by Tom Hodgkinson
Wednesday, 17
August 2022
Idea
07:15

Quiet quitting is a force for good

Generation Z is waking up to the punishing reality of wage-slavery
by Tom Hodgkinson
Tune in, turn on, drop out (Credit: AMC/IMDB)

In the nineties a new word crept into the vocabulary of work. It was no longer enough to be good at your job. You now had to be passionate about it, whatever it was. Passionate about real estate. Passionate about ad sales. Passionate about car insurance. Passionate about PR.

This led to some absurd situations. My accountant told me he interviewed a young person for a job at his company. At their interview this young man claimed that he was “passionate about accounting.” My accountant laughed and said: “I think it’s a fairly pleasant way to make a living, but I wouldn’t say I was exactly passionate about it.”

Then the overlords of Silicon Valley, like their Puritan ancestors, encouraged an ideal of work where it become cool to go without sleep and work absurdly long hours for your boss or platform.

This “overwork ethic” suited the so-called “gig economy”, where middlemen make big money out of connecting customers with services.  A 2017 subway ad for the freelance platform Fiverr ran: “You eat coffee for lunch. You follow through on your follow through. Sleep deprivation is your drug of choice. You might be a doer.” I even read disturbing reports of a phenomenon called “hustle porn” where young Elon Musk wannabes posted pictures of themselves sleeping at their desk, exhausted by their travails, at 1am.

Now there’s a new movement which is resisting the overwork ethic. It’s called “quiet quitting” and it means doing the hours you’re paid for but no more. Like a city worker of old, when the bell chimes five, you put on your hat and walk out of the door. Millennials are posting about these ideas on platforms like Tik Tok and Instagram (apparently unaware that by crafting witty videos for these massive ad sales brokers they are doing the precise thing that they claim to be resisting, which is working for free, but that’s another story).

“Quiet quitting” comes hot on the heels of China’s tang ping movement, which saw young Chinese rejecting the crazy work ethic promoted by Chinese authorities, where it’s your socialist duty to toil ten hours a day, six days a week. In the States, a forum called “antiwork” on Reddit attracted over a million subscribers, mainly young people complaining about their crap jobs.

To me it’s a great positive that millennials and Gen Zers are waking up to the fact that encouraging passion and hustle in your work is generally a trick played by the share-owning overlords to get you to work — i.e. increase their share price — for nothing. After all, as Sarah Jaffe points out in her book Work Won’t Love You Back, you might be asked to love your job, but your job won’t love you and that is proved by the fact that a new MD will not hesitate to sack dozens of employees to help boost the bottom line or share price.

Those great revolutionaries Aristotle, Christ, Oscar Wilde and Bertrand Russell all argued that a civilised society should reduce the working day and increase leisure time. “Consider the lilies, they toil not, neither do they spin.”

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Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
1 month ago

I’m fairly passionate about programming/software development, but not perhaps not as much compared to being a graduate in his twenties.
I’m not quite so passionate when it’s doing more or less the same thing for years (now decades) at the whim of an employer.
The idea of something is not always the same as the reality. Having limited freedom to do something doesn’t help either. Eventually it just becomes a fairly well remunerated means of earning a living and not much more.
Interestingly, I caught hold of a training video aimed at managers recently, which claimed employees that were not aiming for their bosses job were toxic. Has the idea of being content been completely abandoned by some?

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew Dalton

The idea of being content with what you have is one of the most underrated of our time.

Sam Sky
Sam Sky
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

In some cases, yes, unbounded ambition to get ahead at all costs is not a bad thing.

I still think though the desire as obe gets older to do a more senior role mentor younger employees is important. I have 13 years experience, it makes sense I am a senior engineer compared to someone just out of school or university. In software engineering I think there is a lot to be said for career paths that do *not* shift straight to management but keep the worker on the coalface but with bigger scope and more people under their wing. This is far more beneficial than traditional management, I’d say. There has been a sñow shift with ‘staff engineers’ to this model in my work.

Last edited 1 month ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

“What you have” is rapidly becoming a whole lot less, thanks to money-printing and sanctions.
Let’s see how contented people are then.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew Dalton

About that video. Mysense, from a working life in large offices, is that the people at the top are so consumed with dreams of promotion, getting on, and success (I mean “success”) that their imaginations do not have any room for the possibility that most people have no interest in becoming CEO or whatever.

Most people work to live, not live to work.

