Loud quitting hits China’s job market. How are brands responding?

    China’s Gen Zers are taking a gap year to travel and discover their true passions. How can brands speak to these experience-hungry consumers?
    Xiaohongshu users are taking a gap year to step out of their comfort zones and pursue their dreams. Photo: Xiaohongshu/@sophiexue
      Published   in Travel

    When Hou Siyi quit her job, she made sure to let everyone know — by announcing it on reality TV.

    The 24-year-old, who starred in the 2023 season of popular Chinese dating show Heart Signal, was filmed resigning from ByteDance and celebrating with cake and confetti alongside her castmates.

    Hou Siyi was filmed quitting her job on season six of “Heart Signal.” Photo: Weibo @吼猴侯斯译
    Hou Siyi was filmed quitting her job on season six of “Heart Signal.” Photo: Weibo @吼猴侯斯译

    “I don’t want to plan too much,” Hou says on the show when she first mentions her plans to quit. “I also don’t want to think about other people’s opinions, or big companies, or prestigious schools. I just want to do what I want to do.”

    Hou is one of many young workers in China who are leaving their jobs and sharing their experience on social media. It’s similar to the “quit-tok” trend in the West, where employees post about quitting their jobs due to dissatisfaction with their work conditions or a desire for a fresh start.

    As Chinese Gen Z reclaim their time, where are they choosing to go and what are they spending on?

    Loud quitting and the pursuit of happiness#

    “Loud quitting” marks a departure from years of “quiet quitting,” or jingshen lizhi (精神离职), which is defined as doing the bare minimum of one’s job — a type of mental resignation. It also differs from “lying flat,” or tangping (躺平), where people reject societal pressures to overachieve and strive just to get by.

    With loud quitting, Chinese workers are breaking cycles of passive suffering and finding new ways to thrive. On Xiaohongshu, the hashtag “naked resignation” (#裸辞), which means to resign before having another job lined up, has 1.4 billion views, while the hashtag “I quit” (#我离职了) has 346 million views.

    Like in the West, Chinese netizens are posting their job resignations on social media. Photo: Xiaohongshu
    Like in the West, Chinese netizens are posting their job resignations on social media. Photo: Xiaohongshu

    This phenomenon of loudly celebrating resignations is part of the Post-00s Reform the Workplace movement (00后整顿职场), says Jack Porteous, commercial director of cross-cultural agency Tong.

    “Combining a rejection of toxic and exploitative work environments, salaries they see as insufficient to live the lifestyle they aspire to, and an emphatic YOLO attitude, we’re seeing more and more of the younger generation prioritize work-life balance, mental health, and self-fulfillment over slavishly climbing the career ladder,” he explains.

    For some, it wasn’t so much about the workplace environment but the lack of fulfillment that led them to leave.

    “I got the title, the money, the good career; however, I wasn’t really happy,” says An, a 32-year-old who left her role as a marketing team leader at Chinese consumer electronics company OnePlus in 2022. “I want to know what exactly I want in my life, and I want to seek happiness and discover more possibilities.” (An requested to be referred to by first name only.)

    It may seem counterintuitive to give up a secure or even high-paying position as China’s economy slows and youth unemployment hits record highs. But to Hou, it makes total sense.

    “I believe it’s precisely due to the economic downturn and the downsizing of business in large companies that each person’s workload has increased, leading to a phenomenon of neijuan [内倦, a state of burnout and ennui]. The overwhelming work pressure hasn’t brought about a sense of personal achievement and value,” she explains.

    Finding peace in remote places#

    So what are the newly unemployed doing with their free time? Crossing places off their bucket list, for starters.

    Hou spent time in Wanning, Hainan, where she learned how to surf, as well as in Dali, Yunnan, where she booked a homestay and found “healing.” Both cities have relatively low living costs, good natural environments, and are popular among China’s digital nomads, she describes.

