Call for Comments: Act your wage! Quiet quitting or just doing your job….

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From Katya: I don’t know if we’re talking more about labor trends more since COVID or I’m just paying more attention to them these days but we have another labor trend catchphase upon us: “quiet quitting.”

“Quiet quitting” doesn’t have a fixed definition. The scale seems to slide between sticking to your job description and designated hours (no above and beyond) to doing the bare minimum – presumably the minimum to prevent being let go.

On its face, I find the term kind of annoying. It implies that anything less than more than what you’re paid for is quitting or otherwise somehow unprofessional. Whatever employers might wish was true… jobs are a financial transaction. Workers aren’t companies’ families/partners/parents so the idea of putting bonus labor in as an act of benevolent service is… just no. The idea of doing less isn’t novel either. We’ve called it work-life balance and a bunch of other things before. Not to mention that a work slowdown is an actual labor organizing technique where quality, efficiency, or quantity of work is reduced either as a prelude to or a less risky alternative action to a labor strike.

Though annoying, I find the generational and possibly technological implications of quiet quitting curious. Quiet quitting is heir apparent to the “Great Resignation” when waves of workers, primarily in teaching, hospitality, and other fields, left for better wages and treatment elsewhere. It primarily hit industries significantly impacted by unreasonable asks of employees during COVID and many are frequently low-wage industries, like retail and hospitality. For example, in July of 2021 the Accommodations and Food Service industry saw a 6.4% number of workers quitting and 4.3% in retail. For context, the overall quit rate record, recorded in November of 2021 was 3%.

In contrast, “quiet quitting” doesn’t appear to be as localized to specific industries. A recent Gallup poll found that 50% of the U.S. workforce met their definition of quiet quitting: “being “not engaged” at work — people who do the minimum required and are psychologically detached from their job.” These statistics correlate to some extent with remote work – suggesting that office workers make up a greater portion of this trend than in the Great Resignation.

That mirrors my experience of the social media conversation. My feed shows a mixture of Great Resignation industries job hopping for better pay and hours alongside fed up office workers. Frustrations seem similar, sitting somewhere on a spectrum of “you don’t pay me enough for this” when employers are asking for more than they compensate workers for. Unsurprisingly, on social media the face of quiet quitting is Gen Z and Millennials because – uh – that’s the face of most social media. But Gallup backs this up – finding that most of “quiet quitters” are found among Gen Z and Millennials.

Which makes me question if quiet quitting really is analogous to the Great Resignation. Gallup’s analysis not only suggests that remote/hybrid work have some correlation to this trend for at least some workers but further advise that this is from a lack of appropriate management. Knowing the age ranges involved – I wonder whether offices seeing high rates of “quiet quitting” are those with primarily Gen X or older managers.

Not only do these generations have different experiences of workplace and labor market than younger generations simply from having lived through different experiences of the economy overall but they’re likely to have a different affinity to remote and hybrid work. In my dissertation research, I found that attitudes about virtual life were in part shaped by cultural context. Cultures and individuals comfortable with the idea of including immaterial experiences – like virtual ones – in their view of “reality” appear to engage with these spaces more easily and productively. Millennials and later that grew up with the internet and are probably more likely to be comfortable connecting with others remotely (and probably more skilled at it as well). If there managers aren’t equally skilled then it wouldn’t be surprising to me that people feel less connected to their workplace – compounding existing issues around pay and labor expectations.

There’s also implications for the increasing support of unionization as well as the racial and gender dynamics of how labor disputes and relationships show up in the workplace. What’s your take? Is this a silly name for a normal part of working or some kind of revolutionary youth labor consciousness? Have you quiet quit? For real quit? Disappeared into the woods to escape it all entirely?

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