Recently the term Quiet Quitting has emerged in the public sphere this year. The term refers to the apparently new trend of only working one’s contracted hours, foregoing unofficial overtime, answering emails from home, or living to serve one’s employer. Pieces have provided an overview on the BBC’s website and in newspaper articles often highlighting the anxieties of large corporations as they lose thousands of unpaid hours of labour. This piece by Guardian columnist Tayo Bero provides an informative insight into the practice.
Except it isn’t a new phenomenon at all. Some people have brought this mindset to their jobs for years. This article from Time Magazine (published just a month before the world closed down because of Coronavirus), discusses the work-life balance and comes very close to saying the same points that the Quiet Quitting ‘movement’ are saying now.
But not everyone can do this. The term mainly applies to those in what might unkindly be referred to as a ‘dead end’ job, from office workers to hospitality staff. Healthcare professionals don’t have the luxury of being able to clock off once they have reached their contracted hours for the day if patients still require care then and there. The same is true in allied healthcare professions such as therapy, my own area of work. Even in the regular routine of weekly sessions, there are issues, from last minute meetings to safeguarding emergencies that mean your presence and insight is required, and you have a duty of care to ensure the best care possible.
But is that always reflected in the financial compensation therapists receive? That largely depends on the employer. Those at the highest risk of working far beyond what they are paid for are those in the sector who are self-employed. These professionals face the struggle to balance charging fairly for their time against the threat of pricing themselves out of the market for a contracted service.
I have wrestled with this conundrum myself as both a music therapist and as a guitar player for hire. It’s certainly not rare to feel like you should have invoiced for more after the full scale of the work involved becomes clear. Getting this balance right is largely a lesson we learn from experience, but in a society where average wages are falling below the cost of living, it is a balance which many find increasingly difficult to maintain.
By contrast, the practice of Quiet Firing, described in this article, has also been highlighted, where employers distance some of their employees from opportunities to progress in their career. It is highly likely that both practices are being fuelled by the other, creating an unhealthy cycle that no employee would wish to be part of.
Some are even attempting to relabel Quiet Quitting as burnout, or a means of dealing with or avoiding burnout. I even read one which went as far as to suggest that the practice was a coping mechanism by employees which will help them be more productive in the future:
It’s another sign of workers — sometimes not even consciously — looking “for ways to feel less burnt out, more motivated and more engaged.”Nathalie Baumgartner, quoted In The Washington Post
While burnout is in doubtedly a factor, I think viewing this as the workers trying to be even better workers is one hell of a stretch. Perhaps HR teams across the land are finding ways to exonerate themselves of any unpleasant behaviour by placing all the onus on the employees? The very term Quiet Quitting is misleading, as it implies that not working beyond what you are paid to do is somehow falling short of the standards expected.
Something is clearly wrong with our work culture if we have reached this point. So what do we need to change? Perhaps businesses should have been more mindful to learn lessons from the Covid pandemic, instead of panicking about getting back to Business As Usual.
It’s time we, as a society, ha took a good hard look at the way we work, and perhaps if we continue to slowly stop pandering to big businesses (where possible), they will be forced to change And if a change comes from society, then everyone benefits – even the self-employed. But first, we have to know our worth, and accept that fairness is worth fighting for.