Quiet Quitting isn’t a thing – but fair working should be

Advice & Tips

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.

Haiku for a Spring Evening

Poetry & Writing

Sunset behind me.

Golden sunlight lightly shines

On green northern fields

Inspired by my drive home along the Military Road, which runs alongside (and sometimes on top of) the route of Hardrian’s Wall in Northumberland. The remains of this wall, once the boundary between Roman-occupied Southern half of Britannia and the untamed Northern half (mostly made up of modern-day Scotland), provides an additional element to an already dramatic landscape.

This evening, as I drove eastward at sunset, I noticed the beautifully strange golden glow alighting on the grazing land on both sides of the road (and the ruins of the ancient wall). Beautiful, strange, but rare. About as rare as my Haiku efforts, at least…

Image copyright David Head (from the Visit Northumberland Facebook page)

2021 in books (October – December)


Here we are, racing into yet another new year already! I hope everyone is settled into their routines and is tackling January as best as they can.

Last year seemed to get busier as we progressed through to Christmas for me. Some of it therapy related, some of it music related (on that note, keep your eyes peeled for a new announcement by the end of the month about an exciting new project). It seems like reading time was well and truly diminished. My New Year’s resolution is to always make time for reading! Nevertheless, here are my customary reviews of the titles I did manage to read from October to the end of the year…

Child I by Steve Tasane (2018, Faber & Faber)

Lauded novelist and performance poet Steve Tasane is the son of a refugee himself. He wrote this story to highlight that which us desired by all children: the want to beling;the want to not be hungry”; the want “just to be able to laugh and play”.

The novel, aimed at young adults, focuses in a small group of unaccompanied children in a mud-soaked refugee camp. It is a sparse, poetically written and moving tale about children without any proof of identity, stateless and lost. But what caught my eye was the presentation of this book, starting as it does right at the beginning, on the very front cover

Such an unusual stylistic choice shouldn’t have caught me so off-guard, but I found myself a page or in before I realised it wasn’t merely a text-heavy cover page. Yet, it makes sense. Why would a refugee used to precious few resources waste paper?

Leah Price wrote about the layout of books in her book about books, reviewed here. Similarly, this short story (just 186 pages) certainly made me reconsider the accepted form most of our books are packaged in, and nowadays taken for granted. Why exactly do we need those introductory leaves in the same order each time?

However, the real thought-provoking issue isn’t the format in which the text is presented but the way it gives life to paperless, and in this book, nameless (each child is assigned initials, used throughout the book, as the authorities are unable to confirm their real names), children such as Child I, our eponymous narrator. This brief but beautiful book is not just for young adults, but for all.

Confronting the classics: traditions, adventures and innovations by Mary Beard (2013, Profile)

Following last month’s special instalment on Roman history titles, I found myself picking this collection of essays off the shelf of a local charity shop. And once again, it’s not a typical book. Rather, it is a series of Beard’s book reviews from the last couple of decades, collated here along with her ‘manifesto’ on whether the classics have a future, and her rationale for using reviews a means of widening historical debate. On that score, Beard will find no argument from me – as one who publishes succinct reviews of every book I read every quarter, who am I to judge?

In previous installments, I have recommended essay collections. I find them an enjoyable way to learn something on a subject where an entire book might dissuade you from reading about it altogether. They are also perfect for shorter time frames, where one chapter or subject can be finished in one sitting. In this collection, Beard praises, critiques, questions and in some cases outright savages the work of her peers,but maintains her vivid style of wit and enthusiasm throughout. She regularly highlights how source material can be selectivity interpreted when authors are attempting to make a particular argument, forcing one to rethink how we read history.

After reading Beard’s reviews, I came away with a very good sense of what the original book was getting at, without having to read it. In a sense, this books gives you over thirty for the price of one! Even the most casual fans of classical history should cast their eye over this collection.

The Monk of Mokka by Dave Eggers (2016,)

I actually read this over the summer, but as it was the only book that wasn’t in some way related to Roman history, I decided to hold back my review until this installment.

Eggers brings us a tale on behalf of Mokhtar, a Yemini raised in San Francisco. Almost through chance, an aimless Mokhtar develops a passion for coffee and sets off on a mission to bring coffee from Yemen back to the global market – just as civil war breaks out in his homeland. As well as learning about the process the beans go through before they reach our cups, we follow Makhtar’s attempts to escape the country, not only with both his shipment of coffee beans, but with his life.In all honesty, the book is propelled by the story. The narrative is engaging where the writing is sometimes not, and it is string enough to keep one reading. Recommended mainly for coffee aficionados. You can read more about Mokhtar and his foundation at his Port of Mokha website.

Scandinavians: in search of the soul of the North by Robert Ferguson (2017, Head Zeus)

Ferguson looks back through the history of the Swedes, Danes and Norwegians to draw out what links them and what gives them their unique cultural personality. These dives into history are intersected with vignettes from the author’s own life, having travelled around and lived in various parts of Scandinavia in the last five decades.

Ferguson seeks to ascertain the origins of the Scandinavian character. In terms of the ‘brooding melancholia’ one might associate with the land of long winters nights and Scandi-noir drama, he points to various moments in their history, from the cultural drought brought about by Sweden’s reformation in the medieval period to the time of (playwright) Isben and (artist) Munch and their creative work full of intense angst. Ferguson examines not just the culture itself, but the effect on how outside nations perceive these three separate but interlinked nations.

Ferguson certainly a few interesting arguments. However, there doesn’t seem to be a definitive conclusion, and the book feels somewhat unfinished as a result. Worth a read for those interested in Scandinavian culture and history. It also highlights a few interesting locations to visit if you find yourself travelling there anytime soon.

My favourites from 2021

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the Themis Files trilogy. I recommend it to any fans if science fiction looking for something a little different. I also enjoyed and recommend Yevgeny Zamyatin’s distopian tale We. These two were standouts in another good year of reading (both reviews can be read here).

I have noticed that I have shied away from music books in recent years, perhaps as they represent something of a busman’s holiday. However, there are a few music titles making their way into my to read pile along all the history and fiction, so watch this space…

As always, let me know what you’ve been reading, as well as your favourite books of 2021. In the meantime, stay safe and happy, until next time…