Quiet Quitting

Have you heard of “quiet quitting”?

It has nothing to do with quitting (but I guess it is quiet).

Quiet quitting is about doing the job you’re paid to do – no more, no less. This is getting big airplay right now because it’s an unwritten rule employees are expected to deliver more than their contractual obligation.

You were hired and get paid to make 10 widgets a day? Like it or not, if you didn’t make 12 widgets you were considered lazy, disengaged and uncommitted.

It’s been like this forever…until now.

During the pandemic worker shortages emerged and for the first time in at least a generation the average worker has leverage (fleeting as it may be, due to an eroding economy). Workers are lobbying for better treatment and pay. Many are leaving their jobs. Those who remain are quietly refusing to deliver more than what they’re paid for.

Executives are shocked – SHOCKED! – that their minions weren’t ecstatic about the over-delivery expectation built into the system. All in the name of career growth. While some jobs are true “pay for performance” models, most just pretend to be and many over-achievers end up with stagnant careers. The hope they could someday reach the permanently unattainable carrot ensured workers continued to perform tasks beyond their obligation.

For most of history the worker has been exploited – serfs in a feudal system, white collar administrators and overseas child labor. It makes me wonder. Can a capitalist system survive without free, cheap or exploited labor?

Why do we give more to our employers than we take?

Despite a century of abundance, we’re locked in a grim inescapable game where we compete for a shrinking number of carrots to pay for unattainable consumer aspirations. To fund the balance, we’re lulled towards the easy money of consumer credit. Years of future debt payments coupled with a paycheck to paycheck lifestyle leaves one dependent on their employer for survival. It’s no wonder that people actively compete for an edge by providing free labor (aka “go above and beyond”).

Like we do with young soldiers going off to battle, we rationalize our indentured servitude by glorifying it. Many of us hate work, yet total devotion to your vocation is presented as a badge of honor in the mainstream media. ER, Greys Anatomy, Law and Order, Suits. We stare at the idiot box in our spare time drooling as yet another rogue veteran cop that is in too deep is ordered by his lieutenant to take some time off (and then continues to work the case on his vacation). Sadly, we see the cult-like devotion to work by broken human beings as aspirational.

Don’t get me wrong. Work is important and it helps the world turn, but it’s not everything. Work is not life.

I have seen too many people sacrifice their family for the benefit of an employer who would replace them in a week if they died. In fact, I have witnessed and heard many stories of people dying from heart attacks in their offices, and more recently while on Zoom calls, only to be erased from the collective corporate memory within days.

These are people who devoted (donated) the healthiest years of their life – and the best hours of their days – to enrichen executives and shareholders. They were sold a dream and trapped by a debt cycle that left them at the mercy of their employers. The terminal value of their cumulative sacrifice? A bouquet of flowers sent to their grieving spouse.

In contrast, your spouse won’t ever forget you when you die. Neither will your parents or children. If you do things right, they will mourn you for the rest of time. Your employer, on the other hand, might run a nice commemoration and hire some token on-site counseling, but you’ll just be another digit in a spreadsheet soon after your ashes are scattered.

Most of us won’t croak at our desks. But we will get sick – some worse than others. Next time you have the flu I dare you to call your boss asking him to bring you some soup and your favorite magazine. Have cancer? Ask your boss to drive you to chemo treatments. Just the thought of asking makes you feel uncomfortable, right? That’s because deep down you know he is more concerned about you finishing those TPS reports than feeling better. “Get well soon” has selfish subtext when said by employers and co-workers. They might as well ask “when do you think you can come back to work?”.

If you need any real help during an illness, it’s your spouse, parents or kids stepping up for the long haul.

You know what the real definition of “family” is? Someone who will wipe your a$$ without getting paid for it. It sucks, but this will be reality for many of us.

The only family you have is your real family. So be sure to invest in them. If you don’t invest in your family, you won’t have a family. I have witnessed many failed marriages and broken families because a spouse elevated their career to form the center of their universe. The irony is after all that effort building their career, their divorce destroys their finances anyway.

Alone and broke.

Although he would never admit it, my father lost his family and financial security because he cared more about his career than being present. He means well, but he chose the wrong priorities. I grew up seeing him several times a year and I’m still trying to understand how I feel about this.

Live your life and don’t delude yourself into thinking your job is anything more than a means to put food on the table. Seriously, unless you’re curing cancer or truly helping people you’re job is just a job. It’s a contract that obliges you to provide specified services in exchange for a certain amount money.

Don’t make it out to be much more than that.

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  1. notabilia

    David Graeber made the best intellectual contribution to this subject of recent years with his project and book “Bullshit Jobs” – even though Graeber himself was guilty of bullshit when he opined that a bullshit job is only bullshit if the person doing the work thinks so. That leaves out the mass of employed humanity who think their jobs are somehow important, valuable, dynamic, etc. when they are, perforce, observably, and conclusively not.

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    1. Dumb Wealth

      Interesting point. I’ve often wondered why people don’t realize their jobs are bs. Is it a case of cognitive dissonance? After all, there are few alternatives to the 40yr grind so maybe people must convince themselves to remain somewhat sane.

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