Short Take: Quitters Never Win

Want to become a tiktok star but not sure you can survive without eating by joining the “Great Resignation,” and really don’t want to suffer the pain and indignity of being a “spoonie”? Then maybe “quiet quitting” is right for you.

“I recently learned about this term called ‘quiet quitting’ where you’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond,” says Zaiad Khan, a TikTok user with over 10,000 followers, in a soothing voice, juxtaposed with a video of the New York City subway. “You are still performing your duties, but you are no longer subscribing to the hustle culture mentally that work has to be our life.”

That, of course, is the explanation from the sort of person who uses tiktok. In an op-ed, Laura Vanderkam offers a more “mature” explanation.

This summer, there was much discussion of the concept of “quiet quitting” — meaning, essentially, doing the bare minimum at work. And perhaps that’s not surprising: After more than two years of pandemic uncertainty, employee stress levels are at all-time highs, and people are still languishing. When you’re exhausted and overwhelmed, it feels like  something needs to give — and for many, that seems to be the pursuit of excellence at work.

Stress? Languishing? Exhausted? Overwhelmed? Who doesn’t feel sad that young people don’t enjoy the perpetual good times their seniors had as they landed on Omaha Beach. But I digest.

The old aphorism was that anything worth doing was worth doing well. Apparently, a job isn’t anything worth doing, but rather just a means of getting a paycheck (which is inadequate to live in dignity, as is their right) while being as much of a slacker as you can get away with. Work hard? Why bother? It just puts money in the hands of disgusting capitalists who pay you.

Who cares if the buyers of the goods and services are getting screwed by your failing to do any more than the minimum, even if the buyers are pretty much you? Who cares if your goods or services result in other people being hurt, suffering, getting screwed and being miserably, even if the buyers are pretty much you? After all, it’s only about you, and not other people who are just like you but aren’t you so who cares?

Even Vanderkam thinks “quiet quitting” is the wrong answer.

But is taking your foot off the gas the answer? I’d argue it isn’t. As a writer focused on time management, I’ve come to realize that the opposite of burnout isn’t doing nothing, or even scaling back. It’s engagement. As counterintuitive as that seems, adding energizing activities to your schedule just might make life feel more doable.

It was once a joke that millennials being expected to show up for work on time was too hard, too stressful, too demanding. It’s now the crux of a New York Times op-ed about how to feed one’s narcissism as a cure for the “burnout” of ordinary existence. Don’t do it for others. Don’t do it for your boss. Don’t do it for honor, pride, self-respect, accomplishment or even success. Give yourself more “me time.”

But instead of asking them to scale things back or draw stricter boundaries between work and life, most of the strategies I taught people were additive. I had them build in regular physical activity. I had them make space for little adventures. And when it came to leisure activities, I asked them to put “effortful before effortless” — to choose those that require action over those that are passive (even something as simple as reading a novel instead of binge-watching a TV show).

If this doesn’t compel the slackoisie to work harder for the good of society, nothing will.

42 thoughts on “Short Take: Quitters Never Win

  1. Chris Van Wagner

    My Jesuit-schooled dad checked out early at 57, but his post-Korean War service left us his 9 boys (and 2 daughters) with a few lessons, one above all regarding effort. “If you’re going to do a job, don’t do it half-assed.” We were fortunate to have that seared into our fabric. Those words have been passed on to my own issue, much like yours. They need role models outside the NYT Op-Ed page, it seems.

    1. SHG Post author

      The way it was taught to me was “anything worth doing is worth doing well.” The problem is that they don’t see anything worth doing that doesn’t inure to their direct, immediately personal benefit.

      And it’s hard for millennial and Gen X parents, already conflicted about these things, to compete with tiktok.

    2. Mike Guenther

      It takes half as long to do the job right as it does to do it over.

      There’s also the old cowboy adage about “Working for the Brand.”

  2. JAV

    I think there’s something to the idea of quiet quitting being a problem of disengagement and self absorption you fight by looking for new ways to engage with life. And I think nothing can give you more awareness of your life and make a greater participant in it than having a family.

