Robin Boylorn on Quiet Quitting
Quiet Quitting is a buzzword term that emerged during the pandemic. Not a call to actually leave jobs, quiet quitting referred to a newfound refusal to be driven by ambition or a paycheck. Quiet quitters would remain in their jobs doing the bare minimum required to keep it.
While boundary-setting and a move toward healthy work-life balance is commendable, quiet quitting has been critiqued as a one-dimensional pseudo solution to the age-old imbalance between workers and employers. While quiet quitting might have short term satisfaction, for some people more than others, it could have long term consequences.
Called a “fake trend” by Derek Thompson, the Tik-Tok inspired terminology reflected the disinterest and disengagement of millennial and Gen Z workers, especially when they were being “forced back to work” following social distance orders. Reclaiming time that would otherwise be used to get to/from work, these workers resisted a return to normal by deciding, vocally, that they would no longer work aspirationally.
Missing in the quiet quitting phenomenon is the fact that it is only possible for certain workers and under certain circumstances—which exposes it as well-intentioned privilege. Black professionals, for example, are often socialized to do “twice as much to get half as far” because the reality is conscious and unconscious discriminations, including assumptions of affirmative action hires and accusations of incompetence in the workplace leave them vulnerable to hyper-surveillance and over-punishment.
If quiet quitting is only possible if you are a certain kind of person (white, well off, educated, able-bodied, cisgendered) with a certain kind of job (white collar, salaried, with stock options, paid time off, a retirement plan and sick leave) it is limited in what it could do if it did exist.
And if quiet quitting only applies if you have minimum responsibilities that don’t, for example, include mortgages, mouths to feed or student loan debt, then it is not realistic or a remedy.
Working class and minimum wage workers cannot afford to not do their jobs well because when it comes down to it, quiet quitting exposes the difference between being an expendable employee or having an expendable job.
If quiet quitting means doing the bare minimum, workers who are already stereotyped as lazy and unqualified are uniquely vulnerable to termination and replacement. To be clear, being overworked and underpaid has never been about an allegiance to a company or franchise—it is about doing what you have to do to make ends meet. People who volunteer their free time for overtime aren’t doing it because they have options, they are doing it because they don’t.
It is important to remember that labor rights are closely connected to civil rights, and whether quitting is quiet or loud, the impetus and outcome should be improving the lives and quality of life for workers.
I’m Robin Boylorn. . .until next time, keep it crunk!
Written by Robin Boylorn
Edited by Brittany Young