What is #QuietQuitting and why there’s a problem with it

#QuietQuitting, the most annoying, made-up workplace trend ever to be coined, has had a heckuva run on social media and in very important national news publications. It refers to workers refusing to go the extra mile to do work for which they are not being compensated.

“You are still performing your duties, but you are no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentality that work has to be your life,” explained TikTok user Zaid Khan in a July video that is credited with introducing the concept to the masses.

In other words, quiet quitters haven’t quit their jobs, they’ve just quit overachieving. They’ve stopped volunteering for office committees that go beyond their job description. They’ve trained their phones to silence Slack notifications after 5 pm They’ve made doing the bare minimum cool.

Half of US workers say they are not engaged at work, according to a recent Gallup poll, which called quiet quitting “a crisis.” With the invention of this term, workers feel self-empowered. Managers are alarmed.

But is this really new? As Derek Thompson, staff writer for the Atlantic, put it, “What people are now calling ‘quiet quitting’ was, in previous decades, simply known as ‘having a job.'”

The pandemic — for the most privileged of workers, I’d add — has recalibrated our views on work. In a tight labor market, workers have the upper hand to decide how much energy to expend at their cubicles.

The problem with the concept of quiet quitting is that we’re all starting from different places. Burned-out perfectionists may choose to dial back their efforts from a 10 to a 7, and still manage to be the kind of high-performing colleagues or bosses who attract and inspire talent. The people who were never pulling their weight will adopt this term to slack off even more, making more messes for their teams, all under the guise of self-care.

The framing is also objectionable. Are setting professional boundaries and prioritizing your family, your relationships or your health really “quitting”? If you are performing all of your work duties, the very bullet points listed in your job description, how is that akin to not doing your job?

It’s easy to feel like a quiet quitter if your organization celebrates workers overextending themselves. Because I’ve spent more than half of my life working in understaffed newsrooms, I see how journalists, for example, are socialized to think that duty to one’s job requires forsaking all else. It’s almost with a badge of honor that some reporters recount how they’ve had to ditch their kids’ birthday parties for the call of breaking news. They might be even lauded by the boss in an all-staff memo for their personal sacrifice, conditioning everyone else to think: Gee, should I be missing my kids’ birthday parties, too?

Quiet quitters may also include the same few people — often workers of color, women and LGBTQ folks — who are carrying the burden of their company’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. They are tapped again and again and again to help recruit “diverse” staff, lead change initiatives and run mentorship programs. Even though this work is necessary and often personally rewarding (and futile, too, if an organization is just paying lip service), it likely won’t lead to career advancement or higher pay.

And let’s not forget the volunteer committees that plan holiday parties or company picnics, let alone the folks who circulate cards and collect gifts for the new office baby shower. These gestures and gatherings build important social cohesion for a company, but let’s face it: It is unpaid work that disproportionately falls on women.

Is letting go of these extras a form of quiet quitting?

Adding to the hype are questionable studies proclaiming the Top 10 states for quiet quitting, all but ensuring that the phrase stays in the news. Fox 9 ran with the findings from a firm called School Authority that found Minnesota was the fifth most quiet-quitting state in the nation. The methodology involved tracking Twitter mentions. Apparently, Minnesotans love to tweet about #QuietQuitting.

The study’s conclusions, as the kids say, are pretty sus (as in suspect).

But in general, I would agree that we Minnesotans might have been early adopters of quiet quitting, especially when the weather is this nice. We value our work-life balance. Judging from the clogged northbound lanes on a Friday at noon, I’d say we have mastered the art of maximizing the weekend.

All I know is that soon our eyelashes will crystallize, and we’ll be chipping away glacial sheets from our windshields in the predawn dark. We are already surrendering three minutes of sunshine a day. It’s 5 pm as I try to fill out this column, while my back patio and the crispness of fall beckon.

Forgive me for rejecting hustle culture, as I close my laptop for the day.

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