    I wonder how many quiet quitters have no spouse or child to help pull them out of their own heads.

    1. SHG Post author

      Hungry children are certainly an incentive to work hard to be able to feed them, but that would require young people to care about something more than themselves. Instead, they are rejecting marriage and children because they refuse to grow up. Narcissism is a dangerous pathology.

  3. James

    The minimum means nobody is “getting screwed.” Ask your auto mechanic to go beyond after fixing your car for a free oil change. Your dentist for a free cleaning after doing a root canal. In gist, employers are upset they can’t effectively lower the salaries of workers in a tight job market. If you own the business and go beyond, you may get rich. If you don’t own the business, you may get a raise below the inflation rate. This isn’t fighting Nazi Germany in WWII, but someone stocking the shelves at Walgreens.

    1. schorsch

      Your examples with the free oil change, the free cleaning are bullshit, and I’m pretty sure you know that.

      When it’s your job to stock the shelves at Walgreens, and you see, that one shelf is damaged and short to crack down, than you either can quit quietly, shut up and eventually have the great pleasure to see a customer been buried under the breaking shelf – or you could inform your manager about the impending danger.

      When you as an auto mechanic are paid to mend a flat tire and see, that the brake pads are quite down, you either can play James and keep quiet – or you can do a llittle more than your minimum duty and inform the driver. Even if that would give your boss a chance to make more money by offering the driver a paid pad replacement.

      1. Sam

        In regards to the above, at best you get nothing as a worker because the boss doesn’t know. At worst, you get fired for giving away company resources without permission. Employers don’t know how to handle a world of plentiful jobs and actually paying people for going beyond. Showing them the money works wonders.

        1. Miles

          So if there’s nothing good in it for you, fuck it? Let me guess, you’re a kid and blame everybody but yourself for being a massive failure.

          1. Sam

            I’m not working for a charity being away from family, friends or just relaxing. If you live for the job and don’t own it you’re the biggest failure. They will fire you because you’re too slow, expensive or annoying unlike a real family.

    2. Jeff

      The problem is that it’s self defeating. A lot of jobs are now work from home, and if a job can be performed by you in your pyjamas, it can probably be performed by someone in Manila, for a tenth of your salary, who’s incentivized to work a lot harder than your quiet-quitting ass.

      1. James

        Jobs that can be done in Manila, China, etc have already been moved to those countries. These are the other jobs.

    3. Elpey P.

      This observation raises the possibility that some of us are getting the wrong end of the stick with this idiom. When the buzz first arose, it seemed more that the meaning was to underperform but just not do badly enough to get fired. To essentially be the kind of worker we all have the misfortune of encountering who hangs onto their job but nobody is happy with their work.

      If you’re assembling one part of a widget on a factory line this may a non-issue. You either check the box or you don’t. I’m sure we’ve all had bad experiences with incompetent mechanics or dentists we would not go back to, though. Bad workers are all over the place and often ruin our days. For tasks that are not constantly supervised, it’s very easy to not even perform the minimum and get away with it. The idea of the slacker at work who is more difficult to fire than to just tolerate has been around a very long time. Even in management, the Peter Principle is based on the notion that there are bad workers who shouldn’t have the jobs they hold but they are now entrenched.

      Now it is sounding like it means – or is being spun to mean – just not letting yourself be exploited by excessive demands over and above a reasonable performance. If all of the cards were laid on the table at a job interview, it’s the difference between a prospective employer knowing not to hire someone who had no intention of doing quality work vs. a prospective employee perhaps deciding to walk away because they just want a decent job and don’t want to deal with a Devil Wears Prada scenario. Most people would (and have) reacted with disdain to the first possibility, but would be much more sympathetic to the second.

      So maybe it’s nothing new, just a way of reframing an old issue for a new generation so they can have the illusion they have found one more way to fix the world by coming up with some fresh approach to the situation.

      1. Alex S.

        The bosses say “Quiet Quitting.”

        The workers say “Pay peanuts, get monkeys” or “minimum wage, minimum effort.”