But the people who control organisations have brains that are wired in such a way as never to conceive of that possibility.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 month ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

…. and they drum it into underlings to get them to work harder to earn that “paradise”

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 month ago

This is all fine and I always thought the overwork ethic was ridiculous and unhealthy. However, it must be clear that quiet quitting probably means less cash to spend in your leisure time. This should be obvious to anyone with an ounce of common sense and for me, the equation “more freedom = less money” works out just fine (I live very frugally and I like it that way). But I do think certain people fail to understand the concept of opportunity cost and whinge when they can’t have everything.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

The whole point of the overwork ethic being promoted by companies was because it meant they could pressure their employees into doing extra work and responsibilities without paying them any extra for it.
By essentially working to rule the employees will be no worse off than if they carried on slogging their guts out

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
1 month ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

It’s nothing new. I was working an extra hour for nothing back in 1968/69. It was called I’m Backing Britain campaign.

Cobbler 91
Cobbler 91
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

That might be the case if employers rewarded productivity and hard work, but they don’t. If I work a 9-5 job in an office that pays as such, but start at 8am and carry on until 6pm say, all management and the employer will do is try to force everyone to do that. Way to make yourself unpopular while also being a complete and utter sucker.

Jim R
Jim R
1 month ago

There’s a remarkably constant ratio in every organization – 20% of the people are doing 80% of the work. This is not new. Most people are content to do the minimum to get by, they have no prospects for advancement and so no interest in it. But our world depends on the productive minority to continue to carry the heavier loads – and every organization needs to make sure that they are adequately compensated and have a clear path to promotion or they will lose those precious few. People who champion the work ethic of the 80% may be quite shocked at what would happen to our collective wealth and GDP if 80% of our productivity were to disappear because everyone adopted the slouch mentality.

Nick SPEYER
Nick SPEYER
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim R

There is some truth to this. I was an ‘overworker’ for my own satisfaction and – as I set up my own company – for my own benefit. However, I always appreciated those who did enough and no more for their life-work balance. They were often extremely loyal and skilled and made a valuable contribution. Organisations need these people as well as the ‘few’.

Last edited 1 month ago by Nick SPEYER
Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 month ago

I fully agree with work-life balance. For me, it involved getting in early, working hard, taking a very short lunch break, and leaving on time.
In the last few years it seems that many employees have allowed their personal lives (e.g mobile phone usage) to take out a huge chunk of that working day.
“Quiet quit” if you want to, but don’t steal time (and productivity) when you are there.

Last edited 1 month ago by Ian Barton
Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Why not? Wages have climbed much more slowly than productivity has risen during the last few decades, with all the extra money simply pooling at the top. If employers want their staff to be committed then perhaps they should pay them properly in the first place

Paul O
Paul O
1 month ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Well said Billy Bob.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 month ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I agree fully with your 2nd sentence.
However, if you feel exploited where you currently work, then it’s probably better for your sanity to go somewhere else if you can.
In the U.K. and elsewhere,now is one of the best times ever to find a new employer.

Kerie Receveur
Kerie Receveur
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Where are all these jobs? I’ve been hunting for 6 months with no luck so far.

Sam Sky
Sam Sky
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Part of the problem though is many services, i.e. banks, doctors, dentists, government offices have hours that make it difficult for these kind of tasks not to take a chunk out of personal time.

Last edited 1 month ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 month ago
Reply to  Sam Sky

Fully agree – there are some professions that can really take over your life.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 month ago
Reply to  Sam Sky

doctors, dentists, government offices
Are you sure?

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

As the saying goes, no one on their death bed ever said “I wish I’d spent more time at the office”

Cobbler 91
Cobbler 91
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

So turn up earlier by presumably getting up earlier by going to bed earlier, meaning you probably have less free time in your life seeing as you would still leave at the usual time?

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 month ago
Reply to  Cobbler 91

Yes – I probably gave my employers about 90mins a day more than my contractual hours.
It made me feel very comfortable walking out at 5pm – and it seemed to be generally appreciated.
You don’t become CEO with my type of attitude, but you would normally get retained – and given bonuses.
That was more than enough for me – but not for everybody.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Of course the company liked it, they’re essentially getting free labour. Or to look at it another way is you’ve given yourself a voluntary pay cut.
Say your contract is $20 an hour for an 8 hour day, if you’re working 90 mins free of charge you’re essentially only earning $160 for 9.5 hours, which reduces your hourly rate to $16.85.
I have far too much dignity to do that personally, if a company wants to earn money from my labour then they’re going to have to pay for my time, it’s far too valuable to give away for free

Last edited 1 month ago by Billy Bob
Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 month ago

If “quiet quiting” means working the hours that you’re contracted to work and no more, unless agreed and over-time paid, having your full lunch break away from your place of work, and not being disturbed when out of work (unless, of course, you are contracted to be on-call) then this is something that I have advocated all my working life; working un-paid hours is either charity or slavery. However, I have read interviews addressing this subject where the interviewee has stated that he took double the allotted time for lunch and took all his paid sick-leave even when not sick, I’m sorry, but this is tantamount to fraud or theft. If you are employed you work your contracted hours and whilst you’re at work you perform to the best of your abilities, if you don’t you are not earning your wages and I believe that it is not psychologically good for you either.

