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Why “quiet quitting” is not the way forward

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Cerith Gardiner - published on 02/15/23

It may be a little controversial, but doing the bare minimum at work is not necessarily the answer to a happy life.

There’s been a lot in the news about the trend for “quiet quitting” — a movement that sees people stepping away from their usual workloads and doing only the absolute minimum that their job requires.

Now, there’s a lot to be said about finding the right work-life balance, but this latest trend just doesn’t feel right to me.

I totally agree that sometimes employers take their employees for granted, and before you know it, you can end up doing extra tasks that were not in your original job description. However, the notion of “doing the bare minimum” seems wrong for a number of reasons, and my own work experience bears this out.

First, I’m a “yes” person. I’ll always agree to adding something to my plate and then I only think of the consequences once I’m knee deep in my to-do lists. However, by taking on extra tasks over the years, I’ve been challenged mentally and physically, and I’ve picked up skills along the way. The level of satisfaction is a huge reward in itself.

Yet, working hard is more than just what I can get out of it. I’ve always believed that having a job is a privilege. After all, there are millions on this planet who can’t work due to their health, and others who aren’t able to find work because of various factors.

My parents impressed upon me from an early age that if you do something, you give it your all. So I suppose that being prepared to work extra hours with little to no financial gain is something that goes hand-in-hand with my desire to give the best of myself.

Of course, the issue is finding a balance with family life — especially with the demands of modern life today. But I want my children to see me work hard. I want them to see that nothing is given in life, and that by working hard I provide for my family, and am able to donate to causes that are close to our hearts.

Perhaps my views are unpopular and a little outdated, especially as we seem to live in a world where the work week seems to be shrinking, and people spend more of their time scrolling through endless social media posts. (I’m not averse to social media — I can quite happily wile away the time looking at my friends’ posts, but then I feel frustrated as I could have been doing something more fruitful with my time.)

Finding a balance

Overall, I think there is a happy medium with the whole “quiet quitting” concept. I love to cling to the old “work hard, play hard.” Yes, it’s tiring, but it’s also so satisfying. But I also appreciate that if an employer is being too demanding, or you need to devote more time to your family, then it’s important to not just quietly slip away, but to have an honest and frank conversation with your boss to see if you can find a compromise. Easier said than done, I know.

One thing is certain is that there is no one size fits all. Our lives are complex. We each have different demands in our lives and it’s important to do what you feel is right for you and your family. I do think it’s interesting to listen to what people have to say from all generations and walks of life.

A colleague of mine shared with me a recent post from Humans Of New York. It’s of an elderly woman’s perspective to “quiet quitting” — something so alien to her generation. I’ve written it out here for ease:

I worked as a legal assistant for 50 years. And I’ve always been lucky to work for honest, kind, brilliant attorneys. All that paperwork might seem boring to other people. But I never even took lunch, that’s how much I loved it. I loved the law. It’s very precise. My work needed to be exactly right. And there was a lot of pride there. But something seems to have changed in the culture. So many of my coworkers would rush out the door at 5 o’clock. With important, unfinished things on their desk. In law you have to get things out quickly, but it’s like they just didn’t care. Maybe it’s a generational thing. I’m older, I’m 77. So maybe there’s something I don’t get. ‘Quiet quitting,’ and all of that, I just don’t understand it. If it’s just a paycheck to you—if you’re getting by on the minimum, and not trying to be perfect, or God forbid, if you’re screwing it up on purpose– why are you even going to work? Save your pennies and quit. Find something else you can take pride in. If you’re spending eight hours a day on something you don’t take pride in, it seems to me that somewhere, deep down inside, you’re a phony. Maybe not a phony. But you’re deluding yourself. It’s going to spill over into the rest of your life. And there’s not enough money for me. Well, $20,000 a week maybe. But otherwise there’s not enough money for me to not take pride in my work. I couldn’t do it. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I can’t. You know how people text, and there’s like spelling mistakes and grammar mistakes and everything? Not me. I’ll reread everything. I’ll go back and fix it, I’ll put in the comma. That’s who I am. You either have it or you don’t, and less people have it now. I think it was the digital revolution. When I first started working there were typewriters. If you made a mistake, you had to redo it. You had to be careful, you had to get it right– until the computer came along. I remember my boss was so excited about the computer age. He said: ‘It’s going to be great! We’re going to have a paperless office!’ I knew better. I told him: ‘There’s going to be a lot more paper, actually.’ Because you can reprint everything. And nobody’s going to care anymore.’”

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A post shared by Humans of New York (@humansofny)

A lot of what she says here rings true for me. I think having the desire to do well at work is key to job satisfaction. However, the post garnered lots of reactions from people saying how she came from a privileged generation, and today it’s a different story.

And they’re not wrong. Our society is very different today.

But I think there is a very useful takeaway from what she says that we should continue to impart to our kids: We should think really hard about how we want to spend our day at work. If we can follow our passions, or feel like we’re really doing something that is worthwhile, we won’t want to quietly quit.

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FamilyMental HealthWork
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