Quiet quitting is a relatively new term. It was, apparently, coined on Tiktok to describe a worker who refuses to do more than the minimum in their job. I’ve been thinking a bit about this concept, what it means, and who is actually pushing this “new” idea and why it’s showing up so closely associated with anti-work.
Quiet quitting is 2 things:
- A pejorative employers use to describe someone who refuses to be exploited
- Not actually a thing, or at the very least, not a new idea
Back when I entered the work force in the late 90s, the idea that if a company pays minimum wage, then they should expect minimum effort, was already well ingrained in the workforce. This was often met with the argument that if you are committed to this idea, then you’ll never advance because you’re not willing to put in the extra work required to do better.
I’ll admit, in my own experience, that alone, is a fallacy.
I did work hard to advane, but I didn’t do it for my employers. At this point in my career, I’m VERY far disconnected from the work that I performed in those roles. I worked hard on the things I wanted to work on, that, at the time, didn’t even really benefit me. What’s the point of learning about Linux when I’m supposed to be selling meat (I was a butcher once upon a time)? At that time, I did what I was explicitly hired to do and no more, and I clocked out on time and left without working off the clock, to my manager’s chagrin.
There was a later job I performed where I was part of a team that did inventory auditing. It’s that job you might rarely see people do where they have a giant calculator attached to their hip, and a scanner in their other hand. I was “promoted” at one point as a team lead and promised a pay bump if I performed the duties of a lead as expected. When it became clear that I was not going to receive that pay bump, not only did I decide not to push myself any harder in that job, but I eventually actually quit. I’m not going to put in the effort demanded of me above and beyond my actual documented role if I wasn’t being paid for it.
When I finally got into IT, it was doing technical support. My leadership figured out that I was capable of doing pretty advanced work. I was interested in moving up to higher levels of support, but while a role wasn’t being made available for me, I was asked if I would be okay working from those tickets anyway. At first, I figured it’d be extra experience to help me out and there was the promise that any impact on my ticket stats wouldn’t adversely affect me. Every review I had was positive and they kept their promise in not judging my work based on ticket stats. When a role did open and I applied, I was denied and told they really needed me in that lower level support. I immediately ended my interactions with the higher level support ticket queues. The weird thing for me was I rarely escalated tickets to higher levels of support and didn’t realize how common that was with other lower levels of support, so they apparently found use in me in keeping useless escalations down. So I was still taking on more challenging work than people around me. But the damage was done, I had no motivation to do any more than what my role required. When I resigned, I was promised a promotion, but they refused to put it in writing. I left on my noted end date.
These are all instances of what “quiet quitting” describes. In every case, the employer attempted to exploit me in some way. And I was told if I didn’t work harder, didn’t put in longer hours, and didn’t suck it up, that I would never advance.
At the time, I was still very young and had support around me so my financial woes weren’t that big. I had the opportunity to work on my own advancement. And I did. But many people stuck in these situations don’t have that available to them.
Minimum wage is not a living wage. There are people that have to work 2 to 3 jobs just to make ends meet, and are still living paycheck to paycheck. Losing just one of those jobs can hurt. And there’s no time nor energy to figure out how to advance above that because we live in a system that not only keeps minimum wage down at severe poverty levels, but discourages doing better.
Quiet quitting is being sold as people who don’t want to work. The reality is, people don’t want to be exploited. I’ve known people that think minimum wage should be abolished, and the mere fact that employers will, frequently, keep people at that pay level should tell you enough that if minimum wage were abolished, these same companies would be A-OK enslaving people. Obviously, slavery would look pretty bad, but what about providing housing to workers along with a food allowance? You know, like slave owners did.
People don’t want to be exploited. Saying those people are “quiet quitting” is using it as an insult because those employers aren’t getting their way. It’s an alternative to the longer phrase of “if you pay the minimum, expect the minimum of effort”. And the fact that so many companies push paying the minimum and fight against increasing that minimum tells you everything you need to know about the situation.
Quiet quitting is an actual thing.