Working as expected is not "quiet quitting"
A new term for worker exploitation.
I was having dinner with a woman a few weeks ago who lamented the behavior of her direct reports. They stop working at 5:00 pm — she couldn’t get anyone to reply to emails. Also, one member of the team took her dog to the groomer in the afternoon and was gone for two hours.
The woman was indignant: how dare the employees confine their jobs to standard working hours or flaunt workplace flexibility?
I bit my tongue.
(It’s worth noting that the woman also said that her company has had massive turnover and is unable to fill open roles. Gee, I wonder why…)
The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about a new term that has cropped up on TikTok: quiet quitting. Employees reject the idea of going “above and beyond” in their careers (see also: hustle culture), favoring boundaries on work hours, separating work from identity, and refusing to let work stress run their lives. Previous generations would have called this coasting.
“Quiet quitting” is nonsense
The term itself (“quitting”) is a form of judgment against employees who prefer not to let work dictate their lives. The WSJ article wrote:
Jim Harter, chief scientist for Gallup’s workplace and well-being research, said workers’ descriptions of “quiet quitting” align with a large group of survey respondents that he classifies as “not engaged”—those who will show up to work and do the minimum required but not much else.
Like that’s a bad thing?
If the requirements of the job are being met, that’s called working. We’ve been led to believe that putting in the minimum is some kind of crime, but that’s the only obligation between employer and employee: work in exchange for pay. If companies want more work, provide more pay.
People who do the extra work, go the extra mile, give it their all… and aren’t rewarded? That’s where burnout comes in. And resentment. And The Great Resignation. A pat on the back isn’t enough.
No wonder many people in the modern workforce are saying, “I’ll just do my job, take home my paycheck, and enjoy my life.”
It’s ok to rest.
I look back at the early years of my career. I can’t even fathom the number of hours I put in and the furious pace I worked at. And I was rewarded: promotion after promotion. But with each promotion came more work.
Thankfully, having children forced me to take a step back. Even more thankfully, when I worked at a much more reasonable pace, I wasn’t punished for it. My work was still good and acknowledged — and I still did a lot. Far beyond what was expected.
I probably could have been deemed a “quiet quitter” in 2020. I spent months pulling way back on my involvement with the company. Every aspect of my job was met on time, with the same quality…. but I stopped offering to do anything extra. Before, I was always on the hunt for a new project, a new challenge. But I just didn’t care anymore.
I had burned out long ago and never realized it. It took a pandemic and the added stress of having three kids at home during the day to realize that I had an unhealthy relationship with work.
That “quiet quitting” lead to my actual quitting in early 2021 — as I searched for work that would make me happy.
Surveillance and distrust are rampant
The WSJ also said:
People who coast have been fixtures of the office for decades, but many of today’s less-invested employees have been able to skate by thanks to remote work.
Some companies are doubling down on the skate by belief, thinking that without in-office surveillance, people must not be working. As I’ve advocated for years: remote work should always be measured by the results produced. Not the time spent.
(Admittedly, I used to think that the right to remote work should be earned. I’ve long since changed my opinion on that, since measuring work based on results means that it doesn’t matter where work takes place.)
Measuring work based on time spent goes hand-in-hand with the concept of “quiet quitting.” Are you only doing the minimum? You should be doing more! Fill up that day!
The New York Times reported that companies such as Amazon, JP Morgan, and UnitedHealth Group are using an array of tracking devices and apps, from time spent typing emails to hours spent on phone calls. Workers who were found to be not productive enough risked bonuses and promotions. When workers at a Seattle sandwich company asked for raises, cameras were installed in delivery trucks to track eye movements, capture facial expressions, and record any audio.
Workers in the Time article described the surveillance as “demoralizing,” “humiliating,” and “toxic.”
Rightfully so. It implies that the workers aren’t working hard enough. It focuses on tasks rather than outcomes. If employees were being measured on results, how those results are achieved shouldn’t matter. Example: If the UnitedHealth Group therapist cited in the article was responsible for seeing 6 patients per day, and that result was being met, the productivity of the rest of the time should not matter. She was meeting the requirements of the job.
When Better.com CEO Vishal Garg callously fired 900 employees via Zoom, it was reported that he later accused staffers of “stealing” by only working two hours per day.
Work is not a box of time that needs to be filled. And when there’s no reward for producing more in the same amount of time as colleagues, that’s the fault of the company, not the employee.
Wanting work to have a purpose
Recently, I saw a post on LinkedIn from a (white, older) man who raged against young people wanting to find purpose in their work. How dare they? They should put in their time first, he wrote. Early in one’s career is not the time to expect that work has a purpose.
Indeed, the woman I had dinner with had a similar view. Her (mostly younger) employees didn’t deserve flexibility in their schedules. They hadn’t “earned” it yet.
Back to the WSJ article again, Gallup found that younger employees (born after 1989) don’t feel that their work has a purpose. And according to Gallup’s chief scientist, those are the people more likely to work passively and “look out for themselves over their employers.”
I’m not sure in what universe employees should ever look out for their employers over themselves. Companies certainly don’t look out for employees over their business needs.
It’s a cycle. Work doesn’t have a purpose. Younger generations don’t feel connected to the work. They meet the job requirements and spend the rest of their time doing other things.
I’m certain there is a connection between companies who are indignant about “quiet quitters” and companies who are unable to attract and retain talent.
Quiet quitters should instead be labeled “employees with boundaries.” They’ve drawn a line between what they will and will not do for a job. And they’ll be happier and less likely to burn out as a result.
No employer has a right to demand anything above the requirements of the job.
In the News: Malcolm Gladwell pushes return-to-office agenda
Author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell has long been known for his ability to “dig into issues.” He interviews people and brings interesting topics to life.
So it was bizarre to hear his stance on remote work, stated in the “Diary of a CEO” podcast. He said that office work is tied to a “core psychological truth, which is we want you to have a feeling of belonging and to feel necessary.”
Clearly, Gladwell has never spoken with any women who work in male-dominated industries, or people of color in mostly-white offices. The office is far from being a beacon of inclusivity.
Gladwell also echoed the sentiments of NYC mayor Eric Adams by saying, “It’s not in your best interest to work at home… Is that the work life you want to live?”
The internet rightfully clapped back hard. Yes, Malcolm Gladwell, that is indeed the work life we want to live.
Further Reading: Avoid Career Burnout: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Subscribe now to have future issues of Remote Musings delivered to your inbox.