    Hou Siyi spent part of her gap year in Yunnan province. Photo: Weibo @吼猴侯斯译
    Hou Siyi spent part of her gap year in Yunnan province. Photo: Weibo @吼猴侯斯译

    Meanwhile, An looked abroad to appease her travel bug — but not to the typical tourist destinations. She started her adventure in Turkey before making her way to Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Brazil, among other countries.

    “I wanted to go somewhere that’s not so well developed or [that is constantly changing], because I know if I go to the States or to Europe, I can go there on a business trip or even when I’m 60 or 70 years old,” An says. “Nothing really changes [in] these well-developed countries. Since I’m still young, I want to see something different.”

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    In China, “money, career, reputation — it means you are successful. You should be happy about that. But is that true?” An asks. “The people who live maybe in South America, like Brazil, the Amazon, or Colombia, they are not rich, but they are really happy. And I just want to know why.”

    In search of answers, An started a podcast called “Happiness vs. Work” (幸福怎么班?), which explores whether work and happiness are truly on opposite ends of the spectrum.

    According to Group, there has been a consistent upward trend in gap year-related product searches since 2022. Since the beginning of this year, the search volume of gap year-related ticket and tour products on the Chinese travel site has surged by 20 times compared to 2019 and by 1.2 times compared to last year. 

    “Some factors that young travelers consider when choosing [gap year] destinations would be recommendations and reviews, the availability of cultural and educational opportunities, as well as accessibility and convenience,” a Group spokesperson tells Jing Daily.

    Winning over China’s weary consumers#

    Therefore, an obvious way for brands to reach these unemployed, experience-hungry Chinese youth is through travel.

    “Domestically, the ‘city walk’ trend has sparked interest in exploring lesser-known cities, moving beyond typical tourist attractions,” says Laurence Lim, founder and managing director of Cherry Blossoms Intercultural Branding. “Partnering with local cultural institutions such as museums could appeal to Gen Z travelers, who are increasingly drawn to unique cultural experiences.”

    Exclusive online drops or collaborations can be timed with popular travel periods or targeted through digital campaigns at destinations popular with Chinese Gen Z travelers, she suggests.

    Beyond travel, Tong’s Porteous points out the growing opportunities for brands in the beauty, home fragrance, and health and fitness sectors to tap into desires for self-care.

    “Brands with artisanal roots could craft experiences that allow consumers to share in the creation process; wellness brands could focus on creating healing rituals and try to connect on a deeper level with customers’ personal experiences; or fitness brands could help customers set and realize goals,” he says.

    Whichever direction brands take, both analysts stress the need for carefully tailored messaging that is empathetic rather than exploitative.

    “It’s not about promoting impulsive job resignations or despising work itself,” Lim says. “Instead, the focus [of the brand message] should be on discovering what truly fulfills one, advocating for diverse lifestyles and ways of working.”

    “Brands who rely on heavily commercial messaging — pushing product and not contributing educational or life-affirming content — will see declining engagement and loyalty among a generation who want to feel cared for and appreciated,” Porteous adds.

    As China’s weary workers explore the world, prioritize personal growth, and heal their souls, brands can either be supporters in their journey or miss out on one of the most transformative periods of their lives.

    • TikTok’s “loud quitting” trend has emerged in China, with young workers publicly announcing their resignations on social media as they reject toxic or unfulfilling work environments.
    • The phenomenon of loud quitting represents a departure from previous trends of lying flat and quiet quitting, signaling a cultural shift towards personal growth and mental health.
    • Newly unemployed individuals are utilizing their free time to embark on gap years, exploring lesser-known destinations domestically and internationally.
    • Brands have opportunities to engage with this trend by offering tailored experiences in the travel, beauty, home fragrance, and health and fitness sectors, satisfying desires for self-care.
    • Brands must carefully craft messaging that affirms young Chinese workers’ desires for freedom, connection, and growth in order to build loyalty during this transformative period in their lives.
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