting a job might feel good in the moment, but those who follow trends too closely may regret it.

Back to HQ

Neologisms relating to where people work have generated the most sustained interest. Digital nomad, for instance, has long since passed from a trend into an almost clichéd career choice (to the extent that there’s been a backlash against laptop-toting foreign workers in popular destinations). Likewise, the hush trip – a holiday taken without your manager’s knowledge – is not fading in popularity.

Then there are the terms that describe new anxieties as people navigate the return to HQ. Worries over exactly how much work employees do at home (productivity paranoia), how much work employees are seen to do in the office (productivity theatre) and whether those who do stay at home might be at a disadvantage (proximity bias) don‘t seem to be fading.

Our verdict: with employers and employees still locked in battle over where and when to work, this group of terms looks set to keep expanding.