What Does 'Quiet Quitting' Say About Work Today?
Don't expect managers to fix this: They are work-sick, too.
Jim Harter of Gallup is a thinker I greatly admire, but I have to dissect a short but powerful research note he posted, Is Quiet Quitting Real? The subtitle puts the bottom line first:
“Quiet quitters" make up at least 50% of the U.S. workforce -- probably more, Gallup finds.
Given that finding, I don't think the question is 'is quiet quitting real?' but rather, 'is there anything that can be done about work-sickness?'. And then my bottom line first: Harter’s analysis and recommendations really only say that companies should do more of what has led to the current situation.
In a way, my comment is unfair, because quiet quitting is a manifestation of greater societal turbulence than what happens at work (like the pandemic, climate chaos, inflation — the polycrisis1 that confronts us). However, work (as a blunt edge of capitalism) is invading all aspects of our lives.
The destabilization of labor markets has changed the dynamics around employment, as the growth of unionization and the Great Resignation have demonstrated.
But Harter’s critique of quiet quitting takes a microeconomic approach, so I will stick to that framework, here.
Harter starts with this:
The trend toward quiet quitting -- the idea spreading virally on social media that millions of people are not going above and beyond at work and just meeting their job description -- could get worse.
He leaves unsaid that the present situation is bad. People doing the baseline their job requires, and no more, is not just a desire for wellbeing, but turning away from convention, a signal of profound disengagement from the company, and a form of protest.
This is a problem because most jobs today require some level of extra effort to collaborate with coworkers and meet customer needs.
So, to make that clear, companies operate on the requirement for workers to do more than their baseline: more than they believe they should be responsible for. That takes the form of working nights and weekends, not taking vacations or sick days, or taking responsibility for work that should be performed by others. Built into that perspective is the observation that companies plan around people giving that ‘extra effort’, as opposed to adequately staffing to accomplish the work with people ‘working to rule’, as labor unions call quiet quitting. And ‘work to rule’ is employed as a form of protest.