24 August 2022

Beware the trend of 'quiet quitting'

| Zoya Patel
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Lazy worker

Work-life balance is important, but like ‘quiet quitting’, it isn’t available to all. Image: File.

Full disclosure: I’m sceptical of almost all self-care trends, especially when they’re the brainchild of fellow middle-class millennials.

My generation is not exactly known for being hard on ourselves. To be completely frank, most self-care discourse is about absolving oneself of any responsibility to push past mild feelings of stress and anxiety in favour of baths, mindfulness and reneging on our duties to others.

Harsh, I know, but my hardworking immigrant parents raised me to strive for the life I want, with a strong understanding that things aren’t always easy, but resilience is key to achieving success and that literally nothing ever comes in this world for free.

Perhaps that’s because my parents grew up in poverty, with working-class parents of their own in a developing country. When we migrated to Australia for a miraculous job opportunity, they had zero backup plan and four children under the age of 9 to care for. It’s definitely left an impression on me, and I see similar work ethics in other children of working-class parents, single-parent households and the like, where the labour of our parents was very visible and directly related to our lifestyles and access to opportunities.

So when I first started hearing about the trend of ‘quiet quitting’, my eye-roll was already prepared and ready to deploy.

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For those who don’t spend as much time on TikTok as I do, the concept of ‘quiet quitting’ is ostensibly about pushing against the burnout and hustle culture of capitalist economies and instead encouraging employees to focus on doing the bare minimum at work in favour of their mental health. Instead of quitting your job, you quit the expectation that you’ll put in 110 per cent and prioritise work over all else.

Already, there are so many red flags.

In principle, I agree that work-life balance is crucial.

But I also am very aware that work-life balance is one of those concepts that is only really relevant to the middle and upper class, primarily white-collar workers who can have any distinction between their work and their life to begin with. Blue collar workers, service workers, farmers and small business owners (to name a few) have very little choice about how their work interacts with the rest of their lives because the functions and demands of their work are more rigid and unyielding.

I work in an office and can choose to work from home, shift my hours, or take leave without too much impact on the rest of my team. That’s simply not the case for people who work in fields where they’re limited by how much labour they can do during daylight hours, the expectations of their business’s opening hours, or the weather, to name a few factors.

Equally, there is no option for people in industries like this to just care a little less about their work (which is ostensibly what quiet quitting is). There is no option for a bricklayer or an electrician or a cafe owner to do their work at 20 per cent less of the pace or quality to save their mental health. It’s not feasible.

But even for those of us in office jobs, the impact of one person ‘quietly quitting’ is often that the rest of their team bears the brunt of their reduced capacity or engagement. The expectation of an employer doesn’t shift if you just stop doing that extra 20 per cent. It means someone else is now carrying that load.

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There was a time not that long ago when collective action was the key method to create change for employee rights and wellbeing. The proponents of quiet quitting are seemingly unaware of the union movement and the positive impact for all employees by working to address toxic expectations from an employer as a group formed in solidarity.

The idea of pushing back against the extreme demands of some workplaces, where overtime and high workloads are the norm, is not a bad one in itself. But unless the pushback is based on an open conversation, collectively working with other team members to relay to management that their expectations are detrimental to staff wellbeing and resulting in an active culture change, it won’t result in a meaningful positive outcome. Instead of quiet quitting, we might find ourselves in the realm of slowly sinking into apathy and discord in our workplaces.

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If it’s a pushback against burnout and hustle culture, I get the point of some of the commenters’ reactions. Relatedly, this ‘great resignation’ that apparently came out of the pandemic seems to be a product of the same dynamic driving the old problem many business owners have – their employees don’t buy into the mission of the business.

If you can’t create a workplace that people love, people will only work for you for the money, and for any opportunity they get to do work that means something to them personally. We seem to be moving into an era which is challenging old attitudes to business ownership and management.

Tom Worthington4:25 pm 25 Aug 22

Beware of being accused of ‘quiet quitting’ and a lazy lazy worker, just because you wont do dangerously long, unpaid hours. Work-life balance is important, not just for the workers, but for their clients. Do you want to operated on by an exhausted doctor, or be on a bus where the driver can’t keep their eyes open?

Open conversations are a wonderful theory, but if that gets you labelled as a slacker, or a troublemaker, passed over for promotion, or sacked, then it is not really a good option. I teach professionals how to be professional, including looking after your own welfare, as well as your staff, and your clients. We should train all workers this way, so they are less able to be exploited. Ironically universities have been caught underpaying and overworking staff, when they should have been teaching how to avoid exploitation. https://blog.highereducationwhisperer.com/2020/09/doctorial-graduates-should-stop.html

I’m not sure what the point of this is? Not much editorial input in this one.

As a manger, I expect a team member to do their best, not 110% where it’s not warranted. Sometimes there are deadlines and I ask people to go above the normal effort, but never all the time. I also adhere to this.

Anyone can adhere to this – work your hours, do your best and go above and beyond when it’s helpful and works for you as long as there is fair compensation, whether that’s overtime or time in lieu.

Vane millennials rename bludging as quiet quitting, and think they are the first generation slack-off.

Says the anonymous one who cannot be bothered to proofread their work. Sad.

pink little birdie10:41 am 25 Aug 22

Really what kind of article is this? Blue collar workers can ‘quiet quit’ by not working overtime without being paid for it – they can and do leave their work at work and are more likely to be actually paid for the overtime unlike the office worker whose office thinks 2 hours of unpaid overtime a day is reasonable.
Quiet quitting isn’t also about business owners who need to put the work in but also are rewarded with the profits. Lots of cafe businesses owners who pay fairly and treat their staff well don’t need to worry about quiet quitting because their staff are working at the required level when they are on shift.

Exactly. This article shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what ‘quiet quitting’ is.

The expectation that employees should be on call 24/7 to answer calls or emails, or to attend a 4.30pm meeting that you know just know is going to run past knock off time without being paid shouldn’t be given a pejorative like ‘quiet quitting’ anyway.

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