Last edited 1 month ago by Linda Hutchinson
Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 month ago

“Took all his paid sick leave even when not sick”
One of my “Step-mothers-in-law was a (UK) Civil Service clerk of some sorts (In the days of typing-pools) and told me there was a person responsible for going around and reminding people that they had to take so many days sick-leave before “such a date” otherwise they would lose it. IIRC they got 6 weeks per year. I presume that this practice continues.

Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
1 month ago

Working from home can make the overwork ethic worse if you let it. You are at work 24hours a day and your boss and colleagues can contact you any time on your smart phone or laptop.

Cobbler 91
Cobbler 91
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Elliott

I work remotely and I switch my laptop off at 5pm unless there is a one off thing that needs doing urgently but this is very rare. If my manager called or texted me after that time, I would ignore them. I don’t get paid for working outside of that time.

David Jennings
David Jennings
1 month ago

Well, since no one else seems to be addressing this thorny issue, I will raise it: competence and expertise. Quiet Quitting may be acceptable for those who are in positions that require little expertise. But the 10,000 Hour Rule seems to be true: if one wants to be an expert in a complicated field (engineering, law, medicine, etc. etc.), one will need at least 10,000 hours of practice to develop the skills needed to master a subject area. That is five years at 2,000 hours a year of focused practice–those are very long days indeed. If one chooses to only work 1,000 hours a year, one might be an expert after 10 years, but if one demands salary raises during those additional five years, employers will seek those who wish to become become experts sooner. Add in issues around who obtains promotions and planning a family, etc. and one can see how experts will tend to be assertive, driven males who got to the top of the heap sooner than their co-workers. Wishing it was not so or attempting to legislate away the drive that many experts have will have little effect.

B Davis
B Davis
1 month ago
Reply to  David Jennings

Not really. 10,000 hours of experience are achieved in 5 years of 8 hour days….with a 2 week vacation every year. That’s eminently doable.
The real question is exactly HOW those 40 hour weeks are spent. Do we engage or do we float downstream? Do we press or do we wait to be pressed? Do we stand & deliver (as the saying goes) or dodge & avoid.
It’s not really the time, per se, it’s the effort expended across that time. Do we experience the 10,000 hours as 1 hour done 10,000 times? Or is that 10,000 hours of deep experience and continual investment.
In either case, ‘quiet quitting’ is easily doable. We simply — even the best of us — recognize and respect when a personal limit is reached.

David Jennings
David Jennings
1 month ago
Reply to  B Davis

You are correct that the attitude and focus of the worker is what matters in determining if an hour of work is contributing to the development of expertise. I said the same in my post. But for those who have done it, eight hours of real focus on skill set development is rarely accomplished in a work day of less than twelve hours. Lunch, work chit-chat, administrative obligations, and other distractions (most legitimate and reasonable work issues) don’t develop expertise.

Adam McDermont
Adam McDermont
1 month ago

This is a brilliant development. Lock-down proved that most jobs are completely meaningless. One tragedy of our age is the number of people leading completely miserable lives in mind-numbing roles. Automation may in the long term allow people to pursue what they really want to do. This would ultimately be better for humanity.
How many eulogies extol someone for working an 80 hour week, and making money for a company that no one feels any attachment to? We care about people for deeper reasons. Fundamentally, the vapidity of modern working life is meaningless.
A lot of people who work stupid hours look like physical wrecks too! No wage could reconcile me to life as a corpulent mess.
Life should mean more.
The Heritage Site | Adam McDermont | Substack

Chris Hume
Chris Hume
1 month ago
Reply to  Adam McDermont

This is a brilliant development. Lock-down proved that most jobs are completely meaningless. 

Only if you discount everyone who works in supermarkets, trucking, warehousing, deliveries, agriculture, energy, plumbing, joinery, gas engineering, medicine, pharmaceuticals, road maintenance, aviation, rail, police, law, social work, sewerage, telecoms, military, call centres, education, government, sanitation… etc.
We’d soon see how meaningless these jobs are if they all stopped turning up.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris Hume

He never said those jobs were meaningless, in fact lockdown proved that those jobs you mentioned (that tend to be quite poorly paid) are in fact essential for society to function. All those that were able to stop working or work from home however….

