Updated: Dec 31, 2022
If you've been anywhere near the media over the last few weeks, you have seen some references to the idea of “quiet quitting”. If you've managed to avoid the cutesy alliterative manifestations of the core of capitalism itself, let me enlighten you. Companies have been all up in arms about the dreadful predicament of “quiet quitting”: employers doing exactly what they have been contracted to do. Not working themselves into small hours or covering the workload of a colleague who's off with stress (because they have too much on their plate because their team got laid off last year and never got replaced).
It's a story I hear over and over again where people are expected to take on way more than we've agreed to for the honour of taking home a wage slip. And all these articles are talking about how terrible it is for the economy rather than this showing the very obvious cracks in the later stages of capitalism is a problem itself. Whether you like capitalism as a system or not, there is no denying that it has been a victim of its own success. We can only have a rich elite ruling class if there are jobs to sustain a working class. The economy is crumbling, and no one believes the fantasy that they'll be okay if they just work hard enough. So why would they want to do three people’s jobs whilst being paid for one? The term “quiet quitting” betrays an insinuation that the employee is not being honest and communicating their exit strategy from a job that is overloading them, rather than the focus being on the employers’ structural deficiencies which overload the workers in the first place.
Rather than talking about the phenomenon of “quiet quitting”. Perhaps we should be talking about how people should have a fair work / life balance and be allowed to spend as much time with their family, friends and loved ones as they do in front of their inbox. The term itself is manifestation of a society which teaches us that people's their value is their output rather than being intrinsically valuable as a human being. By inventing social media phenomenona that demonise the workers rather than highlighting the systematic failures, we continue to perpetuate the idea that the onus is on the individual to live a lifestyle of exhaustion and burnout, to meet the needs of the companies’ baseline profits.
Rather than “quiet quitting”, perhaps we can call it “contractual obligation”. Rather than talking about why the workers do not want to expose their plans, why don’t we talk about companies not creating an environment where their employees feel safe to talk to them? An economy that's going to survive needs to have a workforce which is not normalising one exhausted human doing three peoples’ jobs for the same amount of pay.
As the fears about the economy grow there is going to be a lot of pressure to do more to keep the wolf from the door. But it is worth remembering that we know this is not really a solution. We see it around us every day. We see manual labourers grafting from dawn until dusk and barely making ends meet and high paid executives having late lounging lunches in bars around the City. Our income and our value are not correlated to the amount of work we do – they are correlated to the place we have been assigned in society. As long as we buy into the myth that if we work hard we can get ahead, we will be constantly lowering our standards and increasing our task list. We need new approaches for this new world. Believing that sacrificing your needs for a profit line will earn you loyalty and respect is never (and was rarely ever) a sustainable game plan.