I have lately received numerous notifications about articles and media describing something called quiet quitting. I first saw this term on a Linkedin notification several weeks ago. Then I saw quiet quitting videos showing up on my YouTube feed. Now it appears to be quite a news item. So I looked into it.
The media I have perused typically start out with the blanket statement the young people don’t want to work. Those people who do work are castigated for not giving any extra efforts in that work. Taylor Telford, writing for the Washington Post, reports that quiet quitting equates to employee disengagement.
This is curious to me. Employees are hired to perform x amount of work by an employer. If those people are not performing the amount of work they have been hired to perform, management has the power and authority to get rid of those people. In my work life I have noticed numerous employees who did not produce the required amount of work. Depending on the managers involved those people were either laid off, fired, or, in some cases, left alone. In any case, my sense is that it is disengaged employees who are typically not doing their jobs. I agree with management authority Peter Drucker who wrote, “The productivity of work is not the responsibility of the worker but of the manager.”
People in the media seem outraged that an employee might do no more than what is required of them by their specific job. Even the YouTube and TikTok promoters of quiet quitting seem embarrassed that they might be encouraging people to merely fulfill the requirements of their job.
In our culture we are often told that success at work requires the use of discretionary efforts. Discretionary efforts are the work done beyond the basic requirements of the job. For those commenters who seem to represent employers, the expenditure of discretionary effort at work is expected, even when it cannot be required. However, even those promoting the idea of quiet quitting are acknowledging that the requirements of your job should be met.
The backlash against the idea of quiet quitting brings to my mind the act of wage theft. Wage theft is comprised of things as varied as minimum wage and overtime violations, to illegal wage deductions, to employee misclassification. In each of these actions the employer forces extra productivity from the employee without proper remuneration. The Economic Policy Institute, back in 2017, reported that minimum wage violations alone account for employee losses of $8 billion a year.
What occurs to me regarding both the societal backlash to the idea of quiet quitting and the wage theft that occurs regularly in the industrial practices of American business is that they are two sides of the same coin. On one side of the coin you have business culture attempting to normalize the idea that going above and beyond is a requirement by equating simply doing your job with quitting. On the other side of the coin there are businesses surreptitiously imposing increases in productivity by not paying employees for required work activities.
The concept of quiet quitting seems to be an exercise in agnotology. Wage theft, or forcing gains in productivity by not paying employees for required work, is structural violence. Both are being used to strengthen the position of economic elites at the expense of workers. All of it is nonsense.