Chris Hume
Chris Hume
1 month ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

He said most jobs are completely meaningless. Which is patent nonsense.

Chris Milburn
Chris Milburn
1 month ago

“Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. I am all about work-life balance. But in this new hedonistic world where we are supposed to “live our best life”, I’ve noticed that work isn’t supposed to be part of that anymore. Television tells us we should rent beautiful beach houses on some discount website because it will make us shockingly happy and joyful to lie on the beach.
I’m a doc with a good balance of work and home activities. I’ve competed in 10 ironman races, I volunteer, I play music. I work lots. It’s taken me many years, and I still work on the problem of always feeling I’m in the wrong place. When I’m at work I wish I was playing. When I’m playing I feel guilty that I’m not getting work done. As I slide into being an “older physician”, I try my best to be in the moment and enjoy what I’m doing.
We all need to work. I’ve never met someone who doesn’t work (welfare, disability, trust fund) who really felt fulfilled. We should all play sometimes. The “right” balance is different for all of us but none of us will find it if we buy into modern consumer culture.
“You can never get enough of what you didn’t really want in the first place” applies to leisure time as well.

B Davis
B Davis
1 month ago

What?
A “new idea”????
“Doing the hours you’re paid for but no more”?? That’s it? As new, perhaps, as the idea of work itself….maybe. Maybe older than that.
Of course there are people — lots and lots and lots of people — who do what they’re paid to do, no more no less. Most typically we call them ‘hourly employees’ who indeed, even punch a clock telling management they’re on or off the job.
And of course there are people — lots and lots and lots of people — even at the Salaried level who do the exact same thing. The problem is, at that level, it’s harder to do. Far from impossible, just a little more challenging.
The thing is… quality effort that produces outstanding results is a finite thing. The focus and push necessary to generate significant yield lasts only so long…and then it inevitably dwindles as per the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics: “as one goes forward in time, the degree of disorder of any closed system (like YOU) will always increase. In simpler terms, we simply can’t sprint forever.
And so we don’t.
Instead — in current parlance — we ‘quiet quit’. We take a break. We get a drink. We go home. We hang out with the guys. We pick up something else that entertains us. We do anything, actually, other than what we are truly being paid to do.
But it’s really no big deal. Everyone does it. They just don’t look like they do it.
Study after study has continually indicated that lengthening the work day, even unto insanely ridiculous hours, distinctly does NOT increase productivity. Rather it extends it….drops it, in fact.. The amount of real output generated per hour of labor goes down. It can only go down as the sheer mechanical ability to make the right connections (of people, of ideas, of data) drops.
The problem, always, is the idiot in the boss’s office who equates ‘butts on chairs’…or ‘hours on-line’ with real work. Clearly it’s not…but it’s easy to measure. And so, inevitably, that kind of management generates that kind of result: employees who work ungodly hours but actually do relatively little, hour by hour.
But to see that disconnect requires that management measure results not scurrying. Results are much harder to measure. Much easier to see that all the mice in all the cubicles are moving hurriedly about , looking intense.
So yes, sure, quiet quit. Go home. Enjoy your family. If you’re working for Dilbert’s boss, that kind of approach may give you a healthy and robust life, but it won’t give you the corner office and the big raise. So what?
Some things are important and others aren’t. Make a decision and move on.

Michael McElwee
Michael McElwee
1 month ago

Leisure is the mother of all mixed blessings. The 12 hour work day is nothing short of a life preserver for those with no inner life. And those folks proliferate.

E. L. Herndon
E. L. Herndon
1 month ago

Nobody’s dying thought, ever, was “Wish I’d spent more time at the office.”

Julian Pellatt
Julian Pellatt
1 month ago

‘Passionate’ … ! Uggh! If anyone submitted a job application that included the word ‘passionate’ it went straight into the wastepaper bin. If they used the word at interview their chances of success diminished rapidly! I waded through thousands of applications in my 36-year career – and it was only in the late 1990s that rampant managerialism emerged in tandem with the scourge of email technology in the workplace.
Couple managerialism with the woke worldview, as occurred c.2015-16, and you have the awful work culture of today that secures conformity and obedience with the constant threat of cancellation hovering over an increasingly compliant, cowed and fearful workforce.
I have served my time, got the medals and am very relieved now to be retired!

Joshua Sterling
Joshua Sterling
1 month ago

This article reads as though the author put down the pen halfway through forming an argument. I hear youngsters like to be “meta”, so maybe this is that?