On ‘Quiet Quitting’ and Refusing to be Dehumanized at Work
The term, ‘quiet quitting’ has been making rounds on Internet as the latest coined term that perfectly encapsulates the complaints, concerns and overall exhaustion of a new generation of workers.
It’s been said time and time again that with great power comes great responsibility. In the 21st century, when it comes to working, “great power” is being redefined, it’s now about setting firm boundaries and reclaiming employee and union power. Post (and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic), so many of us are re-examining how much of ourselves we give to our work and where we place our value. I’ve personally experienced a reckoning where during the pandemic I moved an entire continent away from my home, changed industries, and embarked on a personal journey of figuring out who I am and what I want, detached from the familiarity of my upbringing.
In The New York Times about the subject, the aptly titled piece, “Who Is Quiet Quitting For?”, refers to ‘quiet quitting’ as a phenomenon that isn’t outright resigning but simply refusing to go above and beyond for your work. It’s a contentious and rightfully controversial stance to take when the golden standard for decades in modern workplaces was to do exactly that — go above and beyond — without questioning, receiving additional compensation or support. Given the way the economic labour force has shifted into the tertiary sector (i.e. work that does not include physical labour like farming, agriculture, or manufacturing), so has the idea of what a job is expanded alongside accepted golden standards.
Think about digital nomads and how many countries in the European Union have begun offering new types of visas to attract remote workers or the way that people have been fired from their jobs after going viral online in not-so-nice ways. The Internet remembers, but so do we — the users of this global communication web — retain this knowledge as well. No longer are millennials and Gen-Z who are paradoxically also suffering from an overload of career options led by the advent of the Internet, accepting that we must pledge allegiance to our employers via our energy, time and emotional labour, especially to bosses who do not reciprocate the investment. You could say, “It’s a sign of the times” or that “people don’t want to work anymore” but those are simplified flattened versions of what’s actually going on — people are no longer accepting the bare minimum for their working standards and that matters.
The ultimate lesson that ‘quiet quitting’ demonstrates is that our work, much like our lives, aren’t things to be solved but rather lived — in all its iterations and multitudes.
Many traditional societal structures have moved from static to all encompassing things — take for example job hunting. Speaking from my gruelling personal experience (unfortunately), the job hunting process can be de-motivating at best and existential at its worst. No longer is it about submitting an application but avid LinkedIn networking, rabid email follow ups or simply knowing the right person with the added flavour of feeling obliged to twist yourself into a personal brand to entice employers and opportunities. Other social markers of successful ‘adulting’ (re: Kelly Williams Brown, the woman who coined the term adulting, whose life fell apart and her thoughts) aren’t even available to the next generation when considering the rising costs of living, stagnated wages, decreased homeownership levels and even the desire to own a home on the decline when remote work has become more streamlined and normalized granting greater mobility. I remember when the narrative of the pandemic was ‘this will blow over in two weeks’ and then months later turned into ‘I can’t wait for things to go back to normal’, at the root of this lamentation was a stark question to ponder over who was this desired “normal” actually serving and why were we in a haste to return to it.
It makes sense that given the upheaval of the past two years, employees want a change and are protesting with whatever tools they have. With friends I’ve discussed this issue with, some have said the term isn’t new and in fact is simply performing your job description. In doing so, work priorities are now time freedom, work hours flexibility and benefits over accolades, promotions and endless workloads to prove our worth.
The social commentary on ‘quiet quitting’ reflects much needed discourse about the role work plays in our lives impacting long-term policies like whether Universal Basic Income will ever be adopted as a mainstream phenomenon or how just this year in June, thousands of UK workers began the world’s largest trial of 4 day work week. Work is changing and gladly so, because I’m happy to be alive witnessing the beautiful, ugly and unglamorous unfolding, as we re-negotiate what comes next. Maybe the ultimate lesson with ‘quiet quitting’ is that our work, much like our personal lives, aren’t things to be solved but rather lived — in all its iterations and multitudes. To pay homage to the words of the imitable writer and activist Audre Lorde, “there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives,” so let’s enjoy the insufferably human tendency to seek out problems but also reclaim the courage to confront our struggles one issue at a time.