It’s time we acted our wage
Quiet quitting. It’s the latest phenomenon that’s got HR managers, CEOs, and girlbosses collectively quivering in their boots. Boomers across the world are crippled with moral panic, taking to the comments of NZ Herald’s Facebook articles, preaching about the moral corruption of the young generation, and the tragic death of the work ethic.
While we’re not exactly in mourning over the supposed ‘loss’ of rising and grinding, the concept of ‘quiet quitting’ has often been misinterpreted, It has nothing to do with the erosion of hard work. Nor is it a new phenomenon. Instead, quiet quitting is the growing movement of workers committing to only doing what their jobs pay them to do. It encourages us to collectively say farewell to answering emails outside of work hours, picking up calls from your boss, showing up early, or taking on responsibilities outside your job requirements.
Why are we seeing a resurgence of resistance against the dominant hustle and grind culture? One student commented that quiet quitting is “less of a trend, and more of a generation understanding their worth.” Another thought that this movement was a sign that “people are finally waking up to the scam that capitalism is.” Others also commented on the impact of Covid-19, and how the pandemic brought more awareness for self-help and boundaries for work. It seems that this movement is set on the backdrop of increasing economic inequality, lower social mobility, and job security. Clearly, quiet quitting is nothing new. It is part and parcel of other ‘trends’ that signal the radical shift in the way Gen Z and Millennials view work. The 2020 TikTok hashtag ‘IDontDreamOfLabour’ was an outpouring of criticism towards the 9-5 lifestyle, and the glamourised notion of a ‘dream job’. The explosion of the cottagecore aesthetic saw the dismissal of the ceaseless pursuit of economic growth, and instead advocated for simple and sustainable living, and partaking in activities that don’t generate income. Even the emergence of the ‘goblin girl’ aesthetic is part of this broader value shift, rejecting the ‘it girl’ aesthetic’s emphasis on relentless productivity, and instead pushing for anti-self improvement activities.
Many students working part-time jobs have resonated and even applied the concept of quiet quitting. After all, “minimum wage asks for minimum effort”, as one student commented, highlighting the pointlessness of hard work in roles that offer little reward for greater performance. “I’ll do my best at work, but at the end of the day, I know I’m replaceable. I have a life to live outside of my job. We work to live, not live to work”, remarked another student. Setting healthy boundaries that prevent students from burning out, or overworking, seems to be a practice that’s gaining more traction. It’s understandable that because this concept encourages a ‘I’ll only do it, if I get something in return’ mindset, it promotes a more transactional outlook to work and labour. But, the thing is… isn’t business transactional? What’s wrong with not going above and beyond, if you receive zilch in return? Especially given the widespread staff shortages across hospitality and retail, it’s unfair to expect employees to be taking on the duties of two to three people, while receiving the exact same pay.
For others, quiet quitting allows them to reclaim work-life balance. Like many other students, Gabbie resorted to rostered hours in hospitality as a part-time job to help pay bills. Like most hospitality jobs, it was flexible enough to work around a uni schedule, but not flexible enough to give time off. When she asked to miss three days from work, during New Years, despite working shifts that ended at midnight for most of December, Gabbie was still given a sermon from both the manager, and one of the franchise’s regional heads. They “did not appreciate” her request of taking an out-of-towner during the busiest time of the year. Similarly, in Nancy’s previous experience in hospitality, the workplace culture constantly pressured and guilt-tripped employees to pick up extra shifts or offer to stay longer. Those that didn’t were automatically chucked into the manager’s ‘bad books’, which meant receiving less favourable treatment by the managerial staff.
However, one student found the quiet quitting movement’s emphasis on the importance of rest to be empowering. They said that “I take every single minute of my break, because if I’m not getting paid, I’m not working. If someone asks me a work-related question on my break, I’ll make sure to take extra time to make up for the time I spent answering the question”.
Ultimately, quiet quitting has little to do with being slack or unmotivated in the workplace, and more with the corrosion of work-life balance, adequate pay, and fair working conditions. It’s a rejection of capitalism’s incessant fetishisation of hustle culture, and a call for workers to set healthy boundaries, and prioritise their well-being.