  4. Elpey P.

    It’s rewarded at school. And you don’t even have to be quiet about it. Are we training our students for the real world, or training the real world for our students?

  5. PK

    Why go above and beyond if not fairly compensated for the additional effort? You expect me to do something extra for a hope and a prayer that some supervisor notices me and gives me a pittance for being a good servant? I’d rather work to contract and force the issue, the economy be damned. Solidarity forever, and all of that.

    I’ve set myself up such that my additional work is compensated, but it’s not the case for most. I feel for them more than the employers trying to squeeze profits out of labor. Pain and suffering are coming unless we can communicate and compromise on a broad scale.

    1. SHG Post author

      There’s always being proud of yourself, PK. Then maybe you wouldn’t be so nihilistic and you mother wouldn’t cry herself to sleep every night.

  6. Paleo

    It’s called work ethic PK. If you’re in a salaried position you are paid to provide your best efforts to whatever you’re doing. So what does not fairly compensated and additional effort even mean in this context? If you don’t like what you’re being paid you’re free to find something better. If you can.

    If you’re in an hourly position you’re compensated for your time and get paid more if they use more of it.

    I wonder if social media is amplifying this kind of thing out of proportion. Remember the Great Resignation? I have four children and two children-in-law, all between 25 and 33. I asked them at the time about the Great Resignation and they said that nobody they knew was doing it and that nobody they worked with had done it. Their opinion was that was a bunch of exaggerated crap. Wonder if the same is true here?

  7. Guitardave

    Although I do now, (after many years of working with slack-ass fuck-offs), I never really understood why one has to be taught that “anything worth doing is worth doing well.”

    If you put a person, with even just a few neurons firing, in a situation where the thing that they’re doing has a direct, and possibly life threatening consequence to their own well-being, it doesn’t take a teacher to make you realize you better do it correctly.

    In the personal-anecdote-who-really-cares-example-that-helps-make-my-point Dept…
    In my early teens, I was the ‘crazy kid on a dirt bike’, riding wheelies on tar and chip roads and trying to climb hills no one ever topped. Being too poor to have real mechanics maintain and repair my bike, it was DIY, and intrinsically obvious that you better get stuff right.

    Although I forcibly hugged some trees, ate some mud, and kissed the pavement a few times, (from making noob mechanic mistakes), I don’t think you have to be some genius auto-didac to see the logic of always doing what you do like the skin on your ass depends on it.

    Even a garden variety narcissist should be able to say to themselves, ‘How would I feel if I had to use the half-assed piece of junk I just slacked on making?’
    If ya can’t do that, it starts to make me wonder if you’re not just a…

  8. L. Phillips

    All this commentary about something we olds named decades ago as “good enough for government work”.

    There truly is nothing new under the sun.

  9. Curtis

    IMO, It depends on what you are doing with the rest of your life and what your job is. Your priorities should be some combination of enjoying life, improving yourself and making the world a better place.

    If you are going to school, doing valuable volunteer work or getting ready to start your own business, then it might make sense to slack off at work to concentrate on these other things. If you are lawyer and your client is depending on you, then your work must come first.

    Or sometimes your work seems pointless and you are not appreciated. I am not proud of it but I have slacked off while looking for a new job.

    1. Miles

      You’re the guy who would steal if he could get away with it. Either you have a worth ethic or you don’t. It doesn’t depend anymore than whether you’re a thief defends.

      1. Sam

        You’re suggesting they may steal by not working beyond the job description for free? Absolute garbage. if anyone is stealing it’s the employer for unpaid wages, accrued benefits and taxes. Just pay them more for the actual duties (versus lying to trick them earlier when jobs were scarce) and shutup.

        1. SHG Post author

          This seems as if you’ve never actually held a job, but only read about it in a grievance studies class. I suspect you have no clue how moronic you come off.

          1. Kate

            He’s not moronic. This just happened in your home state:

            “Department of Labor makes ‘historic’ recovery of $270K in unpaid wages”

            [Ed. Note: Link deleted per rules.]

