By now, it’s likely you’ve heard of the term ‘quiet quitting’. It’s possible that you’re even growing a bit sick of it. But hear me out. Like most modern trends, it proliferated on TikTok after a video (by user Zaid Khan, a.k.a @zaidlepplin) went viral, which explained the concept as ‘quitting the idea of going above and beyond’ at work.
It’s essentially: a withdrawal from over-working; a movement that taps into the post-pandemic vibe shift towards a slower pace of life with more closely guarded boundaries between work, play and peace.
It’s hard to find fault with that definition of the trend. Only a corporate drone would argue against toxic workplaces that demand unpaid labour, endless additional tasks, emails outside working hours and logging on during annual leave. But since Khan's video, with the advent of a thousand memes on the subject, quiet quitting has gradually come to mean something more torpid. The term is now associated with doing the bare minimum and working just enough not to get fired – also known as coasting.
Which is a problem. Its proponents say that if enough people quiet quit, companies will have to sit up and take notice. A bit like a mass strike. But, in the meantime, who’s going to pick up the slack? In all likelihood, somebody diligent is just going to find themselves with triple the workload.
Considering the way it's been adopted, the term itself now seems off, and we should probably find a new one. You can now take an online quiz to find out if you’re ‘guilty’ of quiet quitting, suggesting something underhand, unambitious and, let's call a spade a spade, lazy. In Khan's original missive, he called for people to do the work they're contracted to do - no more and no less - which is nothing to feel guilty about. To set boundaries between work and home life, so that you're productive while there, but you can leave it at the door by EOP.
Perhaps it's the use of 'quitting' that's the issue. It implies throwing in the towel altogether. If you're so dissatisfied with your job that you want to quit, I would urge you to actually do so. And loudly, like Bridget Jones when she resigns from her publishing job with triumphant relish. Many of us have felt that way this year. It's easy to see why the so-called ‘great resignation’ followed the pandemic. The constant grind was interrupted, priorities were re-evaluated, and those with the choice seemed reluctant to return to the old way of working. Properly quitting became the ultimate act of defiant self-care, played out to the tune of Beyoncé’s ‘Break My Soul.’
But doesn’t quiet quitting seem like a watering down of that spirit? Just not showing up mentally to a job you intend to keep isn't going to do anything for you, just as much as it doesn't help your company.
Perhaps it's my millennial bias. For those of us who worked through the era of the ‘Girlboss’, when hustle culture was glorified and multi-hyphenate was the ideal work state, it seemed like the best way to get ahead in a fierce job market was to work as much as possible. It’s hard to snap out of that self-consciously strict work ethos. And if that sounds self-righteous, it’s because it’s supposed to – my boss might be reading this.
It’s even harder to snap out of the culture of constant comparison. The key reason I can’t quiet quit is not because I’m especially important or conscientious, it’s because I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve never quite done enough, or as much as my contemporaries – enough networking, enough brainstorming, enough hustling. I’m nearly 30 and I haven’t written a book yet, and I’m not even a micro-influencer either. This kind of thinking is the antithesis of work-life balance, and something we should all feel empowered to quit.
But there is definitely something between the binary states of all-consuming grind and the bare minimum. The Cut kind of called it when they said the original idea for quiet quitting was 'just working.' Just doing your job in a way that’s responsive to both your workload, your career ambitions and also your wellbeing. But I like to think that there is something more contemporary going on. Something uniquely post-pandemic. We could call it ‘Roller Coasting’, when you dial effort up and down as work and life fluctuate. It’s a rare luxury, of course, but those who can are demanding more flexibility from their employers and the ability to manage their own time, bolstered by the experiences of lockdown.
In elusive quiet patches, the roller coasters are taking longer breaks, making time for exercise or hobbies, and working from home where possible. When things get busy again, they’re willing to rise to challenges. They’re still getting the work done, but not necessarily during the prescriptive hours of 9 and 5, and not necessarily in the office. This encourages mutual trust, with employers confident that things will level out overall, and workers reassured that responsibility and freedom can coexist.
So, in the spirit of the new academic year, it’s time to get back to work. Not to the slog of grind culture, nor the disillusioned coasting of quiet quitting, but something else, something that ebbs and flows as you change and progress, that’s quiet at some points and busy at others, but always leaves room for life outside work.
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