The Infuriating Bad Faith Of 'Quiet Quitting'

The Infuriating Bad Faith Of 'Quiet Quitting'

Only in the United States could doing one's job be considered quitting.

That's how it's been defined by a corporate and managerial class livid about the shred of leverage workers have gained in an unusually strong labor market. Proliferating this week to every corner of American media, the concept of "quiet quitting" – that weird thing where a worker doesn't do a bunch of unpaid labor for their employer – is now mainstream. It's deployed as a smear against those who won't work for free because it might mean one day means a promotion or the boss's favor when budget cuts come.

And quiet quitting, as you may have surmised from the headline of his post, is drenched in bad faith.

Headlines like “Quiet Quitting: Why Doing the Bare Minimum at Work Has Gone Global," are as provocative as they are dishonest. What these headlines mean by the doing the "bare minimum" – a phrase that should be eliminated from the labor discourse – is doing exactly what a person is paid for and nothing else. The bare minimum, if we really must use the phrase, means doing your job.

Outlets like The New York Times and Forbes are interviewing workers who are furious about those who would dare to finish their jobs and go home. A tech worker in Denver told The New York Times that quiet quitting is "passive aggressively withdrawing, and that doesn’t win for everyone. It isn’t always about you. You’re on a team, you’re in a department.” This is the Michael Scott School Of Work As Family, and it should be rejected at every turn.

This tech worker added that she's "all about balance," a charge that doesn't quite stand up to her annoyance at coworkers who won't stay late and whistle while they do unpaid labor.

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A so-called quiet quitter interviewed by the Times – a warehouse worker in Wisconsin – said she had made a conscious effort to do exactly what her job required, then retire to her home, where she edits fantasy stories as a side gig. “To be given a list of so many things to do and tick them off one by one, it’s fulfilling,” she said. “I like the go-go-go, but I don’t have anxiety attacks. I am good at my job, but then I go home and don’t think about it.”

“It means that the expectation is for you to do more than the company actually compensates you for, and that will work out well for you,” a human resources worker told the Times. “That doesn’t make sense to me. You do the work you are compensated for, and if you want to go above and beyond, good for you, but that shouldn’t be a requirement. ... [Quiet quitting] is the most worthless term."

Americans, more than anyone else in the world, have long identified with their jobs. What you do for money is who you are as a person. Your identity is found in your work, not your passions or beliefs or the way you conduct your life outside the office. That's why it can be so terribly awkward when you ask someone what they do for a living, only to find out they take care of their kids, or – hark! –  don't have children to watch over and don't work because their partner makes a shitload of money. Who are you if you don't have a job? It's a troubling and revealing American question.

The charge of quiet quitting is, at its heart, a bad-faith attack on those who work (not invest) for money. Doing one's job is anything but quitting. Bosses and managers know this, and yet they continue to launch the term at anyone who dares create a boundary between their work and their home life. The capitalist class is furious with this development. Billionaire media baroness Ariana Huffington recently said quiet quitting "isn’t just about quitting on a job, it’s a step toward quitting on life.” Her assessment is exactly wrong.

Don't think bosses aren't making lists of those they believe are quietly quitting, or simply doing their jobs. A Wall Street Journal reporter this week on NPR said corporate executives are keeping track of those who don't do sufficient unpaid labor. These folks will be the first out the door when the labor market worsens for workers and staffing cuts need to be made, the Journal reporter casually mentioned near the end of the NPR segment. The bosses, in short, are fucking pissed.

It's the zoomers leading the quiet quitting charge, and I respect the hell out of them for it. Americans born in the 90s and early 2000s have seen more clearly than any other American generation that hard work does not pay off, that there is no clear link between effort and reward. We do not, and never have, lived in a meritocracy, or anything resembling one. In the nightmarish late stages of capitalism, this is more clear than ever, and young folks are paying attention. Everyone from the World War II generation to the boomers to the millennials have identified with their occupations. We've forced ourselves to believe hard work in the key to success – staying late, taking initiative, picking up for our colleagues and even our higher ups. Not doing the bare minimum – again, completing the job for which you are paid – was ingrained in us at an early age and reinforced at every opportunity.

Certainly there are American workers who have made it big in part by doing all the unpaid labor they could muster. Maybe you know a few folks whose success harkens back to early morning and late nights, putting in 60 or 70 hours while being paid for 40. Workers in other developed nations where the concept of quiet quitting does not exist would call these folks "chumps." I can imagine a French worker laughing hysterically at The New York Times reporting on workers going home on time the way a paper would report on an alien culture found on a distant planet.

American workers have no idea how bad they have it. We're the only developed nation without a national childcare program, with no parental leave program, without a government healthcare option, and with precious few resources for those who lose their jobs. More than 130 countries have laws establishing the maximum length of the work week. I can't imagine how such a law would be greeted in the US. Lawmakers would either laugh off such a proposal or greet it with a fit of rage, horrified that anyone would want to limit work. Drudgery, after all, is the meaning of life. Ask anyone.

Americans, whose workplace productivity has increased by 430 percent since the 1950s and who work around 500 hours more per year than folks in Germany and Britain, are just beginning to discover the long-forbidden joys of not being your job, of disentangling who you are with what you do in exchange for currency. It's an exceedingly positive development in an American work culture designed to make people sick and tired – one that has led to all-time lows in job satisfaction. Think of so-called quiet quitting as the counter to Hustle Culture, which shames workers who value their personal time over a little extra cash. We're inundated by Hustle Culture's toxicity, from social media to TV shows and movies to ubiquitous ads.

Last week I listened in horror to a McDonald's ad in which a presumably young person talked gleefully about his tradition of grabbing a McDonald's breakfast sandwich after working his second job all night – before heading to his day job. Working multiple jobs, going without sleep and sometimes without food, is worn like a badge of honor in the US. Outworking fellow desperate workers is the overarching goal. Hustle Culture is the collective acceptance that we have been dropped into a pit with other workers and told to battle it out for the scraps that are dropped from on high. This perverse culture has been romanticized in all manner of media, normalizing a work life that is life. Hustle Culture, of course, is bad for those who have fully accepted it and those who buck at its goal: To destroy the last remaining vestiges of a work-life balance in the United States. (This is where I clumsily plug by 2017 book critiquing hustle culture, "96 Ways To Rise And Grind")

I've had jobs where I engaged in what one might call quiet quitting. I would go about my business, report and write a story I had no interest in whatsoever, and be done with my day. I would do the job well, satisfying every boss I ever had, and be done with several hours to go before the workday was through. That's when I would shift from the job I had been paid to do – however tedious – and engage in something I enjoyed, whether that was doing fantasy sports analysis that exactly 11 people would read or writing 80s slasher fan fiction that exactly no one would read or working on novels that would never see the light of day. Undertaking these projects made me happy. They tickled the part of my brain that wanted to feel rewarded for accomplishing something worth accomplishing, for creating something I had conceived. I didn't sit behind my ancient laptop at one in the morning writing zombie stories because I thought it would lead to fame and fortune. I did it because I wanted to. Because I was compelled to.

Today I have a job I love. Any extra work I do is because I want to do it. Not everyone is in such a position. In fact, hardly anyone can say they love what they do for money. These folks should not be shamed for refusing to go above and beyond the duties for which they signed up. And to push back on a common conceit in media coverage of quiet quitting, workers who take on a bunch of unpaid labor shouldn't be shamed, if that's actually happening (I'm skeptical). American workers would be better off if they would ratchet down the hostility toward each other. We don't have to fight in the pit of despair if we don't want to.

Follow Denny Carter on Twitter at @CDCarter13.