“Quiet quitting” is not, in fact, the act of giving your two weeks’ notice in a soft whisper. It is not shutting the door delicately before you tiptoe to a chair and explain to your manager, in barely audible words, that your time at the company has come to an end.
Rather, “quiet quitting” is a buzzword that has been doing the rounds on social media. Depending on who you ask, its definition may vary, but most people agree on a few broad tenets: someone who has “quietly quit” has renounced the culture of the hustle. They are unlikely to go “above and beyond” at work. They get in, they do their work, they leave on time, and they move on to other things.
“Quiet quitting” has made headlines recently in what appears to be yet another ripple-effect of the pandemic. There was the Great Resignation, which saw a wave of people leave their jobs. We’ve heard that “nobody wants to work anymore” (which is an interesting way of saying that the labour market has shifted, and nobody wants to work too much, for too little money anymore).
The past two years have prompted people to take a look at their lives and re-evaluate their priorities. They have changed how we think about work – deeply so. “Quiet quitting” falls within that category. It’s not enough – and not accurate – to dismiss it as the capricious behaviour of entitled young workers who don’t feel like trying anymore.
When I first heard about “quiet quitting”, I had visions of people playing fast and loose with their employment contracts. Remember when Facebook first came onto the scene, and we all heard horror stories about people getting fired because they’d called in sick and had then shared photos of themselves enjoying a fun day at the beach? I thought that’s what we were talking about. (For the record, I do think employers should keep their noses out of workers’ private social media accounts, but that is a discussion for another day.)
Instead, the behaviours I saw described as “quiet quitting” seemed… incredibly normal. Not just normal — healthy. Quiet quitters, one TikTok video informed me, work only the hours they are contracted to work. They don’t bring extra work home. They generally don’t answer (or even look at) their work email outside of work hours and on weekends. To which I say: Yes? That sounds… good, actually? And advisable in a country like the US, where one is lucky to have any substantial amount of paid time off. As we say in my home country of France: He who wants to travel far takes care of his horse. Or: He who wants to work almost year-round doesn’t look at work emails on weekends.
Yet, “quiet quitting” is being discussed as if it’s a new, potentially bad pattern of behaviour that might threaten to upend the entire system. (Oh, no, whatever will we do if people stop overworking themselves for no reason?) But really, remembering that a work contract is a business transaction is the most normal, sensible thing of all. It is an exchange of something (money) against something else (labour). There’s nothing wrong about acknowledging that. Remembering what you’re being paid for (and what you’re not) is basic common sense – especially when you consider that women and people of colour get assigned more unrewarded tasks (sometimes referred to as “office housework”) than white, male employees.
Of course, some nuance is needed. Just because someone sometimes answers emails outside of traditional business hours doesn’t mean they’re automatically an out-of-control workaholic.
Some parents choose to split their work time in a way that enables them to leave work early, spend time with their children in the late afternoon and in the evening, and then fire off another round of emails or check off a few tasks once the kids are in bed. As long as this is you arranging your workload around your life (and not cramming work into every bit of spare time), and as long as this is a choice (rather than an employer demanding round-the-clock availability), then that seems like a no-brainer. It’s just pragmatic.
A TV segment recently caused some controversy in France. It introduces a concept it calls “tracances”, a contraction of “travail” (“work”) and “vacances” (“vacation”). In a tweet, France Info, the French radio station that produced the segment, described it as being about “le travail pendant les vacances” — working during your vacation.
And people were understandably up in arms. But that’s not exactly what the segment depicts: Rather, a woman is seen teleworking from a pleasant location while her kids are still on summer break from school. They’re on vacation; she’s able to work from a nice place. The segment specifies that her boss doesn’t see any issues with letting employees work remotely for up to four weeks in a row, “before or after their paid time off.” Before or after is important here. Not instead of. Not during.
This hasn’t stopped a lot of French people on social media from getting upset. They don’t want to see a loosening of work-life boundaries, because they fear it could cause confusion. (By “confusion”, I mean, for example, managers taking unfair advantage of employees’ ability to work from home, demanding round-the-clock availability, or scheduling meetings during someone’s paid time off because they can simply tune in from wherever they are.) There is a real risk here. But I don’t want us to close ourselves off to the kind of flexibility that works for the workers.
Do I believe some managers will still abuse the wonderful possibilities offered by remote work? Absolutely. Do I believe those managers waited until now to start behaving badly? No. Do I want to believe it is possible to establish firm boundaries around paid time off and also explore the fun opportunities afforded by telecommuting? Yes! Life is short! If people can work from a fun place before or after their vacation, it’s worth a try!
Call it “quiet quitting”, or call it something else — but work should fit within your life, not the other way around.