Communication and Compassion Can Counteract Quiet Quitting
There is a story we tell in our community about three bricklayers. One day, a person comes walking up the street and sees them busy at work. She asks the first man, “what are you doing?” He responds harshly, “I’m laying bricks, what does it look like?” The second man receives the same question, but he responds, “I’m helping to build the Temple so that the people can participate in the rituals.” When she asked the third person, he answers with a smile, “I’m building a palace for God, a place where people can encounter the divine.” Three craftsmen, same job, completely different perspectives.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the way we think about employment, work, and how we spend our time. We are seeing it in all kinds of industries, from food service where restaurants are having a hard time finding enough staff to fill their needs, to the balance of Work from Home employment. It was inevitable that we would be discussing issues like minimum wage, unionization, and office settings at some point, but the changes brought about by the past two years have accelerated the timeline.
And this is hardly the first time in recent history that the relationship between people and their work has changed. For years, the expectation was that an employee would start a job and work to become a “company man,” earning a gold watch for prolonged service and loyalty. But eventually, most specifically in the wake of the 2008 Recession, it became clear that companies would not demonstrate that same care for their people as they expected in return. The result was a new era of mercenary corporate leap-frogging, with workers striving to raise themselves up as high as they could before the fear of cuts could get to them. In order to do this, we had to invent the idea of a “workaholic.” It didn’t help that smartphones and email made it impossible to ever really be unreachable. My generation was raised with the notion of “the grind,” working as hard as we can for as long as we can to continue the climb up the ladder of success.
As is so often the case, we have reached another counter-balancing moment. Because recently, we’ve seen the rise of a new phenomenon: Quiet Quitting. The idea is that employers are so desperate for work that employees have the leverage to set very clear boundaries about what they will and will not do at work. The classic “other duties as assigned” contract language seems to no longer exist. If it isn’t directly in my portfolio for which I am paid, Quiet Quitters say, then it isn’t happening. Unless, of course, you are willing to pay up for extra attention on my part.
Clear boundaries are important for maintaining a healthy relationship between work and personal identity. It is well past time that we eliminated the need for the average worker to be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Vacation time SHOULD be vacation time, logged off and recharged. But the ultimate problem with this notion of Quiet Quitting is that it doesn’t solve anything. Instead of creating a healthy, meaningful work environment, it simply transfers the power imbalance back to the employee.
Instead of Quiet Quitting, what would it look like for us to leverage openness and communication in the workplace to find a balance that works for everyone? We want our employers to see us as human beings, to see the complexity of our lives and the way our work fits into the larger whole. At the same time, our companies want us to understand their ultimate goals, and the way our particular work fits into the larger whole. This kind of mutual investment takes far more time and care, but bears much better results. Rather than continuing the power-based arms race to bully one another into submission, what would our work be if we could build relationships that make the context of our actions more meaningful, more fulfilling, and more mutually beneficial?
Obviously, this conversation deserves an acknowledgement of privilege. There are many who don’t have the luxury of doing work that nourishes them, instead having to work simply to survive. Not everyone has the power to change jobs, to strategize with their employers to maximize productivity and satisfaction simultaneously. But those same people likely don’t have the power to Quiet Quit either, which by its very nature is wielding a certain level of power and privilege.
If we can’t respect our employers, then we probably can’t do work worth doing, and need to begin to look for other options. But if we have enough power to manipulate our companies using the Quiet Quitting method, we would be far better off by starting from a place of sharing needs. All work is made better through meaningful communication and relationship building. And most companies would rather do a little extra work to raise satisfaction, rather than have to start the hiring process all over again.
We all want to feel valued and respected. We want to be able to be three-dimensional humans, both in the workplace and beyond it. But Quiet Quitting doesn’t help bring that reality any closer. Instead, doing the hard work of building connections, fostering kindness, and giving the best version of ourselves has the real potential to increase not only our productivity, but also our overall satisfaction and impact.