            1. SHG Post author

              Wage theft happens. Employee theft happens. Neither is relevant to the issue. Your raising this doesn’t make him less of a moron. It just makes you a moron as well. Don’t feel bad. You’re not alone.

  10. Fred

    Old dance: Employees lie about their abilities (actually less). Employer lies about the job duties (actually more) and benefits (insurance, time off, after taxes). Employer knew employees were likely stuck after leaving past job with a family/mortgage/car note.

    New dance: Employees are no longer stuck with abundance of open positions thanks to retirees fearful of pandemic. They may have more than one job if remote and fear nothing.

  11. Jake

    How much more than that which I’ve been contracted to do qualifies as “above and beyond”? 1%? 5%? 10%? What if I do 25% more in 50% of the time than it takes my peers? Should I sit at my desk until the boss leaves so they don’t think I’m a slacker?

    Trick question. None of this matters because the only way to get promotions and raises in the 21st century is to switch companies. Often.

    1. SHG Post author

      You know better than to write this drivel. If you take on a job, do it as well as you can. You have a problem with that, as now would be the time to let me know.

      1. Jake

        I’m just being a wise guy! If you don’t know by now that tenacity is my hallmark, I feel very sad (and determined to try harder).

  12. Bryan Burroughs

    Going above and beyond at work has historically been predicated on being recognized and rewarded for such efforts. I’m fine with doing more than is expected, as long as my employer notices and rewards me for it. The issue is that many employers have been more than happy to expect and even demand “above and beyond” while “forgetting” the reward, sometimes to extreme degrees. I had a coworker at my previous employer who does the job of at least 3 people (including managerial duties), and hasn’t been promoted past her entry-level position after 15 years. She should be quiet quitting,

    I’m more than happy to put in 10 hours a day every now and then, but I expect it to be noticed and rewarded. If my boss doesn’t do that, then I’ll cut back to 8 hours. I’ll still do a good job, I’ll still deliver quality work, but I’m not going to break my back for a company that doesn’t appreciate or reward that effort. That’s been my understanding of “quiet quitting,” and I have no problem with that, especially in light of the abuse my coworker has taken.

    1. SHG Post author

      Why do you interpret doing a job well as going “above and beyond” that barest minimum. Is a job the absolute least you can do without getting fired? Do none of you kids take any pride in a job well done, not for the sake of the employer but for your own sake?

      1. Guitardave

        Exactly. It’s not about ‘above and beyond’. In all the factory jobs I’ve had, that only gets you labeled as an ass-kisser/ brown noser.
        When I was still young and working in a production machine shop, with that ‘just get it done so I can punch out and go have a beer’ attitude, a cool old toolmaker that noticed my ‘minimalist’ work ethic said to me “if you make a part that you’re not willing to sign your name on, go sell cars”.
        It stuck with me.

      2. Bryan Burroughs

        Who says that doing a job well is “above and beyond?” It sure wasn’t me. I’ve been talking about the toxic management practice of repeatedly demanding that workers do more with less.

        Case in point, my wife’s school. Last year, her grade level lost half their teachers, and instead of her usual workload of 4 classes, she was expected to teach 8 classes, with no planning or lunch. They were promised extra pay, and wound up getting a whopping 200/month. For twice the work. So when the administration came around this school year having not hired any new teachers, none of her coworkers offered to take on additional classes.

  13. Drew Conlin

    “..Who cares if the buyers of the goods and services are getting screwed by your failing to do any more than the minimum, even if the buyers are pretty much you? Who cares if your goods or services result in other people being hurt, suffering, getting screwed and being miserably, even if the buyers are pretty much you? After all, it’s only about you, and not other people who are just like you but aren’t you so who cares?”…

    I hope all of us remember that the people working stocking / sweeping etc etc should be treated respectfully. It’s not their fault ( workers) that someone failed to show up to work, it’s not their fault lines are long or some products are unavailable…
    They are there working and that’s a good thing these days!

  14. LTMG

    Mark my words. The “quiet quitters” will still expect good pay raises and promotions. As a manager, I will not grant them.

Comments are closed.